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book review

In the quaint coastal village of Hobtown, N.S., grown men have been mysteriously disappearing. When a prominent industrialist who summers in the area becomes the latest to go AWOL, his precocious teenage son falls in with classmate Dana Nance's "amateur detective club" to crack the case of the missing men, but their investigations turn up more sinister conspiracies and gory murder victims than they bargained for.

That description, like the book's trade dress, harks back to Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, but the stakes these teen detectives reckon with are far more peculiar, grave and creepy than those forebears ever faced – think Wes Anderson directing Blue Velvet. The characters harden into familiar types by story's end – there's the boy genius, the girl detective, the comic relief – but prior to that, Bertin's intricate plotting and Forbes's thickly hatched art create an unpredictable and densely detailed whodunit.

Distinguished by its offbeat sense of humour and legitimately shocking last-act revelations, this debut would be impressive enough as a mere genre exercise – the perceptive insights into the weirdly hermetic lives of both teenagers and small towns alike, then, are almost a bonus.

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