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K. M. Peyton is too accomplished for the good of her books. Here she has the wisdom to make the story of a kidnapping the story of kidnappee Jonathan Meredith, 16, whose guilt over his behavior in captivity makes his release more of an ordeal than his abduction. First, though, we have well-to-do Jonathan and local friend Peter, both from horsey families, stopped by a van that, reasonably, offers Jonathan a lift; the tense, inter-cut course of the kidnapping, with Jonathan confined for a time--and almost suffocated--in a small box and Peter, on horseback and carrying a half million pounds, meeting the kidnappers' emissary, also mounted, for a rainy midnight rendezvous; the reactions of, most significantly, Jonathan's no-nonsense mother, at a loss and resentful, and his unfooled younger sister: ""I bet, when they get over being glad to see Jonathan, they'll be cross with him."" And this is just what Jonathan, already thinking himself a coward (for choosing anaesthesia--over a chance to attract attention--for his second confinement in the box) himself suspects. His screaming nightmares cease when he leaves school to stay with Peter, grooms and races horses; and his guilt is lifted by the captors' henchman who, turning up providentially, puts a different face on his seeming cowardice. But at that point the story takes a gratuitous melodramatic turn which results in Jonathan's being shot (in an attempt to capture the henchman) and almost dying, and his mother and a smashing girl-rider standing by to console him. Peyton the ringmaster juggles scenes and characters with aplomb, supplies crackling dialogue and some bona fide deep thoughts--without, however, allowing for the wantonness, the rubbing and fraying of real life. A compulsive read that needn't have been the slick book it is.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1978
Publisher: Collins World