||Aug 8, 2008
How is a Goth teen involved in the murder of a city councilman? Former police office Niki Alexander risks her life to find out.
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When a homeless teenage girl wakes up in Houston's Tranquility Park next to a murdered city councilman and then disappears, Homicide Investigator Luis Perez turns to his ex-partner, Niki Alexander. Now a counselor with a teen shelter, she may be his only hope in locating the girl.
Three years earlier Niki quit the Houston Police Department after a fatal shooting involving a teenage boy. Haunted by the memory and the guilt, she is driven to help troubled teens who have run away or been abandoned.
Soon she suspects that the missing teen is a street girl she knows as Jade. Niki fears there is more of a connection between Jade and the murdered man than was initially apparent.
Niki's search takes her among homeless teens, and into predominantly male gay bars, where dangerous secrets are revealed. She soon realizes she isn't the only one desperate to find the girl.
The closer she gets to the truth, the more her own life is at risk.
Fifteen-year-old Jessica Keeling's eyes stung as she forced them open. Milky eyes stared into hers, the eyes of a dead man. For a moment she couldn't breathe. She opened her mouth to scream, but instead tasted dead. The smell of stale urine and dried blood filled her nostrils.
Her knees scraped against the cold, damp concrete as she scrambled to her feet. Early morning sunlight filtered down to the bottom of the outdoor stairwell, providing enough light to see the brick-colored ribbon across the man's throat. She squeezed her eyes shut to block out the sight, but not soon enough. Not before she recognized him.
Houston's Tranquility Park is anything but tranquil as the sun moves across the downtown Houston skyline. For Jessica Keeling it has been a very hard last several months since her father vanished. But, this much worse as this is the first time she has woken up next to a dead man. A man that she just might have killed. Drugged the night before, she has no memory and as such has no idea what happened.
Known by the street name of "Jade" to one and all, Jessica has only a couple of people she can count on. One is a street tough guy known as "Rube." The other is "Niki Alexander" a counselor for a local runaway shelter known as "Open Palms." Before she can get to either of them, she makes a mistake and disappears.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Luis Perez is looking for a teenager last seen fleeing the area of Tranquility Park. A teenager somewhat fitting Jade's description was seen running from the area right before the dead man was discovered. It could have been Jade. It could have been another homeless teenage girl as the vague description fits so many runaways. What is clear is that along with a murder mystery, there is another problem as teen girls are going missing on the streets. Previously partnered with Niki before she left the force, he knows nobody else knows the street kids like Niki does and he needs her help
As this occasionally very graphic novel in terms of language and the descriptive imagery of abuse and dead bodies unfolds, author Laura Elvebak casts an unflinching look at the teen homeless problem. Set in Houston before Hurricane Ike, the novel considers those that are truly are "Less Dead" and left to fend for themselves by any means necessary. In so doing, she also considers those who would prey upon such children as well as the many types of people who make up the street scene.
Along the way she tells a twisting story of murder and abuse primarily through Niki and Jade. While both characters come from different walks of life both are just trying to survive day to day in their different economic situations. For the street teenager Jade, the hope that she might be reunited with her father keeps the spirit alive inside of her. For the counselor Niki, she seeks redemption for the past and a chance to get put a tragedy for which she feels no end of guilt behind her. While the physical threats and internal emotional demons are different, they are no less real, and it becomes questionable whether either character will survive body and soul. Despite the fact that virtually every character in this novel has classic clichéd and stereotypical ingredients, author Laura Elvebak makes the ingredients work and creates characters that readers come to care about.
Kevin R. Tipple (copyright) 2008
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