The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Doubleday)
T he Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the debut novel by children's author Mark Haddon, is appearing on nearly every Recommended Book shelf around, much like last summer's Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. And like Bones, the "hook" is a first person narrator telling their story from a severely limited and unique vantage point. But the fifteen-year-old Christopher of Curious Incident isn't narrating from heaven. Christopher is autistic--his young mind functions like a super computer, organizing data into linear, logical sequences and melting down in the face of complex human emotions.

On the opening page of the book, Christopher finds the neighbor's poodle forked to death, and channeling the spirit of his hero Sherlock Holmes, vows to uncover the murderer.

Humor, facial expressions, rhetorical questions, body language, and metaphors are all lost on our detective. In his mind, logic rules all, and since this is his book, it's filled with complex mathematical formulas and statistical mind twisters. Sentences like this are not unusual: "One way was being frightened of being far away from a place I was used to, and the other way was being frightened of being near where Father lived, and they were in inverse proportion to one another, so that the total fear remained a constant as I got further away from home and further away from Father like this:

Fathertotal = Fearnew place X Fearnear Father = Constant."

Unfortunately, the book's unique first-person perspective is also its most frustrating point. Having a narrator who can't comprehend any complex emotions is like going through the story with blinders on. Christopher engages in a lot of anti-social behavior--fighting, groaning, rocking back and forth for hours--but we don't get to "see" this. The prose, which swings from clipped to mechanically rambling becomes tiresome, and the calculus and statistics portions shout, "skim me." Despite the book's feel-good popularity, I came away from Christopher's story feeling curiously empty. CHAS BOWIE