A Hole in Juan by Gillian Roberts

A Hole in Juan by Gillian Roberts
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (157 Pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

No matter the season, the Philadelphia private school where Amanda Pepper teaches English is never a center of tranquility. But with Halloween and the annual Mischief Night party only days away, the hope is that nothing more than old-fashioned vandalism and pranks will take place.

No such luck. Trouble erupts long before the witching hour, as the school is plagued by a series of mishaps ranging from the trivial to the potentially deadly–and most of which seem to center on a group of popular seniors.

A fire alarm rings during a test; all the orange and black paint is stolen from the art room; the mustard packets are taken from the cafeteria. Perhaps more serious: chemicals and equipment disappear from the science lab, as does one of Amanda’s exams and her attendance book. And the dapper new science instructor, Juan Reyes, receives a threatening message recalling that a teacher was once flayed to death by his students.

As Amanda juggles teaching, moonlighting as a private investigator with her husband, C.K. Mackenzie, and coping with C.K.’s visiting sixteen-year-old high school-dropout nephew, she tries to find out what, or who, is behind the ominous events.

Before she can unmask the tricksters, the turmoil in the school increases when students rise up against the administration’s censuring (and censoring) of a campus poet. Then unrest escalates into a lethally explosive menace, and Amanda receives a warning that there is more–and far worse–to come.

Amanda Pepper just feels as if something more disruptive than usual is going on with her senior English class. She has no real evidence; it is just that a lot of small things seem to be adding up to real trouble as Halloween and the annual Mischief Night party approach. The explosion in the chemistry lab which severely injures the very unpopular chemistry teacher is seen by the police as an accident. But Amanda just knows that things aren’t right.

This is the thirteenth Amanda Pepper mystery and once again Gillian Roberts has written a delightfully captivating cozy mystery. I am very impressed by the depth of the characters in this novel. Roberts obviously has a deep understanding of both adolescents and adults. Her characters are well-defined and they ring true. The chemistry teacher is only at Philly Prep so that he can earn enough money to stay in grad school. He clearly does not understand the student population in a school where the only necessary qualification is having parents wealthy enough to pay the tuition. He calls his senior students “the tennis boys and their girls,” without any acknowledgement of them as individuals. Amanda, on the other hand, knows her students extremely well. She is able to captivate them even when they don’t want to be engaged. She succeeds in encouraging one of her classes to write their own poetry and perform it for the entire school. And she notices when a student starts acting differently.

The plot moves swiftly and the muddied waters become more confused as the Friday night party approaches. There are plenty of clues, but sorting them out is far from an easy task, and suspense abounds. The conclusion is very satisfying, and as always, Amanda premonitions were right.

If you enjoy cozy mysteries, especially in an academic setting, you will certainly be pleased with A Hole in Juan. Personally, I think that a day spent with Amanda Pepper is a day well spent.


  1. Is this a series that needs to be read in order, or can you jump in at any point and know what’s going on?

    • Hi, this is Gillian with delight and thanks for that wonderful review! Cyclamen, you made my day (and week and more!) So glad you enjoyed the book. And Astilbe,I wrote the series so that you do not have to read it in order. The only ongoing thread is the romance between Amanda and C.K. Mackenzie. It begins with the first book, and as you can see from the review above,(this isn’t much of a spoiler!) they are now married. I hope you enjoy them all, in any order you choose!

    • You can jump in anywhere. I actually started with the 9th book (and there are now 13), and it was a wonderful stand-alone mystery. Personally, when I find a series I like, I enjoy reading it in order as the lives of the main characters do change over time and it is fun for me to have that added dimension. However, each of these books is complete in and of itself without any need for back story at all, and I’ve now read all but the last and they are all well-done with obvious knowledge of the world the author creates, and characters with real depth and dimensions.

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