Teen Volunteer Review: Zoot-Suit Murders by Thomas Sanchez

Zoot-suit Murders by Thomas Sanchez

As part of Boston Public Library's Teen Volunteer Program, teens share their thoughts on books, movies, and more on our blog. This week, a teen volunteer is sharing his review of Zoot-Suit Murders by Thomas Sanchez:

Set in California during World War II, Zoot-Suit Murders is an updated Hollywood-noir sort of mystery, keeping certain tropes while expanding its view in order to acknowledge the marginalization of Mexican-Americans during a stretch of our history that’s usually cast in a heroic, egalitarian, freedom-loving light. The novel follows Nathan Younger, an undercover agent investigating “un-American activities,” and his search for the murderer of two FBI agents among seedy slums and gangs of possible fascists.

Although Zoot-Suit Murders is a terrific book that really should be considered a contemporary classic, it has one issue: it explains too much. There are, of course, unfamiliar terms, since it’s set in the early 1940s, but none of them are so bizarre or unfamiliar that their meaning couldn’t easily be discovered through context clues even now, let alone 45 years ago. Instead, the book will sometimes stop to explain the meaning of this word or that, jolting the reader out of the setting and into modern times. Despite this, it remains a thrilling, compelling adventure through the shadiest parts of society.

I would recommend this novel to readers who enjoy older mysteries featuring hard-boiled, fedora-wearing PIs of the type written by Dashiell Hammett or Mickey Spillane. One important note: in line with its aim of exposing World War II-era America as less than the glossy postcard it’s portrayed as, Zoot-Suit Murders has its share of violence, sex, racial slurs, and drug use. If that detracts from your experience, this might not be the book for you.