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Review of Reality Check

Reality Check
By Peter Abrahams
HarperCollins, 2009

When handsome young football star (former star, actually, since getting his knee blown out) Cody Laredo’s ex-girlfriend Clara disappears, Cody figures he has a duty to go and investigate. He certainly has nothing to hold him back: once his dreams of an NFL future evaporated, he saw little reason to stay in high school and dropped out.

Cody doesn’t believe that Clara was lost on a routine riding excursion (the story being put about by the local police), and when he reaches the town in question, he’s immediately confronted by a cast of potentially shady characters that would do a Hardy Boysbook proud. But it’s the differences between Peter Abrahams’ Reality Check and the usual run of teen-hero mysteries that make this book so gripping, so smart, and so completely worthwhile.

You haven’t been reading two dozen pages before you notice those differences piling up. For one thing, Cody isn’t some sweater-vested suburban scholarship student – he’s big and tough, and he knows his way around fighting, as in fight scene between him and Clara’s current boyfriend:

Townes was strong –– maybe not as strong as Junior, but much quicker. Cody didn’t even see the second punch, left-handed, which caught him flush on the jaw. A bell-ringer; but Cody had had his bell rung before, more than once, on the football field. The important thing was not to panic.

And for another, Cody’s not all that smart (as he himself admits), at least in the formal, academic sense. Eight years of President Bush may have given American readers a bad reaction to characters real or imagined (to say nothing of presidents, who are both) who think with their ‘gut,’ but nevertheless, that kind of character has a long and fairly noble history in American literature –– and certainly in American mystery fiction; Cody’s in some fine company. And he has one thing in common with his Hardy Boys predecessors, the most important thing:

Cody gave up trying to see the future. He chose the truth, maybe because it seemed easier, or maybe – he got a sudden glimpse inside himself – because that was his default setting.

Abrahams’ book is fast-paced and engrossingly told, with lots of very sharp dialogue and a hero worth cheering whether he’s on the football field or engaged in murkier contests. Here’s hoping Reality Check is the first in a long line of amiable young Cody’s adventures.

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