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Scat

by Carl Hiaasen
Orion Books Hardback ?9.99
ISBN: 978 1-84255- 774- 7
Pub: Oct 1st 2009
• Sam Hawksmoor review

Following closely in the footsteps of his environmental kids' thriller Hoot, Carl Hiaasen plunges once again into the murky waters of the Everglades and a species under threat. This time in SCAT it’s an endangered panther and the only evidence it is exists is some panther poop in the glades.

Nick and Marta are school friends in small town Florida and are somewhat terrorised by the evil Mrs Starch of the biology class. She seems to pick on everyone and completely humiliates Smoke - aka Duane Scrod junior who eats her pencil and swallows it! All the kids are wary of Smoke because he’s a pyro freak and has the strangest father with talking birds who speak French!

Nick’s father is in Iraq serving with the National Guard, another classmate Libby’s father is with the Sherriff’s office. When there’s a field trip to the glades and Black Vine Swampand it's suddenly set on fire and Mrs Starch goes missing – suspicion naturally falls on Smoke. Has he done something terrible to Mrs Starch? The fire department certainly thinks so, and the fact that he’s missing that night only confirms it. Nick may even have him on video sulking around the swamp.

There’s a suspicious message from Mrs Starch to say she had family problems but the headmaster Mr Dressler knows that she has no family. He hires a completely mad teacher to cover her classes who will only read one page in the book and it's the wrong book. No one in Nick's class is happy.

Meanwhile Nick’s father is returned from Iraq with his arm missing and Nick feel obliged to give up using his right arm and try to use his left in sympathy. He is deeply affected by his father's wounds.

When Nick and Marta try to play detective and discover what really happened to Mrs Starch they are kidnapped by a beret wearing weird eco-warrior driving her car and told to stop looking for their teacher, or else!

Meanwhile oilmen are secretly drilling in the glades for oil and shooting at rare panthers. Then there's the Smoke's father who has a battle with the taxman who makes off with his son's schoolbag. How odd is that? Suddenly Smoke is accused of setting the forest fire and the proof is his schoolbag found in the glades with a blowtorch in it. The cops come calling at school and Smoke does a runner, insisting to Nick that he is innocent.

How Mrs Starch, her kidnapper, Smoke, Nick and Marta connect is the subject of this fast paced environmental thriller and its fun, often surprising, with lots of very eccentric teachers and pretty smart kids. You will also learn a lot about biology and panthers along the way. Carl Hiaasen knows his Florida and the Everglades really well and any reader 10 and up will really thrill to this topical adventure.

 
 
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