Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Born to Wear the Badge: Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol by Jim Krieg

Just then the custodian walked by, rolling that oversize garbage can. I tossed the trumpet into his pail.

"Look like I'm ready to commit?"

The captain looked me over. If he was impressed, he wasn't going to show it. "Name and grade?"

"Carver," I said. "Seventh."


"Six years," I told him, "four on the street, two inside."

That nearly got a reaction out of him. Junior crossing guards were relatively easy to come by. But an experienced Hallway Patrolman, that was something different.

"Where?" he asked, still not impressed.

"Saint Finbar's," I told him.

"Carver, Griffin Carver?" he asked, suddenly interested. "The Griff Carver?" "Dang," he said, "everybody's heard of you. Maple and Third. They still talk about you at Junior Police Camp."

Burned out after being on the force since first grade, Griff Carver has promised his Old Lady he's out of law enforcement, going to become a jolly trumpet-playing bandie at his new school, Rampart Middle. But when he sees that card table with the hastily printed SAFETY PATROL sign, sees the usual cop types hunched together around Capt. Delane, he feels again the pull of that plastic badge. The Brotherhood of Officers. The Call to Duty.

Carver is assigned to second-period hall patrol with Tommy Rodriguez, a supernaturally cheerful and devoted Boy Scout with every badge known to Scoutdom, and as he makes his first round on the beat, he sees all the usual types, the Student Govies, headed by the slick, teeth-whitened Marcus Volger, perennial class president, the Jocks, the Straight As, the Gamers, the Hair Girls, the Self-Imposed Outcasts, even the Ace Girl Reporter, Verity King, already news-hounding for the Rampart Middle Liberty Bell. And then Griff collars his first perp, a runner named Dover Belton, who instantly sets off the buzzer on his well-honed cop radar:

"You always carry your backpack to the boys' room?" I asked.

Belton smiled weakly and shrugged.

"What do you make of his hall pass, Rodriguez?"

There it was. I saw a tiny droplet of sweat drip out of Helton's hairline. Bingo.

"It's a fake," I said.

Griff Carver soon learns that underneath the squeaky clean halls of Rampart Middle, there's a Dark Side, a protection racket fueled with fake hall passes manufactured in the Wood Shop, fronted by Marcus Volger and abetted by his band of cupcake-pushing girl groupies and eighth grade glandular goons, a syndicate which even controls the Coke machines right under the nose of the clueless Principal Sprangue. Tommy, too, despite his initial buy-in of Volger's squeaky-clean persona, begins to see the sleazy underside of school when Volger's goombahs treat him to a swirly in the latrine to keep him quiet.

Carver is afraid to report what he knows to Patrol Chief Delane, suspicious that he, too, might be on the take from Volger. His only allies, it seems, are the talkative Tommy, the scoops-hungry Verity, and the shadowy janitor who sees all and becomes Griff's informer. But a good cop does his duty, and Griff drafts Tommy to join him in a take-down of the hall pass forgers in action at their lathe. Crawling through the HVAC shafts one night while the parents meet in the auditorium, the two lawmen make it to the air vent above the woodworking shop and find all the usual suspects assembled, ripe for arrest--if the two good cops can handle Volger's entire gang.

Jim Krieg's first novel, Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol (Razor Bill/Penguin Group, 2010) is a smart and witty spoof of the hoary police procedural novel and TV cop show, with an unlikely hero with a jaundiced but sharp eye for the middle school scene ("Politicians. Kids looking to score a few points on their magnate high school application.") Krieg deftly tells his tale through a series of incident reports and debriefings, with plenty of humor and action to keep the pages turning all the way.

"A hero ain't nothin' but a sandwich. Usually baloney," he humbly and gruffly remarks about his reputation as a junior crime fighter, but however unlikely, Griff Carver is a savvy hero kids will go for. Devotees of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series will recognize the usual middle school suspects here, and fans of Adam Canfield, ace middle school investigative reporter of The Slash, hero of Michael Winerip's Adam Canfield books, will likewise take Griff Carver, the boy behind the badge, into their hearts.



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