At first I didn't quite know what to make of this (relatively short) novel. Is "Dust" by Arthur Slade a horror story? A mystery? A coming-of-age tale? Maybe all of it, and there is certainly no need to sort each and every book into a category.
Rural Saskatchewan in the late 1920s or early '30s, anyway, some years after the "Great Crash": Robert's seven-year old brother decides to walk into town instead of riding on the cart with his parents, who follow the same road shortly afterwards, only to discover that their little boy has never arrived in town.
Robert, 11 years old and different from the rest of the family in that he loves books and treasures his privacy, has stayed behind. While everyone is away, some strange things occur which could all be coincidences and have natural causes, but make for an uneasy, ominous atmosphere on the small, dusty farm.
Michael's disappearance coincides with the arrival of a stranger in town - a stranger who promises to change the life of the small, relatively poor community for ever.
Soon, everyone seems to be under the stranger's spell, with the exception of Robert, his uncle and one of the Mounties who have been involved in the investigation of Michael's disappearing.
More children vanish, seemingly without a trace, and their families and friends soon lose interest in finding them - it is almost as if they had never existed.
For a while, life in the small dusty town indeed seems to improve greatly, thanks to the stranger's plans. But of course not all is what it seems, and Robert, now 12 years old and on the border between child and young man, needs all the courage he can muster to get to the bottom of the mysterious events.
I really enjoyed this free ebook; the story was gripping and I wanted to know what happened to the characters and how Robert was going to solve the mystery. Even the scary bits are described not overly gory (I don't like all the gory detail some authors and their readers seem to be so fond of); had this book been available in my childhood, I would have been able to read it without having nightmares (I think).
The author, Arthur Slade, is less than a year older than I. He has written 18 novels, some of which form series ("Dust" isn't one of them), and some comic books. On his website the headline reads "Worlds of Wonder and Imagination" - and this story certainly set my imagination going!