During a field trip to Black Vine Swamp Nick and his classmates are chased out of the swamp by an unexpected wildfire. The kids return to school only to discover that one teacher, the demanding and unpopular Mrs. Starch, is not among them. The school announces that she has had a “family emergency” but no one really believes that, especially Nick and his friend Marta. Why would her car still be in the visitor parking lot at the swamp? Why would the school cover up her disappearance?
Nick and Marta want to know the truth about Mrs. Starch as well as the fire. Their first suspect is classmate Duane “Smoke” Scrod because, well, he’s burned stuff before. The two decide to do some clue hunting on their own and find that the clues don’t match up with their initial hunches. Sometimes, when you think you know a lot about a person, you really know nothing at all.
Their investigation takes a dangerous turn when they stumble upon some greedy oilmen and a mysterious group of environmental activists who have their own plan to keep development from encroaching on the habitat of the endangered Florida panther in the Black Vine Swamp. Nick, Marta and Duane are likable, funny kids that are just plain smart, despite what some of the adults think. These kids also pay close attention to what people say and do and are able to remember the details. Author: Carl Hiaasen
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