Summer is a great time for thriller reading. There's something about the heat that brings out intense laziness that needs to be embraced. There's no fighting it. What better way to say yes to lazy than by grabbing a great mystery and spending the whole day reading? Michael Northrop's recent debut novel, Gentlemen, is the perfect title for exactly this sort of summer indulgence. Dark, thought-provoking and genuinely creepy, this story will grab you in a second, and leave you thinking when your reading marathon is done.
Micheal (yes it's... Micheal, not Michael), Mixer, Tommy and Bones are the guys everyone at Tattawa High calls losers. Collectively, they've done some stuff to deserve the label, but a lot of things have been done to them, by their families and teachers and peers, that haven't exactly inspired good choices and good behavior. So when Tommy loses it one day in class after their math teacher bullies him, the rest of the guys aren't so surprised when he doesn't go home that night. But when it turns out Tommy is officially missing, and the police get involved, everything gets complicated and confusing, especially when their English teacher, Mr. Haberman, starts acting even weirder than usual, making the boys wonder if he might be in some way linked to Tommy's disappearance. Adding to the creep factor is the fact that they're studying Crime and Punishment in Haberman's class, or at least, Haberman is assigning chapters and lecturing on it, and Haberman is really into it, you might even say he's passionate about it. It isn't long before Micheal, the most academically minded of the crew, actually starts reading the book and wondering if Haberman might have more than a little in common with the murderous main character, Raskolnikov. What happens next proves that one half-thought out idea can turn ugly in a heartbeat and change lives forever.
Northrop's book is gritty, and he's got the messed-up-teenage-guy-with-heart character figured out just right. It's gripping the way you find yourself so quickly seeing Haberman the way Micheal does. You're just as suspicious as he is almost right away, and it makes you think how little it takes for suspicion to grow, even when the circumstance seems crazy and unbelievable when you really think about it. That's one of the most interesting themes Northrop works on in his book. By the time the climax arrives, you'll have plenty to think about: how even the most brutal crime can come practically out of nowhere; how friendship can form almost randomly and still produce powerful loyalty; the dangerous potential of suspicion.
And the cover? Holy impact. There could be some amazing conversation just about the cover design and how it relates to the narrative, I'm sure. I see a lot of covers, so it takes something to make me do a double take, which is exactly what happened when I got my copy in the mail. For a little background on the process of creating the cover, check out this behind-the-scenes feature at Melissa Walker's blog. Warning - once unzipped, you'll find it hard to put this book down.
Gentlemen by Michael Northrup is published by Scholastic.
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