In a school like Walker’s, there’s always something going on. The kids sent here are two things: rich and on their last strike. You don’t get to Walker’s by being good. Jack, a drug dealer, accused (and acquitted) murderer, one-time fugitive, and local supplier of odd and random things has never been good, but he is decent. When the son of a respected Mormon elder comes to him asking for help, Jack … well, he doesn’t say no. He does, however, accept the five grand. No one deserves to be outed by a blackmailer, even if it is Aston, who tried to kill Jack’s best friend, Holloway Holmes. Even if Aston is a bully, a jerk, and a twat. However, it turns out nothing is simple — especially at Walker’s.
Holloway and Jack uncover a second student being blackmailed (and it couldn’t happen to a better person, as Dawson is another bully, thug, and asshole). They also must deal with the arrival of someone from Holloway’s troubled past. Someone he doesn’t want to talk about, someone who upsets him enough to make Holloway break his icy control. Paxton, Holloway’s cousin, is bad news and knows just how to get under Holloway’s skin, and Jack doesn’t know how to help.
And he wants to help. Holloway and Jack have gotten closer over the past few weeks. (Getting nearly murdered together will do that to people.) They’re friends — and maybe more than friends. Or maybe not. Jack still doesn’t know what he wants; he’s been trying to figure out how to break up with his girlfriend, trying to raise his grades, trying to not worry about his dad, and now he’s being shot at, kidnapped, and interrogated by cops and Holloway … Holloway isn’t talking to him.
Jack doesn’t know what’s going on, and he doesn’t like it one bit.
The Old Wheel picks up a few weeks after the events in The Strangest Forms, the first book in the Adventures of Holloway Holmes series. This book is the second in the trilogy and focuses more on the developing relationship between Holloway and Jack, as well as dealing with the fallout from the first book. As such, I don’t recommend picking this up without first having read the previous story.
For the past year, following the death of his mother (something he still blames himself for), the murder attempts, the weight of taking care of himself and his father, of working as a full time janitor and drug dealer, Jack has been struggling. Now, with having to attend classes, endure the more public shunning of the students, keep up with his girlfriend, and having the chance to live like an actual teenager, Jack is drowning. For so long, he’s been able to focus purely on his father, shouldering every burden with a grim and fatalistic determination. Now that some of that pressure is gone, he can’t help but realize how bad the last year has been.
Jack’s smart and he knows it, but he’s struggling in class. He’s charming and gregarious, but no one wants to talk to him or sit with him. He’s the charity case, allowed to take classes because people feel sorry for him, not because he’s smart enough or rich enough. Is it any wonder, after being shot at, after nearly dying, that Jack breaks down in tears? Jack spends a lot of this book crying, as any 16-year old would having endured what he did; how many times can anyone be beaten, shot at, kidnapped, nearly raped, threatened, and bullied without breaking down? Holloway is his rock, the boy he … likes? Loves? Is it love, or is it hormones? Is it the pressure and stress of not wanting to be alone, of connecting with the only other person who knows what you’re going through?
He sat there in silhouette, head down. I knew the curve of his spine. I knew the span of his shoulders. Anywhere, I thought. I could be anywhere and know you.
Their friendship has been building up, its foundations sunk deep into those shared experiences. Jack watches for those small tells — all that’s left after the constant ‘training’ Blackfriar Holmes gave his son to turn him into a perfect representative of the Holmes name — knows when Holloway is trying not to laugh, trying not to cry, trying not to fall apart. He makes him eat, he keeps an eye on how many pills Holloway takes, he looks for him in a crowd and knows that, whenever he’s in trouble, Holloway Holmes will be there to rescue him. Until, one day … he isn’t.
Everything is falling down to take Jack to his lowest point. All the angst, all the pain, all the loss and suffering; even as his relationship with Holloway is shifting from friendship to something more, the foreshadowing is there: This is not a happy book. This is a book about pain, about building up all the pressure and tension so that it can be released in the third and final act. And, for me, it works.
Watching Jack struggle, watching him flail about, watching him as he watches Holloway walk away is wonderfully heartbreaking. While all of the events are seen through Jack’s eyes, there’s enough there — like peeping through the cracks — to give the reader a hint of Holloway’s own pain and grief and loss. More hints of how broken Holloway has been by his father. And, speaking of whom, there’s another scene with Blackfriar in it and he remains just as loathsome, just as vile as he was in book one.
This series has been, so far, a wonderful example of character work with clever plotting, rapid pacing, subtle Easter eggs for Holmes’ fans, and excellent writing. I cannot wait to read book three to see how all of this plays out. I want to see Jack and Holloway reunited, I want to see the two of them stand up to whatever tries to take them down. I want to see how all of the events from book one and book two come together, to find out about Zodiac, about Paxton Adler, about all of it. Book three should be out in June. Until then, I hope you join me in impatiently waiting.