Jack D. Ferraiolo is the kind of mystic who speaks only in metaphor. In the foreground, his first novel, “The Big Splash,” is a parody of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett,a young adult version of a rain-soaked noir in which a self-appointed private detective, Matt Stevens, skulks his junior high, trying to determine who engineered the hit that ended the social life of “Nicole Finnegan, a k a Nikki Fingers, . . . a dream girl . . . the kind who caused nightmares. She was 12 but could have easily passed for 14.”
In the background you can see “The Big Splash” as a terrifying metaphor of adolescence. Matt’s search takes him through a netherworld filled with stock noir characters who appear here in shrunken preteen form: the newspaperman, the mole, the hired gun (“He sneered at me, revealing teeth that showed he had enjoyed one Jawbreaker too many”), the hall monitor on the take and the boss who runs it all, a formerly picked-on butterball who has built an intricate criminal network (“trusting Vinny Biggs was like signing your own detention slip”).
As in any proper noir, the story is marked by twists and turns, and the writing is cynical and tough, riddled with the sort of hard-boiled jargon you expect from a B movie…much of the thrill of this novel—and it is entertaining and thrilling—comes from its vision of a world in which kids play all the adult roles: they run the mobs, write the articles, chase the killers, haunt the (kid-owned) saloons, punish the (kid-committed) crimes. It's a kiddy cocktail kind of place, reminiscent, if anyone other than me remembers, of the Scott Baio vehicle "Bugsy Malone," in which the kid gangsters were blasted with machine guns that shot globs of whipped cream.