I first encountered the work of Blake Nelson through the movie adaptation of his novel Paranoid Park. The movie was a fairly forgettable indie film, so I was not inspired to pick up Paranoid Park or another one of Nelson’s novels until a few weeks ago. Judging by the quality of The Prince of Venice Beach, Nelson’s most recent novel, my reluctance to read him was a mistake.
The Prince of Venice Beach is narrated by Cali, a homeless kid originally from Nebraska who sleeps in a tree house in the back yard of a home owned by a kind older hippy woman--when he’s not hanging out on the Venice Beach boardwalk. Cali is also good at finding people and is hired by a private detective to locate a homeless man named Mugs and later on Reese, a young girl who recently ran away from her rich father. Cali sees private investigation as a potential career and starts planning a missing persons business with Ailis, a quirky girl who seems to have a thing for him.
While Cali’s career as a private detective, or at least as an assistant to detectives, gets off to a successful start both in terms of finding people and getting paid more money than he knows what to do with, Cali’s principles soon get in the way. Cali quickly realizes that people sometimes have reasons why they don’t want to be found, and he has his reasons for living off the grid too. With one case in particular he hears very different stories from the person he’s looking for and the person who is paying him to do the looking. The Prince of Venice Beach is not a novel just about homeless kids or detective work. It puts these two elements together, along with strong character development, for a book that you will not want to run away from.