I don’t usually review ‘young adult’ novels or short story collections here at the PorPor Books Blog, but I made an exception for this novel, mainly because Frank Bonham’s ‘Durango Street’ (1965) remains a classic of the Ghetto Action genre.
As well, ‘Persons’ is set in the sort of dystopian near-future USA that was part and parcel of the Eco-Disaster subgenre of 70s sf. It's the kind of book to be read while Zager and Evans's 1969 single 'In the Year 2525' plays in the background........
The protagonist of ‘Persons’ is Brian Foster, a high-school student living in San Diego, ca. the mid -1990s. The USA is in the grip of an ongoing Eco-catastrophe, accompanied by economic collapse. Its citizens rely on synthetic food; inhale air so baldy polluted that they regularly use oxygen –dispensing ‘breath’ stations; and routinely take a variety of anti-anxiety pills (one brand is termed ‘Lullaby’).
As the novel opens, Brian is submitting a message to the Personals column of his local newspaper. It seems that a year ago, while on an outing to the Torrey Pines seashore park, Brian’s mother and sister….disappeared. Vanished. No calls, no ransom notes, nothing. Brian’s father, an absent-minded eccentric who refers to Brian as ‘old man’ and ‘Champ’, doesn’t seem unduly perturbed by the absence of his wife and daughter.
As Brian embarks on his own investigation of the disappearance of his mother and sister, he meets an enigmatic new girl at school: Heather Morse. Soon Heather and Brian are good friends, working together to discover the truth behind the rumors that there has been a steady increase in the numbers of people reported as ‘missing’ in Southern California.
Is there a conspiracy taking place under the noses of the authorities ? And does it involve plans to relocate the human race to another solar system before the Earth becomes uninhabitable from the abuse Man has subjected it to ? For Brian and Heather, time to find the answers to these questions is running out – for Lieutenant Atticus, the cruel and callous neighborhood Environmental Police officer, suspects that they know something about the conspiracy ……
Even making allowances for being a Young Adult novel, ‘The Missing Persons League’ is a mediocre book. Bonham’s plot has a meandering, improvised quality that relies heavily on contrivances and willfully dumb behavior by many of the adult characters. The dialogue has the stilted tenor of a first-draft manuscript; this was a surprise to me, since Bonham’s dialogue in ‘Durango Street’ is particularly good.
Where ‘Persons’ does succeed is in its depiction of a near-future USA in the grip of Eco-catastrophe; there is a distinctly ‘70s’ styling to this aspect of the novel that will undoubtedly trigger nostalgia in those readers who were Baby Boomers and remember seeing ‘Soylent Green’ and ‘Logan’s Run’ as children / teenagers.
But, taken as a whole, ‘Persons’ is one of Bonham’s less impressive efforts. Given his profligate output as a writer, it was perhaps inevitable that some of his books would be sub-par. Hardcore fans of 70s SF may want to give this book a try; all others can pass on it without penalty.