You Killed Wesley Payne reads like the Maltese Falcon made sweet, sweet love to an episode of Melrose Place and the two spent the last ten years raising a screaming baby novel in between bouts of mutual spousal, substance and television abuse. This fairly entertaining novel is nothing new, reaching up from a John Hughes inspired past with cliques and stereotypes to tell a crime story where everyone is a suspect and forming a world that does not exist.
Our hero, Dalton Rev, is a private dick in search of the murder of Wesley Payne, The Body. Brought into Salt River High by The Body’s sister, Rev must navigate between various social cliques all vying for control of the school’s criminal rackets to find his man or woman as well as staying clear of the corrupt system as well. Standard noir type plot to follow.
If YKWP has one thing, it is syle. The novel drips with cliches of both high school and noir thrillers, blending the two in very creative ways. The main gangs, for instance, are the tough and brawny Balls and the hard rocking Pinker Casket band and the smart Euclideans. Each fills a hole in the high school melodrama triangle, yet as the novel goes along you see how the characters used to be friends and how each clique formed and/or divided. The world building here must have been fun for Mr. Beaudoin.
The formation of the cliques and characters can be a detriment to the writing, though. As much fun as it must have been to make this world, the story is not big enough to encompass all the characters. This simple tale of right and wrong is filled with too many people with pointless motivations. The random side characters, while fleshing out different aspects of whatever they are connected to, can confuse a reader. And this is not me just saying that because I had to look up who was who from time to time, this is a fact that the author recognized by giving me a map of the cliques and a glossary to do said looking up with.
In a 300ish page book, there should be no need for this type of confusion. I suspect this massive amount of characters that leads to this is the absence of a trope that most noir thrillers revel in: the ability to kill off expendable characters. This cannot happen very easily in a high school setting (although any fan of Buffy could argue the point), so we are left with a bunch of people running around that need accounting for whom are forgettable in the first place.
To focus as well on another bit of construction of this novel, why is there a glossary? I get making up lingo and slang for your weird little noir book. And most of it works, fits into the mouths and the context well enough that I had no problem figuring out what it meant. So why include it, other than the fact that the author must have written it for himself to keep the words straight and decided “what the hell?” when putting it together. Either way, I found it only added to the page count of the finished tome, not the content.
I must make mention of one interaction without spoiling it: near the end, Dalton Rev talks with his mom. If you find yourself reading this book and disliking it, that’s okay, but skip ahead and read the part where they talk. It is heartbreaking and funny and proof that this narrative could have been something great if it had been boiled down to a smaller cast of characters.
In the end, this book is not bad, but it is not really all that good. A fun little read that does not take itself too seriously and has fun with old tropes, You Killed Wesley Payne is good reading for a rainy Sunday afternoon. Part of me feels a little tricked by reading this, like Mr. Beaudoin hid a mediocre story with a bunch of flashy ideas and characters with only one or two real great moments. I hope he does more and I am excited to read his other books.
Is this book ban-worthy? Eh. The content is more mildly objectionable at best for its intended high school audience. Most of them are seeing stronger use of drugs, violence, language and youth crime in general in their own homes and televisions than they will find in this book. But, this book is creative in its subjugation of authority figures and the idea that the world is a dark and lonely place where good only wins with a price, so I believe it belongs in the Banned Library.