Who Killed Coach Killdare? Buzz Kill by Beth Fantaskey
Head football coach "Hollerin' Hank" Kildare was having such a massive meltdown that even from where I was standing, I could see his trademark blue vein popping in his neck and the usual flecks of spittle flying out of his mouth.
Well, maybe I couldn't see the spit, but from the way demoted, one-time quarterback Mike Price kept flinching, I was pretty sure Mike was getting a shower during the game.
As the student reporter assigned to this "bleepin'" game--and daughter of Assistant Coach Jack Ostermeyer--I should have known what had just happened on the field, but the truth was, I didn't really like sports. However, I couldn't overlook it when Coach abruptly wheeled around and, completely unprovoked, booted our school's costumed mascot Buzz the Bee right in the stinger, launching him, stumbling and flailing wildly, into my archenemy Vivienne Fitch, sending her sprawling on her butt, so everybody got a view up her flippy little "cheer" skirt.
That really should've made me laugh, but I actually kind of winced. If this ends up on youTube, Viv is going to murder Mr. Killdare and stomp a poor, innocent bee.
Now... Killdare was dead. There was no doubt about it. Old Coach Killdare was as dead as a door-nail. At least, for Millie Ostermeyer, when she stumbles onto his corpse, reposing on a piece of maintenance equipment in a dark, odoriferous storage room under the stadium. It's not a pretty sight, prompting Millie to lose her lunch indecorously all over the cleated feet of star quarterback Chase Albright when he rushes toward her screams from the field.
Not that Millicent Ostermeyer is a sports freak who pines after star players or frequents the football field and lockers. She's mostly trying to preserve her reputation as award-winning ace girl reporter for the school paper, thereby beating Vivienne Fitch, her pom-pommed rival, to the scoop of snooping out calamitous cracks in the stadium's concrete supports. Still, gagging and gasping out apologies for barfing on his feet was not exactly the teen flick cute-meet with the gorgeous Chase she would have chosen in her lamest dreams.
Who would kill Coach Killdare? Almost anyone! Almost everyone who knew him had a motive. Even Millie's dad, super-upright mayor and assistant coach, has had angry confrontations with him and obviously had his sights set on the job and plush office of head coach. Then there is shamed ex-quarterback Mike Price (and his parents), deprived of a potential free-ride football scholarship, the aforementioned Vivienne Fitch, whose drive to be top of the "pops" has suffered a hit along with her dignity, not to mention the anonymous but mistreated derriere of Buzz the Bee. Plus a whole generation of gym students he had studiously bullied and belittled.
But Millie soon realizes that she has stumbled upon Coach's only supporter, the distant but hunky Chase, whose mysterious senior year appearance at Honeywell High suggests a shady past. Chase admits quietly to Millie than Coach Killdare had offered him a second chance after doing time in a state "boarding school" for juvenile offenders, and that as payback he has been mowing, raking, and taking care of the Coach's dog, not to mention leading the team in a much welcomed winning season.
Despite her worries about his past, Chase does have a key to Killdare's house, and Millie snatches the chance to emulate her childhood idol, Nancy Drew, and do some sleuthing there. Chase feels duty bound to help find the Coach's killer as well, and they agree to snoop together. Millie discovers some "lady stuff" in the bathroom, which means that Coach Killdare must have had at least one other friend, a lady friend, who left him a feminine-scripted and fond note signed "BeeBee." Chase also has an "in" to Killdare's office, located in the men's locker area, and while they are searching his desk and files, they discover the very recently deceased Mike Price, bashed and dumped into the whirlpool tank.
But then someone turns in an anonymous tip to the police that Millie's dad is the murderer and the blunt instrument used is buried in their backyard, where Inspector Lohser and his detectives indeed dig up a large and heavy athletic trophy. Now this case is not just a chance to win another investigative reporting award for Millie. It's her dad, his job, and their life at stake--putting the dead in Millie's deadline for sure.
Beth Fantaskey's forthcoming, Buzz Kill (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) shows off her rare flair for serio-comic teen romance thriller mysteries, and if there is such a jaw-breaking genre, she's surely its star. After having handled vampire bridegrooms and Dr. Hyde-ish alchemy, (see her earlier Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, Jessica Rules the Dark Side, and Jekel Loves Hyde, the author jumps into the world of high-school hunks and philosophy-club nerd girl reporters with ease. Chase and Millie find themselves comfortably drawn into detecting and then into romance as the plot progresses, and progress it does, with the surprising identity of the murderer discovered, (where else?) in the locker room. It's not your mother's high school dating novel, but if a double murder mystery can still be light and funny, with some serious back stories and two unlikely but likable sweethearts, Fantaskey's latest certainly makes the team.
Publishers Weekly agrees, awarding it a starred review, and School Library Journal calls it a "character-driven novel... with "cliffhanger chapter endings, a solid mystery with a dollop of romance."