Neighborhood lore becomes a frightening reality for a young boy who dares to trespass on the property of Old Man Fischer in this debut mystery.
When pets disappear in his suburban Chicago neighborhood, 12-year-old Shane O’Conner and his classmates suspect their elderly neighbor, a miserable loner who only talks to children when he wants them off his lawn. The school bully taps Shane to investigate (or else!), but the boy’s natural curiosity leads him to a mystery set deep in the rain forest of Costa Rica, where a younger Dr. Hans Fischer lost his botanist wife on a science expedition. The son of a political prisoner in Soviet-controlled East Germany, Fischer found solace by studying insects: “The tiny world allowed me to escape my dismal childhood,” he recalls. But it was his marriage to Jillian—a kind and brilliant woman he met in school—that gave his life meaning. Now he lives alone, haunted by the events of that fateful trip to Central America. As Old Man Fischer tells his side of the story in alternating chapters, Shane gets his friends and family members to fill in the rest of the details, and the intriguing and complicated scientist who emerges shatters Shane’s first impression of the frail old man. A marked contrast between Shane’s youthful voice and Old Man Fischer’s more mature perspective effectively wraps the adult mystery in this middle-grade novel, leaving readers to wonder which of Russell’s two narrators they can truly believe. Shane is independent and brave, but he struggles at home and school. He and his younger sister, who suffers from a medical condition, are often left at a school’s child care program while their mother works in a hotel and their father, a bakery owner, chases the American dream. The scenes from Shane’s daily life feel real and relatable even as unusual events take place at Old Man Fischer’s house.
A capably written, genre-bending story filled with creepy-crawlies and refreshingly curious humans.