cover image The Unprotected Witness

The Unprotected Witness

James Stevenson. Greenwillow Books, $15 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-688-15133-1

Taking up where his winning thriller, The Bones in the Cliff, left off, this next chapter in Pete's unsettled life is just as skillfully crafted--and even more hair-raising. The novel opens just after Pete's father, living in a remote Missouri town under the protected witness program, is shot to death. Now members of the mob are determined to find the $3 million of stolen drug money the man allegedly had in his possession. But Pete and his friend Rootie feel compelled to uncover the stash before a pair of shrewd gangsters do and, in the process, become alarmingly unprotected witnesses. Stevenson's plot takes several unanticipated turns and offers some memorable images: the principal at Pete's new school grabs an errant student and lifts the youngster ""between his thumb and two fingers, like he was selecting a chocolate out of a box of candy""; Pete and Rootie toast marshmallows on the metal floor of a friend's rusted-out car, in which loose ends of duct tape ""dangled down like vines in a jungle."" Though ambiguous flashbacks occasionally make for baffling time sequences, readers will be swept up in the narrative's steadily building momentum. There's a strong hint of a sequel at tale's end, when Rootie's grandmother invites Pete to join them on a trip to Saratoga. Fans of this endearing young duo will hope he accepts. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)