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Review: Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

troubleOf course I didn’t like Digby when I first met him. No one does.

The first time Philip Digby shows up on Zoe Webster’s doorstep, he’s rude and he treats her like a book he’s already read and knows the ending to.

But before she knows it, Zoe’s allowed Digby—annoying, brilliant, and somehow…attractive? Digby—to drag her into a series of hilarious, dangerous, and only vaguely legal schemes all related to the kidnapping of a local teenage girl. A kidnapping that might be connected to the tragic disappearance of his little sister eight years ago. When it comes to Digby, Zoe just can’t say no.

But is Digby a hero? Or is his manic quest an indication of a desperate attempt to repair his broken family and exorcise his own obsessive-compulsive tendencies? And does she really care anyway?

This is a contemporary debut with razor-sharp dialogue, ridiculously funny action, and a dynamic duo you won’t soon forget.

I’ve always loved the 1940’s stylish comedic mysteries. Nick & Nora and The Thin Man, Tommy & Tuppence and the ilk – Give me a wise-cracking, witty detective pair and I’m all over it. Imagine my joy, then, when I discovered that Stephanie Tromly has created a fun contemporary YA mystery that contains all the same elements as a classic whodunnit, with sass and humour to spare.

We’re introduced to Zoe Webster, who really, really doesn’t want to belong in the small town life to which she’s been relegated thanks to her parents’ divorce. Zoe thinks everything will be better if she can just get to private school… and then she meets Digby. Initially coming off as a teen Sherlock (Cumberbatch or Downey Jr., take your pick), Digby is a man of means and mystery, who leads Zoe on a merry chase to solve a number of puzzling mysteries around town. Add to this some truly quirky sidekicks in Henry, Sloane, and Felix and a host of others, and you have the makings of a screwball teenaged mystery. Part Scooby Doo, part Sherlock, and even part Veronica Mars.

I’ll confess that it took me a few chapters to get into the characters, because I really wasn’t sure if I liked Zoe at first. Digby was intriguing, and when you find out his back story, you suddenly realize that there is a lot more to him than he lets you know. After I found my reading groove, the story flew by, and I found myself laughing to myself at some of the antics the group go up to in various chapters. I think the trip to the prom, including dinner at Red Lobster may be one of my favourites. Throughout it all, Zoe begins to thaw and to realize that she actually likes her new friends and their eccentricities. The best part is that they like her for her quirks too, and suddenly life in a small town isn’t looking quite so bad for Zoe.

Throughout the narrative, Zoe and Digby manage to find some black humour in their respective situations  and even manage provide some unexpectedly supportive advice:

“Anyway, one of the few useful things I learned while I was getting my head shrunk is that when you get rejected a lot, you start to hear rejection all the time. And here’s something else she told me that you need to remember … after rejection you feel shame,” Digby said. “Rejection and shame. Those two always go together. The yin and yang of low self-esteem.”

Before Zoe is even aware of it, Digby is a friend as well as a research partner, and she begins to care about what might happen to him. While there is some suggestion of a love triangle, things move along at such a breakneck speed that the suggestion is fleeting and the reader is more interested in the mystery than the romance. Between abducted kids, a suspected cult and menacing drug dealers, there’s enough going on to keep Zoe, Digby and their friends well occupied.

The book gains momentum and a slightly more serious tone near the end, especially when things come to a head with the Bad People. I’ll be honest – I had figured out whodunnit pretty early on, but you know what? I didn’t care. Half the fun of a book like this is enjoying the ride, and Tromly’s debut certainly takes you on a rollercoaster with lots of laughs along the way.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine is published by Kathy Dawson Books, a division of Penguin Books/Penguin Random House of Canada. A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase from your favourite chain and indie booksellers. ISBN: 9780525428404, 336 pages

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