MYSTERY, YOUNG ADULT
Derek D. Wheeless
Invisible Think Books
9798985933529, 302 pgs., $12.99
April 11, 2022
We Planned a Murder is a fresh, new wrapper on a classic detective mystery. With a lead character and narrator who will resonate well with Dragnet fans, author Derek D. Wheeless’s debut novel puts a Young Adult twist on the classic P.I. thriller.
The main character and narrator, Nacho Blanco, a high schooler and self-proclaimed PSI—Problem Solver Investigator—has earned himself a reputation as an up-and-coming gumshoe after solving the mystery of the missing PTA money and proving the guilt of the high school principal. Now he is approached by Zadie Abernathy, the hot new girl around school, who wants to secure his services to get to the bottom of the recent death of her psychiatrist. Some say it was a suicide, while others proclaim murder, and Zadie is afraid the finger of guilt may be pointing her way very soon.
The story is set in Ten Spot, Texas. Nacho can’t wait to get out of Ten Spot as soon as he graduates. He describes the town to the reader: “Ten Spot is one of those big little towns, a bastion of old-fashioned values. Only a thirty-minute drive from Austin, it’s always been everything the capital of Texas is not. Predominately retired, Republican, and related, Ten Spot’s a town where everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows everybody’s business.”
The author makes effective use of dialogue to provide background into the characters. For example, when Blanco is talking to his counselor at school, she asks if he is still living with his grandmother. He replies, “Unfortunately, yes. We never seem to get away from each other since she’s in the school cafeteria every day and at home every night.” And an instance of wit within dialogue comes when Nacho is telling the male half of a Goth couple that his girlfriend “doesn’t have the sense to know that black goes with everything but stupid.”
One way the author sets this story apart from old-time detective novels is with modern-day, vivid description. Name brand items are frequently mentioned, such as an Apple watch and Maui Jim’s designer shades. Blanco also describes for the reader the appearance of almost everyone he meets. For example, he offers this description of Zadie: “She had on a short black skirt, knee-high black leather boots, and a tight black turtleneck sweater molded around her. In her hair was a jet-black headband, which, with the sweater and boots, made her look like one of those Bond girls from the sixties, the kind that would either kill to love you or love to kill you, and make you enjoy it either way.”
Despite the fresh description, the author slips in a few clichés that undoubtedly give the story that classic detective feel. For example, just as Telly Savalas’s character Kojak had his lollipops, Nacho Blanco has his Juicy Fruit gum. He frequently removes the foil and folds a piece into his mouth as he contemplates the latest developments. Another example is how he managed to withstand a prior visit to his uncle, “marking time by disappearing into a stack of well-worn Ellery Queen novels I’d scored from the local library.”
Pacing is a key element of mysteries, and the author’s pacing in this story is right on point. The entire story moves along at a good pace, but it significantly quickens in the race to the climax. An element of danger among the main characters that could head south at any moment enhances this run-up to the story’s culmination.
Another element of a good mystery is the big reveal. This story has several twists leading up to the grand revelation. Just as the pace quickens, the reveals gain significance as the pinnacle nears. Who is really working for whom is one of the surprises that awaits the reader at the apex of the story.
We Planned a Murder is sure to keep a reader enthralled with its edge-of-your-seat suspense. Overall, this story is a very fresh approach to the gumshoe mysteries that have entertained readers for decades.
Derek lives in Frisco, Texas, with his wife Tiffany and their two girls Landry and Presley. He graduated from Baylor University and has been a public classroom teacher and school administrator. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Sisters in Crime North Dallas, Private Eye Writers of America, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and The Author’s Guild.