For better or worse, I found myself thinking of The View from the Cherry Tree as sort of what-if-Ralphie-of-A-Christmas-Story-witnessed-a-murder? story. (The novel substantially predates the film, of course, but post-dates the Jean Shepherd novel from which the film drew, so maybe the association isn’t entirely spurious. (Then again, it could as easily be what-if-Dennis-the-Menace-witnessed-a-murder?) The about-the–author notes indicate that this is Roberts’ first novel for younger readers, and I was reminded of Lawrence Block commenting that The Burglar in the Closet became a comic mystery only because Block couldn’t make it work as straight noir, and I wonder if The View from the Cherry Tree had a similar genesis: it leans awfully hard on the “nobody believes me” trope, but there’s some implied, if off-screen, seediness that seemed jarring in a middle-grade novel.
I thought this might be a book for which I’ve been searching for a long time. It’s not the book I remember, and I’m sure I didn’t read it as a kid. So either there were two kids books published in the mid-late 70’s that featured a cat named “S.O.B.” and mentioned spiders, or I was so shocked by the cat’s name that I returned the book to the library unread. Ironically, the cat was far and away my favorite thing about the book, he’s swaggery, cantankerous and generally credible.
The book is clearly the product of a more innocent time, but Rob’s inability to convince an adult to listen to him wasn’t the only thing that strained my credibility much more than the grumpy ol’ cat. A couple of my quibbles bear directly on the mystery, such as it is, and I’ll avoid spoilers. But one of the ways we know Rob is a l’il hellion is because he’s inordinately fond of his jar of live spiders. There are holes in the lid, sure … but given that over the course of a few days, Rob does not spend time shoving bugs or other spider food in the jar, I’d expect him to wind up with a just one (somewhat larger) spider in pretty short order.