The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo

Seventh grade P.I. Matt Stevens has just been handed his toughest assignment to date: discover who took out Nicole Finnegan, a.k.a. “Nikki Fingers,” the most dangerous middle school squirt gun assassin since Machine Gun Kelly was a lad. Just when Nikki had decided to quit wise-guy Vinnie Biggs’ crime ring of hall pass forgers and Pixy Stix dealers and go straight, she is nailed by a mystery shooter using her past favorite weapon of choice: a giant-sized Super Soaker. At Franklin Middle School, once you’ve been soaked in the crotch with a squirt gun in front of everyone, it’s nowhere but the Outs for you. And as Matt has observed far too many times, once you’re Out, it’s impossible to get back In. Lives are RUINED with a single pump of the Soaker. Now Vinnie Biggs has hired Matt to find out who had the guts to splatter his former favorite shooter. Could it be Kevin Carling, Vinnie’s second-in-command, whose heart was broken by Nikki when she was at the height of her sixth-grade fame? Or maybe it was Joey “the Hyena” Renoni, whose signature high-pitched “hehehe” was heard at the scene of the soaking. What Matt is rapidly discovering is that anyone who knew and loved someone splashed by Nikki Fingers isn’t sorry to see her get her just desserts, and they’re clamming up faster than a bunch of eighth-graders who are on their third warning from the middle school librarian. Will Matt be able to solve the crime and earn the twenty bucks Vinnie is waving under his nose like a Snickers to a starving man? (“Twenty bucks was a lot of money. I mean, there’s stuff I wouldn’t do for twenty bucks, but the list was pretty short.”) Or will Nikki just fade away into the ranks of the Outs, a sad victim of her own squirt gun karma? Newbie author Ferraiolo brings the laughs with this hard-boiled middle school homage to classic detective tales like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. Ferraiolo cleverly mixes Mafioso with middle school in a way that is witty and fresh, while always making sure the bad guys get detention and the good guys get their homework in on time. Like Joey Renoni, I couldn’t stop giggling at the end of every Sam Spade-inspired exchange or turn the pages fast enough to find out whodunit.

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