Musician On The Downbeat

Young adults have always been underrepresented as mystery heroes, but Keith Snyder has made a grand start at making up the deficit with wit and style.

Jason Keltner is a sometimes-starving writer and performer of electronic music in urban Southern California, but along the way was recruited by Norman Platt, a friend with mysterious government connections, to perform odd tasks for just enough money to keep his beater of a car together and himself away from McJobs.

This time, he’s paid three grand to babysit Paul Reno, who was Jason’s friend until he cheated with Jason’s now-ex-wife. Taking him into Marengo Manor, the beat-up rental house he shares with several free-floating housemates, immediately plunges Jason and his friends into the case of the murder of a virtual reality guru, the theft of a mysterious black box, and several chases down California’s highways by hordes of bad guys driving fleets of Tauruses. Along the way, Jason flees to the desert, hides out in motels, learns to counter the bad guys’ moves with random acts and tries to finish “Untitled #23,” his latest composition.

In the spirit of the title, the punchline to a riddle posed by one of Jason’s friends, Snyder writes a tale equally offbeat and frequently funny. Jason and his friends hold black belts in the art of the deadpan quote.

Keltner’s an appealing hero whether giving himself five points for working Ralph Waldo Emerson into an Afrobeat percussive jam or summarizing a Mexican standoff with the bad guys with lines like, “How about we all just stand here and bristle with armament until someone in a condo glances over, sees his worst fears confirmed about those losers who live in the Manor, and calls nine-one-one. Cops race up in two, three hours, and that’s that.”