cover image The Prince of Venice Beach

The Prince of Venice Beach

Blake Nelson. Little, Brown, $18 (240p) ISBN 978-0-316-23048-3

Nelson (Recovery Road) combines a hardboiled first-person narrative and a languid Southern California setting to establish a seductive surf noir atmosphere in the story of Robert “Cali” Callahan, a 17-year-old runaway who’s testing out a potential career as a private investigator on the streets of Venice Beach. Cali’s doing pretty well for himself: he has a rent-free treehouse to sleep in, is generally well-liked by the other denizens of the boardwalk, and can hold his own on Venice’s infamous streetball courts. When Cali starts getting quiet offers to track down persons of interest (a runaway kid here, a transient there), he’s thrilled by his early successes, but learns that not knowing where the money is coming from puts him on ethically murky ground. Cali is smart, perceptive, and fairly aware of his own shortcomings, and his strong desire to help drives this moody, fast-moving novel. Although secondary characters (especially the women in Cali’s life) aren’t quite as fully developed as he is, Cali’s romantic entanglements only add to his confusion over how to do the right thing. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House. (June)