I was pleasantly surprised re-reading this book, fully expecting it to go to the resale pile as I remembered very little about it other than that it was a mystery about a dead dog solved by a teenager with autism. I was even less enthusiastic after reading House Rules (see previous review), which very much read like a book by someone who was trying very very hard to understand autism rather than someone who actually did. That’s the difference between the books though, Haddon reaches the end of the book and mentions that the inspiration came from spending time working with people with autism. He isn’t trying to understand; he does. The book is more an exploration of what it is like to deal with your emotions from people who don’t do so well, and the one who does so best is in fact the character with autism.
The incident in question is the murder of the neighbor’s dog, discovered by Christopher, who decides to investigate (I forgot this in my complaint of House Rules, but Picoult even probably borrowed Haddon’s character’s specific likes and dislikes – Jacob in her book dislikes orange; Christopher dislikes orange and brown, and both have omens of bad days with too many cars of the wrong color). He finds a much larger mystery than the killer of the dog, though (another thing I forgot about this book was that the titular mystery is solved not even halfway through, and not through detective work), and has to navigate London by himself to find what he’s looking for.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on autism, but I have read many authors’ experiences with autism, and have a son who consistently scores borderline on the spectrum (which makes a lot of sense given his father and mother’s tendencies in that direction), and this just FEELS accurate. At the very least, it follows its own rules. )SPOILERS FOR MY LAST REVIEW – I truly don’t believe that an autistic teenager would answer “that’s what I keep trying to tell you, I’m not” when questioned whether he was sorry for killing his tutor if he was innocent. I also don’t think that he would wait to give his brother evidence he believed would implicate his brother if found in front of his lawyer, mother, and brother until his brother’s birthday if the whole reason he staged the crime scene to implicate someone else was to keep his brother’s secret.) The book is remarkable for giving us an interior experience of a condition that often makes understanding difficult, but it’s also just a beautiful book about interaction and human connection.