This is the fascinating tale of an uneasy mix between English suburban values and South African apartheid, which builds up to an unexpectedly explosive finale. The unlikely starting-point of plants being stolen from the gardens of a quiet Newcastle street draws you in, as does the deftly-portrayed character of young Natalie Porter, a floating trophy of her parents' ever-shifting diplomatic/journalistic lifestyle, who finds a semblance of permanence staying with her Geordie grandmother - and leaps at the opportunity to emulate her fictional heroine, girl-detective Nancy Drew.
Natalie's sleuthing efforts bring her into contact with an enigmatic black South African academic and his teenage son living at the end of the road. Everyone has them down as the plant thieves; and issues of racial prejudice are sensitively explored both in the English suburban context and, later, in South Africa itself.
Interwoven with the escalating mystery of the missing plants and the past lives of the possible perpetrators - which brings the reader unavoidably face-to-face with the tragic history of apartheid - is the delicately portrayed off-and-on romance that develops between young Natalie and Thabo, the bitter South African teenager now forced by circumstances to live with his father in Britain. Is he a `good guy' or a `bad guy'? Natalie's doubts on this score - and the reader's - persist almost to the last page.
This is a great story, with a compulsively page-turning conclusion, which also gives the reader an inside look at many of the conflicting issues of racial prejudice in its most notorious institutional expression - apartheid South Africa.