cover image The Robber and Me

The Robber and Me

Josef Holub. Henry Holt & Company, $16.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5599-3

A timid boy named Boniface Schroll is the unlikely hero of this clever, fast-moving novel set in Germany, 1867, when that old country still was a patchwork of kingdoms run by the exacting whims of local authorities. Boniface, an orphan, is sent to live with his uncle, the mayor of Graab, a remote mountain village. Dumped at the edge of the district by an unsavory coach driver, the 11-year-old soon is lost and collapses in the dark snow-covered forest. He awakens safely in bed at his uncle's house with only a vague recollection of a tall man in a big black hat. Immediately, intrigue sets in. Was the black-hatted man Robber Knapp, the most wanted man in town? Has Knapp been on a crime rampage? Boniface gains the courage to uncover the truth about the robber and his alleged life of crime, but the truth alone cannot save the wanted man from being hunted. This translation is brisk and bright, and the quick pace builds the suspense to its realistic conclusion. Memorable characters include a ruthless and devious Dickensian schoolmaster; the maid Frederika, with whom Boniface shyly begins to shed his burdensome mantle of ""orphan""; and courageous Christian, the robber's son, with whom Boniface begins a transformative friendship. Although this town dates back over a century ago, the dynamics of a community and the power of one person's actions to change the status quo are every bit as relevant for today's readers. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)