Nick doesn’t like Mrs. Starch, his biology teacher; she’s strict, a tough grader, and likes to use homework for both punishment and humiliation. Nonetheless, he’s worried when she disappears: a fire breaks out during a field-trip to the everglades, she goes back for a student’s dropped asthma inhaler, and never returns. The school insists she’s taking a leave of absence to deal with family matters, but it doesn’t make sense to Nick. With his friend Marta, Nick decides to investigate, even if he’s a little afraid of the number one suspect: a classmate recently antagonized by Mrs. Starch and with a history of arson.
Carl Hiaasen’s books are always fun: a dose of environmentalism, a dose of mystery, a dose of adventure, and leavened by his rather twisted sense of humor. Unfortunately, he’s getting a touch predictable, especially in his children’s books; having read both of his early kid’s books and about half of his adult books, I enjoyed Scat but the main plot never surprised me or held me in suspense.
The secondary plot, on the other hand, had me on the edge of my seat. Nick’s father is just returning from a tour of service in Iraq, and not entirely intact. Nick and his parents’ struggle to adjust and Nick’s father’s medical setbacks are masterfully portrayed, particularly as Nick fights for a sense of control over a situation in which really, he has no control.
And the rest of the time it’s running around the everglades saving panthers and defeating greedy oilmen, in true Carl Hiaasen tradition.