Thursday, May 13, 2010

Double Review: The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk and All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab by

Hamburger Halpin found via Publisher's Weekly 1/18
All Unquiet Things found via Tea Cozy

On the surface it looks like I'm stretching for this Double Review pairing, but hear me out! While The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin is a dark comedy and All Unquiet Things is a noir-ish murder mystery, at the center of both stories is the murder of a young classmate. How each novel handles that murder, and tracking down the killer, however, couldn't be more different.

In The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, the Will "Hamburger" Halping has decided it's time to ditch "deaf school" and join mainstream classes at the local high school. He's fairly adept at reading lips, but being new, disabled, and overweight all combine to work against Will when it comes to making friends. His only social prospect is perpetual dweeb Devon Smiley. Will does his best to ignore Devon, despite the latter's eager attempts at communication, including learning to finger spell and sign some basic phrases so Will doesn't have to read his lips all the time. The two join forces and forge a friendship in the aftermath of a tragic accident at a coal mine during a school trip where a popular classmate died. Or was it an accident? Will and Devon take it upon themselves, roping in Ebony, Devon's friend from his deaf school days (and who just narrowly avoids falling into the "sassy black friend", to solve the crime, relying on Will's & Ebony's lip reading abilities to surreptitiously gather information. Their investigation takes them through all the rungs of the high school social ladder, uncovering secrets and petty gossip the popular kids would rather remain quiet, until the startling reveal of whodunnit.

All Unquiet Things also has a murder at its center: Carly, Neily's ex-girlfriend and Audrey's cousin. Months after Carly's murder, Neily has come to terms with her death (as well as you can when someone you love has been brutally murdered) - until Audrey shows up in school again after an extended absence, saying that her father - Carly's uncle - wasn't guilty, and she wants Neily's help to uncover the true suspect. Through alternating sections, we see the investigation unfold through Neily's and Audrey's perspectives as the two start sticking their noses where they don't belong, tangling with teenage drug dealers and stalkers, while trying to uncover the motive and the guilty party that snatched Carly from their lives all too soon.

I enjoyed Hamburger Halpin for about 99% of the book - until the murderer and motive was revealed. My dislike of the conclusion was only heightened after reading All Unquiet Things which took a very similar tactic and treated it with seriousness and respect. I'm trying to be circumspect here so as not to spoil the ending for either book, but the murderer and motivation in Hamburger Halpin feels totally out of place in a comedic book. I'm all for dark comedy, but the conclusion comes out of nowhere and the very serious motivation is treated like an afterthought that just totally ruined the end.

All Unquiet Things, on the other hand, builds the mystery slowly over the course of the book, with multiple suspects investigated, so that when the big reveal is finally made it feels like we've really been on the investigation with Neily and Audrey. The final few scenes at the climax are tremendously tense and were everything a person could ask for in a dramatic murder mystery.

In Hamburger Halpin's favor, I did enjoy reading about a deaf protagonist, even if I felt the communication difficulties were overcome rather quickly. Until Devon procures smartphones for text messaging for both of them, a lot of communication is done via notebook paper. Have you ever tried to carry on a conversation by writing everything down? It drives you crazy (I did this in high school during the Day of Silence). Also I thought it was a little convenient that Will rarely missed important words while lip reading. Luckily, Will is a fun character, so I didn't mind spending so much of the book inside of his head with just his observations to carry the story until he and Devon become friends.

Has anyone else read either title? What did you think of the big reveals?
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