First published 1974; cover shown is the 1976 Pan Books (UK) paperback edition.
This is an adventure story, not a mystery, but it was one of the first 'adult' novels I ever read, and after rereading it over the weekend I realised just what a good story it is - though somewhat far fetched. Definitely worthy of appearing on my blog!
Nine and a half year old scientist Julian West leaves his family's home in San Diego and travels to the bus station, intent on catching the 3:10am to Washington DC. He isn't running away from home; he simply wants to carry out his plan: to travel to Washington and patent his invention, a toy gun that shoots bubbles.
Travelling with him are a varied assortment of characters: two teenagers looking for a hotel where they can finally consummate their relationship, a psychopathic killer who plans to hijack the bus, an ex-soldier recently returned from Vietnam and looking for an easy way to make money, a KGB spy, a CIA operative and a paedophile. Yes, the passenger list is a little hard to swallow, but anything's possible, right?
As the bus makes its way across the country, Julian finds a hero in the form of ex-soldier Frank Marshall, after he saves Julian from the paedophile and also takes his bubble gun invention seriously - unlike Julian's own father. Later, while showing his bubble gun diagram to the CIA operative, the KGB spy bumps his way past Julian in the aisle and discreetly photographs the diagram, believing it to be the weapon plans that the CIA operative was meant to pass on to him. Soon the KGB spy has fled the bus, camera in hand, closely followed by the CIA operative who realises what a colossal mistake has just been made.
Before his adventure is over, Julian will thwart a bus hijacking, disguise himself as Buffalo Bill to escape the police searching for him, lose his lisp, penetrate the Pentagon, help smooth over a Russian/American diplomatic incident, and have his boyish innocence shattered by a man he called friend.
Paul Gallico (1897 - 1976) was a 6' 3" tall ex-longshoreman who became the most well-known sports reporter of his day, before turning to writing fiction. Born in New York, he later moved to England where he adopted 23 cats.