As a girl, I was captivated by mysteries and detectives though I was always more apt to play a chef, an animal, or a hobo myself. I grew up watching Jessica Fletcher solve crimes while she wrote wildly successful mysteries and learning the stories of Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple. Thus, for me, despite all the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews’s on our bookshelves, I always associated murder and crime solving with adults, maturity, and even retirement.
Ryan Casey’s recent novel What We Saw, however, works to combine the darkness of criminality with the immaturity and imagination of children looking to simply make the most of a free summer while navigating the budding competitiveness of their first love triangle. The story is narrated by the precocious Liam O’Donnell, a character whose voice – surprisingly smooth in its consistent growth, especially for a debuting author – is redolent of some of the most enduring heroes as he battles fears, discovers his own bravery, and demonstrates great ingenuity. He and his cousin Adam band together as a pair of impromptu detectives, solving every mystery they can dig up. However, what they end up stumbling upon has them both questioning just how dedicated they may be to a profession that demands their innocence as well as their ability to trust those closest to them.
Casey’s work is that of a new author with polishing still to develop, but much of the writing shows promise. While many moments showcase Casey’s keen ear and eye for description – “Gran grabbed his ear where he’d taken his piercing out and shook him, like she was trying to get apples to drop from a tree.” – as a reader it is hard to ignore when certain major players too cleanly fit into the shoes of archetypes (whether it be the fool, the helper, the villain, or the red herring); this model can make for a quick and useful story set-up in the beginning but can also give the game away before the author intends. Nevertheless, Casey’s debut young adult novel makes for a clean and leisurely read.
Check out What We Saw now on Amazon – it’s getting impressive reviews. Also check out Ryan Casey’s blog: Writing for Readers, Blogging for Writers., it’s full of useful advice for independent and new authors on everything from writing to marketing.