Cross (New World, 1995, etc.) tautly combines a mystery with a compassionate novel about the healing power of friendship and love. Teenage Charlie Willcox is an amateur photographer who captures the image of a strange animal swimming in the river behind the Luttrells' house. The animal--actually an otter--is only the first part of the puzzle, because the Luttrells themselves are even stranger. The father is cold and hostile, the mother nervous, daughter Jennifer evasive, and son Peter--the oddest of all--a socially awkward boy who is bullied at school and abused at home, regularly locked up in the family's backyard shed. While Mr. Luttrell sets traps for the otter, Charlie befriends Peter, who warms to the kind attention. Although the story is set in contemporary Scotland, American readers will find it accessible, with only a few regional terms scattered about. The depiction of high school life is sharp, especially the bullying of Peter, which leads to his nearly drowning. In the deeply satisfying conclusion, it is Charlie who rescues his friend, but it is the salvation of the Luttrell family that readers will cheer. Persuasive and resonant.