Skip to main content

The Man with the Red Bag

Review

The Man with the Red Bag

Six months after September 11, 2001, 12-year-old Kevin Sanders is no longer sure he wants to go on a sightseeing bus tour with his grandmother. But his beloved grandma, still mourning the loss of her husband, has her heart set on this trip. Kevin, an aspiring mystery writer, also hopes that the trip might provide some good ideas for the novel he would like to write.

Sure enough, a mystery almost literally falls into Kevin's lap. One of the other passengers on Star Tours' bus trip through the American West is Charles Stavros, a swarthy, dark-haired stranger traveling alone. He says he's Greek, but Kevin is suspicious. Could he be Saudi or Iraqi instead? When one of the other sightseers becomes convinced that she has seen Stavros's picture in the paper as a suspect in the 9/11 attacks, Kevin knows he needs to keep an eye on him.

And then there's his bag. Stavros carries a red bag with him everywhere, refusing to leave it on the bus even to go river rafting. Stavros keeps the heavy bag locked and even seems to be talking to it sometimes, saying, "Before long it will all be over." When Kevin sees what looks like a bomb inside the bag, he and his new friend Geneva hatch a plot to stop another terrorist attack at one of our country's national landmarks. But could it be possible that, amidst all the post-9/11 conspiracy theories and paranoia, Kevin is fooling himself into seeing danger where none really exists?

Clearly inspired by the mysteries of writers such as Joan Lowery Nixon, THE MAN WITH THE RED BAG will involve kids in a genuinely suspenseful mystery plot, with plenty of twists, turns and red herrings. The book also has elements of the classic road trip novel, as Kevin's tour takes him through several of the country's most famous national parks and monuments.

These standard genre elements make the story so entertaining that the book's more serious messages will go down painlessly. Even as Kevin learns about Mount Rushmore and Old Faithful, he is also learning important lessons about tolerance, prejudice and jumping to conclusions. After September 11th, Eve Bunting argues, jumping to conclusions can be more than simply foolish --- it can be truly harmful to others. At the end of Kevin's bus tour, he has more than enough fodder for his first mystery novel --- but he also has plenty of food for thought.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 1, 2007

The Man with the Red Bag
by Eve Bunting

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2007
  • Hardcover: 230 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 006081828X
  • ISBN-13: 9780060818289