Writing this first novel from the point of view of an autistic 15-year-old, Mark Haddon takes the reader into the chaos of autism and creates a character of such empathy that many readers will begin to feel for the first time what it is like to live a life in which there are no filters to eliminate or order the millions of pieces of information that come to us through our senses every instant of the day. For the autistic person, most stimuli register with equal impact, and Christopher's teacher Siobhan, at the special school he attends, has been trying to teach him to deal with the confusing outside world more effectively. At fifteen he is on the verge of gaining some tenuous control over the mass of stimuli which often sidetrack him.
When the dog across the street is stabbed and dies, Christopher decides to solve the mystery and write a book about it. His favorite novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes his model as he investigates the crime, uncovering many secrets involving his own family in the process. Innocent and honest, he sees things logically and interprets the spoken word literally, unable to recognize the clues which would tell him if someone is being dishonest, devious, or even facetious. As he tells his story in a simple subject-verb-object sentence pattern, Christopher tries to communicate and give order to his world, and the reader can easily see how desperate he is to find some pattern which will enable him to make sense of it.
Christopher's investigations eventually require him to make some remarkably brave decisions, and when he faces his fears and moves beyond his immediate neighborhood, the magnitude of this challenge is both dramatic and poignant. Strange places have always been traumatic for him, and he has difficulties with his emotions. "Feelings," he says, "are just having a picture on the screen in your head." He responds either with logic or with the anger which sometimes overwhelms him as result of fear or frustration, and the reader cannot help aching for him and empathizing with his family.
Christopher's coming-of-age story is most unusual, if not unique, and he ends the book a much more mature 15-year-old than he was when he started. With warmth and humor, Haddon creates a fascinating main character, allowing the reader to share in his world and experience his ups and downs, his trials and successes. In providing a vivid world in which the reader participates vicariously, Haddon fulfills the most important requirements of fiction, entertaining at the same time that he broadens the reader's perspective and allows him to gain knowledge.