Dear FCC: I got a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Reader Gut Reaction: I was pleased to see that this book had a believable setup for how a 13-year-old could plausibly discover a murder. Oz Keillor works in his family's Santa Fe restaurant, under the supervision of his older brother Dave. When he goes in to work early one Saturday morning, hoping to get going on his menial cleanup tasks before anyone else has arrived yet, he makes a horrifying discovery—in the walk-in fridge, of course. How did a dead body end up in the kitchen of his parents' restaurant? His brother could never have done it, but why is Dave acting so weird?
The more time Oz spends trying to prove his brother is innocent, the more shocking secrets he stumbles on. I liked the way the plot unfolded, with questions giving rise to more questions as Oz and his best friend Rusty (a girl) put themselves in more and more danger to clear their family name. This was a tight and fast-paced mystery; the pacing and suspense will make this an appealing one for readers who aren't quite ready for adult-level murder mysteries or edgier teen thrillers. I suspect it might also be good for reluctant readers. There isn't a lot of time spent on in-depth character development, and I would have liked a little more sense of the setting, but that brevity might be what makes it a good pick for younger readers who just want a page-turning story.
Concerning Character: Oz is a regular kid, normal and easily to relate to quickly. The author does a good job of plunging the reader right into Oz's head, revealing his character through behavior and how he reacts to stressful situations—like the discovery of a dead body. His best friend Rusty is quirky, smart, and prickly, with a rather handy obsession with television crime dramas. There's just the tiniest bit of boy-girl tension between the two of them—enough to be realistic, not so much that it gets obtrusive. And the cast of minor characters, suspicious parties, and personages of ambiguous motivation is varied enough to keep the reader guessing without being so large as to throw the story off track.
Recommended for Fans Of...: Detective and mystery fiction for YA/MG readers, like Norah McClintock's Chloe & Levesque mysteries (vols. 1 and 2 reviewed here), the Gilda Joyce series by Jennifer Allison (check out The Dead Drop, reviewed here) and the Blue Balliett art mystery novels (check out The Wright 3, reviewed here).
Themes & Things: As a pretty straightforward genre book, the emphasis is more on plot than on theme, but there's a lot here about trust--about family and friendship, about our responsibilities to one another, and when to keep secrets and when to reveal them.
You can find Cold Case at an independent bookstore near you!