First off, I must say that I started “The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor” expecting to like it. I was already familiar with author Teddy Durgins’s writing style from following his movie reviews years ago, and I anticipated enjoying that style and natural wit translating easily into a full-length mystery. I was definitely NOT disappointed!
The story is centered around the lives (and local mall) of three teen boys in Laurel, Maryland in the 1980s. The characters ring incredibly true, as does the dialog. Lines like, “I’m walking away. God’s now preparing two very special bolts of lightning for you two hyenas, and I don’t want to be anywhere near either of you when he sends ’em down” (from Buddy) and “That wouldn’t be a miracle. A miracle would be a shih tzu that can sing ‘Figaro’. You and I solving this case would be just dumb luck” (by Rabinowitz) are sheer genius.
The book is also peppered with lots of 80s pop culture references…from movies and tv shows to on-air tv personalities, any child of the 80s would love this book for that homage alone. However, there is much else to enjoy within these pages. The story itself, a murder mystery involving the death of a popular cheerleader, is excellent. There are enough clues, dead ends, and red herrings to please any mystery buff. The mystery is made all the better because it is actually being solved by truly amateur sleuths (aided by a local PI). It’s delightful to watch main character Sam bumble his way along, sometimes uncovering actually useful information. It’s also interesting to watch Sam trying (with an approximately equal level of success) to navigate his own life. I hope Mr. Durgin decides to grant Sam and his friends additional opportunities to fight crime and try to grow up!
On a final, spoiler-free note, the ending is amazing. It’s not at all what I expected, and it was a bit jarring, but upon reflection, it fit the story, the characters, and the tone of the novel perfectly. It also earns bonus points for truly surprising me, which is NOT easy to do.
Congratulations to Teddy Durgin for an amazing first novel, and my fondest hopes for more to come in the future!