CARL Hiaasen’s latest book for middle-school readers is an eco-thriller full of humour and colourful characters. The story begins with the disappearance of Mrs Starch, the biology teacher, to never return from a field trip to Black Vine Swamp.
Mrs Starch is not an average teacher. She has strange habits, for example, her collection of stuffed animals that are alive and her alleged pet snakes. She is “the most feared teacher at the Truman School” as she believes in terrorising her students. The students spread insane rumours about her, some of which turn out to be true. In one class, Mrs Starch focusses her attention on Duane Scrod, known as Smoke, but the latter refuses to be intimidated by her. As you read the book further, you find Smoke has a hidden side of him and so does Mrs Starch. One day Smoke does not answer Mrs Starch’s question in biology, whereupon in a fit of anger, she assigns him to write an essay.
Suspicion falls on Smoke because his name refers to certain arsonist tendencies in him. When Mrs Starch, named Bunny Starch by the students, fails to reappear, Nick and Marta begin to find out the cause of her disappearance. They meet a strange man named Twilly who claims to be her nephew. At the same time, Nick wonders why Smoke has started showing good behaviour all of a sudden and eventually, after probing further, they stumble across a scam involving an oil company, and the endangered puma.
Now the story takes a turn and concentrates on environmental terrorism. The author Hiaasen deals with a serious ecology topic. In between we have some strange scenes especially the role of the substitute teacher who strictly follows specific guidelines.
The sub-plot involves Nick’s father who gets injured while serving in Iraq and Nick shows support to his father.
The book can be read by children to get some thrill.
(Orion Children’s Books, Orion House, 5 Upper St. Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9EA.)