In New York's Long Island, in the unpredictable decade of the 1960s, a young boy laments the approaching close of summer and the advent of sixth grade. Growing up in a household with an overworked father whom he rarely sees, an alcoholic mother who paints wonderful canvases that are never displayed, an older brother who serves as both tormentor and protector, and a younger sister who inhabits her own secret world, the boy takes his amusements where he can find them. Some of his free time is spent in the basement of the family's modest home, where he and his brother, Jim, have created Botch Town, a detailed cardboard replica of their community, complete with clay figurines representing friends and neighbors. And so the time passes with a not-always-reassuring sameness-until the night a prowler is reported stalking the neighborhood.
Appointing themselves ad hoc investigators, the brothers set out to aid the police-while their little sister, Mary, smokes cigarettes, speaks in other voices, inhabits alternate personas . . . and, unbeknownst to her older siblings, moves around the inanimate residents of Botch Town. But ensuing events add a shadowy cast to the boys' night games: disappearances, deaths, and spectral sightings capped off by the arrival of a sinister man in a long white car trawling the neighborhood after dark. Strangest of all is the inescapable fact that every one of these troubling occurrences seems to correspond directly to the changes little Mary has made to the miniature town in the basement.
In Edgar-winner Ford's disappointing sixth novel, the narrator a nameless boy growing up on suburban Long Island in the mid-1960s spends what remains of his summer vacation roaming the neighborhood with his older brother, Jim. At home, money is tight, forcing their father to work three jobs while their mother drinks herself to sleep every night. A prowler may be loose on the streets, and the narrator and Jim see a menacing man in a white car lurking near their house and school. When a local boy disappears soon after school starts, the narrator and Jim are sure "Mr. White" is responsible. They turn to their younger sister, Mary, for help, after she mysteriously moves figurines in the boys' model town, reflecting events before they've occurred. The stage is set for suspense, yet Ford (The Girl in the Glass) deflates it at every opportunity with his unresolved subplots. Instead of building to a thrilling climax, the story peters out and loose ends are either forgotten or tied up too neatly.