Fighting Chance. B.K. Stevens. Poisoned Pen Press, Scottsdale, AZ. October 2015 release. LCCN 2014958055. Trade: 978-1-92934-514-4 $10.95. E-book: 978-1-92934-515-1 $7.99. 326 pages. YA Mystery. Under the imprint: Poisoned Pencil.
From the opening page seventeen-year-old Matt Foley distrusts Bobby Davis, who is competing in a martial arts contest against Matt’s coach Randy Colson. Why was Davis not doing warm-up exercises and looking so smug? Then, minutes later, Davis crushes the coach’s larynx with a powerful spinning hook kick and kills him. The umpire and the police see it as an accident. Matt and his friends are sure it was done deliberately. Since no one else will follow up on the murder, Matt and his friends take on investigating. Who is this Bobby Davis, and what could have been going on in their coach’s life to make someone want to kill him?
I don’t often read YA novels, though I’m told some of my mysteries can be read as “cross over” work for teens as well as adults. Nor did I know anything about the martial arts tae kwon do and krav maga, yet I found myself caught up in Matt’s fight.
Matt’s best friend, Berk, goes with him to Richmond, and they discover that Davis did not belong to the club he claimed, Kelly’s Dojo. They don’t tell their parents what they’re doing. The police keep warning Matt and his friends to leave it alone. The school guidance counselor Mr. Quinn gives a session on grief, and argues that their conviction Colson was murdered was “denial,” a stage of grief. The principal, Dr. Lombardo, allows them to have a bake sale to raise money for a scholarship in Colson’s honor, but they are forbidden to pursue the murder theory or publish anything along these lines in the school paper.
Matt, Berk, and Graciana Cortez visit Colson’s landlady Mrs. Dolby, and she lets them see his apartment, which turns out to have been searched and trashed. The only things missing are his computer and briefcase. Everything the teens discover suggests something very wrong was going on. Despite all the adults in authority insisting the teens leave the investigation alone and remaining suspicious, they continue their search.
What I especially like about this book is the transformation Matt goes through. In the beginning he feels very critical of his family who are always upbeat and cheerful and like to eat food he considers weird, like tofu stir fry. His little sister is always happy to be part of their family activities like learning French, but Matt remains alienated until his family begins to be threatened, as a result of what he’s learning about Davis.
Suzette, one of the members of their club, manipulates Matt into taking her out, but then he learns she is very contemptuous of other people, even Graciana, who is the school paper’s editor, and quite willing to take risks with Matt.
As I read how Matt persisted in doing what he felt was right, I identified with him more and more. I think my sixteen-year old grandson will receive this book for his birthday. As far as I know he hasn’t studied martial arts, but I wonder if he has ever been in a situation where he had to fight those in authority who insisted he let go of something that he knew he was right to do. I recommend Fighting Chance highly.
B.K. (BONNIE) STEVENS’s first novel, Interpretation of Murder, is a whodunit that offers insights into deaf culture and sign language interpreting. Her young adult novel, Fighting Chance, is a martial arts mystery and also a coming of age story. In the spring of 2016, Wildside Press published Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime, which collects some of the over fifty short stories B.K. has published. Most of these stories originally appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. B.K. has won a Derringer and has been nominated for Agatha and Macavity awards. This year, both Fighting Chance and a Hitchcock story, “A Joy Forever,” were finalists for Agatha awards. B.K. and her husband, Dennis, live in Virginia and have two grown daughters. http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com.