From the moment when 13-year-old Elinor is awakened by the police arresting her father for embezzlement, Alcock's latest exploration of the dynamics of uncommon troubles holds attention. After surreptitiously slipping Elinor a receipt for luggage left at Victoria Station, Dad is whisked away, leaving the family nothing to live on. Pretty stepmother Sophia, only 21, fails to rise to the occasion: ""You couldn't dislike Sophia...But you couldn't depend on her."" After summoning an odd lot of estranged relatives to split up the other three children, she takes baby Bambi and goes home to her mother in Italy. Elinor, sent to a curmudgeonly great-aunt, Mrs. Carter, discovers that her father bas defrauded her of her life's savings. When she eventually unlocks the case retrieved from Victoria, it proves to contain evidence that Dad planned to abandon them all, plus only a fraction of the missing money. What to do with it? Honesty prevails, despite various urgent needs; and, unexpectedly, Sophia reappears to reunite the family. Besides Elinor, the story is enriched with several adroitly drawn characters, notably Timon, an abused boy who has been adopted by Mrs. Carter and with whom Elinor develops a prickly friendship; it's enlivened by suspenseful turns, including a confrontation in a dangerously decrepit abandoned house. As usual with this fine author (The Cuckoo Sister, 1986), compelling dialogue, imaginative plotting, and unusual insight into moral frailties and some unexpected strengths tie it all together.