From 100-year-old Hotchner (Hemingway in Love, 2015, etc.), noted biographer of Hemingway, Doris Day, and others, comes this slender, sweet-tempered boy-sleuth tale set in Depression-era St. Louis.
At 12, Aaron Broom is precocious. With his mother interned in a tuberculosis sanitarium and his rent-jumping, electricity-pirating salesman dad just scraping by, he has to be. The novel begins briskly, with Aaron left outside to protect their precious truck from the repo men while his father goes into a jewelry store to ply his company's watches. When his father is buzzed inside with his bulky sample case, Aaron sees a heavyset man scurry in behind him. Then he hears shots and sees the display window shatter and the man flee while stashing his gun in his waistband. Soon Aaron's father is escorted out in handcuffs, and Aaron, by now eavesdropping on the assembled officers, discovers that his dad has been taken in as a material witness and possible accomplice. He will be kept without bail. Aaron, suddenly on his own, soon determines that the only way of getting his father released is to do a bit of "detectifying" and unmask the culprit himself. He begins to investigate the jewelry store's employees, enlisting the aid of a motley group of kids and adults: a newspaper street vendor, an epileptic ex-neighbor girl who lives in a Hooverville near the river, a maritime lawyer, the kindly palooka who manages the building where Aaron and his father have been living. Are there extremely convenient plot twists? Yes. Implausibilities, shortcuts? Fine. Could this all be derided as sepia-toned hokum? Sure. But Hotchner's storytelling is fast-paced, his feel for period detail sure-handed, his vision of humanity-facing-adversity persistently sunny, and his regard for the boy's resourcefulness contagious.
A brisk, winsome caper.