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A Hole in Juan: An Amanda Pepper Mystery    by Gillian Roberts order for
Hole in Juan
by Gillian Roberts
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Amanda Pepper - high school English teacher, wife of former cop C. K. MacKenzie, and part-time amateur sleuth - is about to confront a perplexing series of problems: Someone has apparently stolen her attendance and grade book, someone seems to have made off with some of her examinations, and someone is tormenting the new science teacher, Juan Angel Reyes.

Reyes - fastidious to a fault and more than just a little uptight - turns to Amanda for what seems to be friendship and advice. Most of his students, according to Reyes, are unpleasant malcontents who are determined to make his life miserable. Lab equipment has been deliberately misplaced, someone has put acid in Reyes' briefcase, and his car has been vandalized. Amanda, however, is reluctant to believe that the students Reyes has named could really be responsible. Yes, Amanda admits, most of the students at Philly Prep are unique students. They are kids who need smaller classes and more personal attention, and at times even the most experienced teacher can have problems with some of the more troublesome students. But Amanda believes Reyes is simply being rather paranoid.

However, when Reyes is gravely injured in a chemistry lab explosion, Amanda realizes she should have been more sympathetic and receptive when Reyes came to her with his problems. And then she receives the note:


Amanda, of course, accepts that challenge and becomes the somebody who sets out prevent whatever is about to happen next. Tensions build, threats continue, and horrible consequences lurk on the horizon. A student even warns Amanda: 'Some things ... well ... they just have to play themselves out. It's fate.' Now, however, Amanda knows that she must move quickly to thwart whatever fate has in store at Philly Prep.

A Hole in Juan is a consistently entertaining romp that will especially appeal to readers who want to revisit vicariously the angst and pressures of being in high school (either as students or teachers). With a thematic focus upon the anxieties associated with adolescent peer pressure and acceptance, A Hole in Juan includes an abundance of interesting characterizations, several compelling subplots, plenty of scenes with classroom discussions of poetry and literature (which seems natural since the author Gillian Roberts was formerly an English teacher in Philadelphia), and just enough malicious mayhem to keep the mystery plot moving along rather nicely.

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