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by Gillian Roberts
Ballantine, February 2006
256 pages
ISBN: 0345480198

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Philadelphia high school teacher and part-time private investigator Amanda Pepper is feeling uneasy. She should be just plain happy. She's newly married to her long-term beau, ex-cop and now a full-time graduate student in criminology, CK Mackenzie. But other than her new responsibility, playing substitute parent for a teenage relative of her husband's who's been sent to Philadelphia to break up a teen love affair, her home life is fine.

She's feeling uneasy about her students in Philly Prep. They seem to be hiding things from her, and she can't tell how serious a matter it is. Her attendance book goes missing then turns up in plain sight and strange notes and poems are left in the classroom for her, hinting at something dark happening at the school's Mischief Night party, held on the day before Halloween.

A handsome young new teacher Juan Angel Reyes, who makes it all to clear to everyone that he thinks he is too intelligent and superior to waste his time at Philly Prep, complains to Amanda that pranks have also been played in his science lab. Supplies have been moved around and his briefcase has been damaged by acid.

When an explosion occurs in his lab with devastating results to Reyes, the police think it's a usual science lab accident, but Amanda can't help but believe that it was yet another prank gone terribly wrong.

Always a treat to read, this latest installment in the Amanda Pepper series is even darker and filled with more tension than the earlier novels. Writer Gillian Roberts gets to the very heart of the fears and sudden emotional outbursts of modern teens. Her portrait of the pressures that come at them from all sides is right on the mark and makes for a chilling novel.

As a long-time fan of the series, I'm not sure if I'm sorry Roberts glossed quickly over the wedding between her two lead characters. I was afraid that a marriage might change their mature and rock-solid relationship and might damage the book, but happily her fast wedding, between novels, turned out to be the perfect answer. These two are still as intelligent as ever in dealing with each other and the mysteries that come under their investigation.

A HOLE IN JUAN, the 13th of the Amanda Pepper series, is as good as it gets for a continuing series. The mystery is solid and satisfying, the writing of the characters, main and secondary is well crafted and three-dimensional. Roberts has kept the high quality of this series up and it's a downright pleasure to read.

Though this book stands well on its own, I recommend all of the Amanda Pepper series to mystery readers who want a puzzling mystery along with a likeable, mature and competent main character. I'm looking forward to reading more first-rate novels about Amanda in the future.

Reviewed by Sharon Katz, January 2006

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