by Katherine Matthe
To solve or not to solve—for seventeen-year-old Harley Dansker, there doesn’t seem to be much choice. Harley is haunted by the death of his father in a car accident in which Harley was behind the wheel. Just released from hospital after having suffered a breakdown, he is still coping with his feelings of guilt. And the world he has been released into is a substantially changed one, especially since his mother has married his father’s friend and business associate, C.J. King (who has become president of Dansker King, the software company founded by Harley’s father).
If any of this sounds familiar, the fact that the main character has a six-letter name beginning with “H” should be a clue. McClintock has hung Harley’s story on the framework of Hamlet (with a nod to the Bard). Though C.J. King is not Martin Dansker’s brother, he is “heir” to the Dansker King throne, despite the fact that his new wife, Gertrude, is the majority shareholder in the business. Harley’s grip on sanity seems to be slipping—he believes he is visited by the ghost of his father, a ghost who cries murder and sets Harley investigating whether he was truly the only one responsible for his father’s death. In the process, he discovers that something is truly rotten in the state of Dansker King.
The logic, however, doesn’t completely hang together, as Harley’s investigation is not entirely consistent with the readily available facts. It is difficult, for example, to understand why Harley ignores C.J. as a suspect, focusing primarily on the truck driver who caused the accident. Indeed, he initially, and quite rightly, sets his sights on Paul Jacovitz, Dansker King’s other programmer, whom Martin Dansker had accused of theft. But because he doesn’t consider C.J. a suspect until quite late in the story, there is little perceived threat to Harley. The story remains interesting and engaging, but not terribly suspenseful. Perhaps McClintock is trying to make it easy for younger readers to spot the culprit, but she does so at the expense of the plot.
It is here that Password: Murder shows its Shakespearean roots most. Harley’s story, like Hamlet’s, is more of thought than of deed. Harley’s concern about his own sanity, the protracted questioning of his father’s death, and his need to resolve his feelings of guilt while being spurred on by the ghost of his father dominate the story.
All this said, Password: Murder is a satisfying read. McClintock is a three-time recipient of the Arthur Ellis Award for Crime Fiction in the Juvenile Fiction category, and she brings the same deft skill in the genre to Password: Murder. The pace rarely flags, the writing is tight and brisk, and the Shakespearean influences are successfully blended into a classic mystery framework that fans of the genre will enjoy.