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February 18, 2017

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Bookends: The Adventures of a Young Lois Lane

By Dan Davidson

December 14, 2016fallout

– 668 words –



By Gwenda Bond

Switch Press

303 pages


e-book edition $8.49


There’s been lot of character juggling going on in the DC universe over the last few years. When the corporation re-booted its entire line in an experiment called “the new 52”the world in which Lois Lane and Clark Kent had been married for over a decade vanished. The younger, less experienced versions of both characters remained friends and competitive colleagues, but the romance was gone. Other relationships took its place and eventually the new Superman lost most of his powers, and finally regained them long enough to fight a final battle before dying (again).

All this is simply to say that people have been playing with these characters in many ways for many years, and that within the DC multiverse, with at least 52 permutations, there may be a universe like the one Gwenda Bond is writing about.

Most current variations on the theme of Lois and Clark have the pair not meeting until they are both adults, when Clark is just beginning using his alter ego after having spent some time travelling around the world after high school, but Bond has decided that they have a link that begins online while they are teenagers.

Lois Lane, troublesome army brat, has recently moved to Metropolis with her family, there to get a new start on life, preferably one where she makes some normal friends, doesn’t get expelled from school, and generally keeps a low profile.

Fat chance, right? That just not Lois.

Her new high school has a group of students who call themselves the Warheads, and they seem determined to recruit or destroy other students to their group, a group which dresses alike, sounds somewhat alike and can actually complete each others’ sentences.

Lois befriends a girl who is being bullied by this group. It gets complicated. Some of the students – the Warheads, to be exact – have been enrolled in a secret extra-credit study group which meets under the auspices of a organization called Advanced Research Laboratories

In another strand of the story, she signs on for a student internship at the Daily Planet, and becomes part of her own group of would-be cub reporters, who have been assigned by Perry White the task of finding something really worthwhile to investigate.

While there is no stated connection to the tales of Superman, there are strong hints of plots that might require the big guy’s attention later on, and Lois’ extensive email correspondence with the friend she knows only as SmallvilleGuy is, of course, a major clue.

A portion of the climactic action in the story takes place in a virtual reality in which avatars battle for points. ARL has been using virtual reality scenarios and some augmented psychic abilities to create a cadre of perfectly obedient, focussed fighters. Lois has to take her investigation into that realm and find some way to disrupt the broadcast signals that control the Warheads.

SmallvilleGuy, with the help of a tech savvy friend, does manage to be of some help in this endeavor, joining in the VR experience even he is never there in person.

Fallout first appeared at a time when the New 52’s Lois was in need of a little TLC, having outed her world’s Superman as Clark Kent and started him on what would become a downward spiral to his ultimate end. Fortunately, through the magical of a company wide event called the Convergence, which led to something else called the Rebirth, the original Lois and Clark are back (with a son now) and the Lois in this YA series could perhaps become the one currently in the comics.

This is a YA level novel that has a feeling similar to television shows like Veronica Mars and iZombie. It’s the beginning of a series of which there are two books at the moment, with another due out this coming May.










Bookends: Why it was a dark and stormy day February 17, 2017

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Bookends: Why it was a dark and stormy day

By Dan Davidson

November 23, 2016tricksters-tale

– 733 words –


The Unbelievable FIB: The Trickster’s Tale

By Adam Shaughnessy

Algonquin Books

263 pages



“The envelopes arrived during the uncertain hours of Thursday morning – those dark, early hours between tomorrow and yesterday, between not-quite-yet and nevermore. It’s a time when the day is still young, still taking shape, and still open to possibility.”

The envelopes were a kind of lure, a kind of invitation. Every house got one, or more than one, slipped under bedroom doors, but most people could not see them. Prudence Potts, generally known hereafter as Pru, did more than see her envelope; she opened and read the message: “Be grave in your search, and avoid having stones in your head.” And on the back of the card in the envelope, WHAT IS THE UNBELIEVABLE FIB?

Pru, who is still suffering the grief and anger of losing her detective father, has entered that stage of youngsterhood where she questions everything and accepts almost nothing at face value. She’s not having a good time at school – mostly because it’s boring and too easy, and because she keeps challengin authority. She has few friends, and it’s almost odd when she findds herself liking ABE (short for Aloysius Bartholomew Evans), the new boy, who is just as isolated by his newness as she is by her temperament.

They’re assigned to be project partners by Pru’s least favorite teacher, but that turns out to be something to be grateful for in the end.

For reasons that eventually become clear, the weather arouind Middletown had gone all dark and stormy lately, and it’s that way every day.

The kids’ adventures really begin during a school trip to the local mansion, Old Man Grimnir’s Winterhaven House. The founders of the town were of Viking ancestry and the mansion was full of Norse artifacts. Pru and ABE manage to get themselves into a bit of trouble there. This is also where they meet the man in the gray cloak who calls himself Mr. Fox and have their first encounter with a talking squirrel.

Later, they get chased by someone or something really large, while visiting the graveyard where Pru’s father is buried, and are somehow rescued by Mr. Fox, though they never get a really good look at the thing. At least not in this reality.

As events become more complex, Fox takes them to his secret home, which he calls the Henhouse. This makes sense when we learn that Fox is somehow connected to the Slavic myths about Baba Yoga and much of the strangeness currently infecting Middletown has to do with characters out of Norse myth.

Because they are able to see the supernatural elements that most people cannot, Fox recruits them as agents of his Fantasy Investigation Bureau and asks for their help in figuring out jus what Loki, the Norse mischief maker is up to. It has something to do with the one-eyed Old Man Grimnir, who is actually Odin, just as the bad weather is the by-product of a geas that has been laid upon Thor by his father.

Enough myths are retold in this book to allow the 8-12 reading group it’s intended for to pick up the clues and figure out what Loki is after, how he might be foiled, and why that would be important.

Magic, it turns out, is quite real and the fib that most people have accepted is that it is not. But the practice of magic and travelling to other worlds (dimensions, realms, what have you) is best left to people whose minds are not too firmly settled as to what is real and what is not. To have firm beliefs about much of anything gets in the way, which is why Pru and ABE are particularly good at sensing otherworldly things.

There are touches of a lot of other young adult series in this book, which is the first of two out so far. If you enjoyed the Percy Jackson books, there’s a bit of that here, as well as Anthony Horowitz’s Gatekeepers series. Mr. Fox, of course, is a bit of a mystical Dr. Who, with his enigmatic ways and his “bigger on the inside” travelling abode.

This would be a lot of fun to read to pre-teens, and the older kids can read for themselves.



Bookends: Introducing the Buckshaw Chronicles November 5, 2015

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Bookends: Introducing the Buckshaw Chronicles

By Dan Davidson

May 12, 2015

– 860 words –

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

By Alan BradleySweetness

Anchor Canada

373 pages


The very first of the Flavia de Luce mysteries, otherwise known as the Buckshaw Chronicles, begins with our 11 year old heroine in the sort situation that will be echoed later on in the book when things get serious.

“It was black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door. I breathed heavily through my nose, fighting desperately to remain calm.”

Flavia then explains to us in some detail what she has to do to get free of the place where her older sisters have left her. Just why they tied and gagged her in there is never quite made clear, but I expect she had provoked them in some fashion. Just her use of pet names for Daphne (Daffy) and Ophelia (Feely), combined with her undisputed assumption that she is worth more than both of them put together, might be enough to inspire them.

Later on, when the thief and murderer also ties and gags her in a small, dark space, she does not find it so easy to get free.

The series takes its name from the fictional village region in which it is set, an interestingly rural British setting for a Canadian writer who was living in Kelowna when he submitted the first chapter of the book to the British Debut Dagger Competition back in 2007. He not only won the contest but was approached by two of the judges, who offered to buy the rest of the book, if he should finish it.

Seven months later, after a bidding war, and after picking up his award in London, he did so. The original book resulted in a three book contract (those books now being marketed In an omnibus volume under the series title), which was extended to six books, and then to ten. There are currently eight books in print.

Flavia is eccentrically bright, obsessed with chemistry, and possessed of a curious mind, so when she trips over a dying stranger just outside the kitchen door of the mansion around four o’clock one morning, nothing will do but that she inject herself into the investigation in every way she can think of.

What has dying man, who exhales “vale” (farewell) with his last breath got to do with the dead bird that was left on their doorstep with a stamp impaled on its beak the day before? Why was her father, an obsessive philatelist (everyone in the family has some kind of obsession) so upset by the latter event? Why does Inspector Hewitt take her father into custody? Who is her father protecting when he confesses to murdering the stranger?

The story is set in the summer of 1950, yet it has a sort of timeless cozy mystery flavour to it that tends to disregard decades. Flavia, as written, is punching above her age in terms of expression, but still naïve enough to be an 11 year old. She carries the first person narration well.

The book has some interesting supporting characters. We don’t get a lot of information about her father. He seems to be in financial difficulties, but we don’t get details. We learn more about his youth at a boarding school than we learn about his present day self.

The sisters are older that our heroine. They have their own obsessions: Feely with her looks and Daffy with books. The housekeeper, Mrs. Mullet, is a good deal shrewder than Flavia thinks she is. And then there’s the faithful man servant/gardener/chauffer Dogger (which brings the title of dogsbody to mind), whose mysterious ailment has yet to be explained in the first book.

Inspector Hewitt sounds like he might be a continuing character. He’s not at all slow on the uptake, but Flavia manages to throw him a few curves as the case progresses. Chapter 27 has what looks to be the makings of a beautiful friendship or at least a working relationship.

Buckshaw and its environs seem likely to have a lot of room for development. Certain areas are sketched out nicely. Flavia needs to do research so there’s a very eccentric local library where it seems that she might be able to find just about anything in future books.

In terms of flavour, I’m reminded somewhat of Eoin Colfer’s Artimis Fowl series, though Colfer’s character is a teenage criminal mastermind. Flavia might go either way, as long as she was enabled to work her love of chemistry into the scheme. Solving the crime, in this first case, has more to do with exonerating her father and enjoying the puzzle, than with any absolute desire to see justice done.

After all, when she discovers the body in chapter two, her first impulse is not to be filled with a need to bring anyone to justice.

“I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”


Bookends: An impressive look at a clash of cultures and motives February 18, 2015

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Bookends: An impressive look at a clash of cultures and motivesThe Orenda

By Dan Davidson

September 18, 2014

– 976 words –


The Orenda

By Joseph Boyden

Hamish Hamilton

496 pages



I’m not sure if it’s a good thing when you have to begin a novel by finding a definition of its title. The experience kind of takes you out of the story before you begin, and the fact that most of the definitions caused me to think of “the Force” really didn’t help either.

Summing up several variant definitions, the orenda is the life force that, according to the Hurons and Iroquois, belongs not just to humans but to every last thing in the natural world.

In a sense this definition is also useful, since the novel could be seen as a clash of orendas, personified by the perspectives of the three first person narrators who take us through the years of the story.

We begin with Father Christophe, a Jesuit missionary who we find travelling along with the Huron. The group he is with is in flight from the Iroquois who are pursuing them after a raid on into their territory. The two groups have been battling each other back and forth for some time. At some point in the past an Iroquois raiding party killed the wife and daughter of Bird, the leader of the Huron group, and this recent raid has been in retaliation for that act.

Bird, one of the other narrators of the story, has taken captive a young Iroquois girl, Snow Falls, who becomes our third viewpoint character. He intends her to be a replacement for the daughter he has lost. Bird is motivated by revenge and a need for restitution. He fiercely misses his wife, with whom he holds long, one-sided conversations whenever he is trying to work his way through a problem.

Snow Falls is just as determined to hold onto her identity and get back to her family at the beginning, but as the years pass she adapts to her situation and comes to have real affection for the foster father who kidnapped her, and who treats her well. It is she who eventually recognizes the irony of the long-standing conflict between the Huron and the Iroquois: “We speak similar tongues and grow the same food and hunt the same game. Yet we’re enemies, bent on destroying one another.”

Father Christophe comes across as a well-intentioned man, one struggling to understand the people he is among and yet blinded by the intensity of his sense of mission. He is joined later by two other missionaries, and we come to understand that he is not a captive, but is with the Huron by choice. One of his fellows suffered capture by the Iroquois and is never entirely right in the head after that. The other is a more practical, less driven, version of Christophe.

The Jesuits are totally focused on the afterlife, in a way that causes them to devalue and misunderstand much of what is going on around them. Their end justifies their means and they use every sort of trickery and emotional coercion to achieve their end, which is the winning of souls for the Great Voice, the name they use for God among the Hurons.

By contrast the natives are more practical in most of their ways, focused on the harvest of the “Three Sisters”, on hunting, and on the trade relationship that they want to have with the French colonists. It seems that competition for this trade with the Europeans is part of what has sparked the war with the Iroquois, though it becomes clear that Bird’s retaliatory raid inaugurated a fresh cycle of warfare, which ends badly for him and his people.

Disease, as discussed in Jared Diamond’s study, Guns, Germs and Steel, weakens both of the native groups in alternating cycles, such that one group tends to be at its weakest when the other has recovered. Bird’s people and the Jesuit’s fortified village are taken by the Iroquois at the end of one cycle of disease and poor harvest.

Boyden provides us with detailed accounts of the tortures inflicted on captives by both sides in the conflict. There is an indication that this is more than just viciousness, that the captives are somehow provided the opportunity to show their courage and character by the way they react to what is happening to them, but it is still pretty grueling stuff to read.

Reactions to this book have been varied. It won the Canada Reads contest last year, which is what prompted me to read it, and was nominated for several other awards. It has been lavishly praised as a game changing account of colonial Canada and dismissed as a “gorgeously written boys’ own adventure”. I don’t happen to think either description is fair. The former seems to me to be prompted by Idle No More guilt and the latter by backlash, particularly from some of the Native reviewers.

I found parts of the book compelling and parts of it annoying. I appreciated it as a look at three individuals trying to find their way through difficult times, trying to cope with rapidly changing circumstances. All three central characters have their good and bad points and mean well in their own terms. As we are all heroes in our own minds this is not an unusual portrayal. Bird cannot understand that his war party raids simply make things worse. Christophe cannot realize that he is undermining a way of that is as valid as his own.

The reader has to be influenced by the certain knowledge of how this clash of cultures will end. One can’t read this book without thinking about things as they are now, and wondering whether this story is an accusation or a justification is bound to raise some interesting debates.




Bookends: Teenagers face the menace of werewolves and actual wolves November 25, 2014

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Bookends: Teenagers face the menace of werewolves and actual wolves

By Dan Davidson

April 9, 2014

– 909 words –


The ReckoningThe Reckoning

By Kelly Armstrong

Doubleday Canada

400 pages



The Reckoning concludes the Darkest Powers Trilogy, in which three young people with supernatural abilities are on the run from a group that wants to either exploit them or terminate them.

Chloe, the narrator, is a necromancer, which in this version of magic is a person who has the power to communicate with spirits, animate corpses and cause the two to be reunited. She can also banish ghosts and send them to where ever they go next.

Simon is a minor spellcaster who is just beginning to master some of his abilities and really has to work at it, unlike Victoria, whose amped up abilities do not even require her to use spoken spells.

Derek is the final member of the group. As a human he is large for his age, but more importantly he is a werewolf approaching the first of his transformations, and concerned about what kind of beast he may become when he shapeshifts.

The four have been on the run from a special school run by the Edison Group, the organization responsible for the genetic experiments that have given three of the four of them enhanced abilities.

At the end of the second book they found sanctuary with a group consisting of former members of Edison who have come to feel that the group has gone too far in its breeding experiments. While the renegade group wants to help the teens at first, they eventually become scared of them and betray them to Edison.

Captive at Edison’s headquarters, it turns out to be Chloe’s abilities which are the most crucial in freeing them from captivity, though all the others play their parts. In this section of the book a whole new layer of supernatural creatures is dimly (but loudly) revealed, seemingly part of the Otherworld that Armstrong has used in her adult books about werewolves, witches and demonic plots.

A good portion of the trilogy has involved the relationship triangle of Chloe, Simon and Derek, and that is resolved in this final book. Actually the most dramatic character arc belongs, I think, to Tori, who grows from her origins as a spoiled, spiteful brat into a caring person who holds her own in the struggle against the forces of nastiness.


Devil’s PassDevil's Pass

By Sigmund Brouwer

Orca Book Publishers

237 pages



Devil’s Pass is a third book in “Seven, the Series”. Jim Webb is another of David McLean’s grandsons, one of seven, who has been left a task to perform, and the money to perform it, by his grandfather. The elder McLean lived a full life all over the world, but left items on his bucket list incomplete at the end of it. He planned a quest for each of the lads, something that would not only complete his unfinished business, but also provide them with a growth experience. He has also provided them with people who will assist then on their journeys, but the exact nature of their help is kept secret.

For Webb, who has been living on the streets in Toronto since his stepfather, Elliot, poisoned his formerly happy home and threatened to hurt his mother if he didn’t run away, this means a trip to the Norman Wells, NWT, and a long hike on the Canol Road. Jim, named for songwriter Jimmy Webb, carries with him his Gibson J-45 guitar, with which he has been earning a meager living busking for some months now.

The structure of this novel is different than the first two I read, though all the adventures take place in about the same time frame, so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in. They all have to contain the reading of the will and viewing of McLean’s video in the lawyer’s office, and they all have a series of letters that the grandfather has written to explain the task.

Webb is given minimal instructions, and this adventure is a bit more of a thriller than the first two I read. On his journey Webb has to deal with a man who is the image of his abusive stepdad, and with two German tourists who try to give him a hard time after he cleans up their messes along the trail. There is also a wolf.

In Norman Wells, he falls afoul of a nasty piece of work named Brent, who is abusing the woman he’s with. There are two confrontations with him in that town and then another out in the bush. All three work out badly for Brent, but the third one is a near thing for both of them.

Webb has been given directions to a specific location off the Canol trail, and there he finds the remains of a man who had been killed back in the 1940s when his grandfather was part of the US Military crew that worked on building the road.

Webb has a secondary task after his journey north, and that is to return to the family of the dead man and tell them what happened to him. They never knew. Then, with the help of some research McLean had done on Elliot, he is off to set things right with his mother. We are not told that story, but we have no trouble imagining how it will work out.



Bookends: The Girls, the Ghost, the Fairies and Thing that Lives in the Closet December 29, 2013

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Bookends: The Girls, the Ghost, the Fairies and Thing that Lives in the Closet

By Dan Davidson

The Blue Girl

March 20, 2013

– 787 words –


The Blue Girl

By Charles DeLint

Firebird Fantasy

368 pages



In the strange city of Newford the lines between our world and other realities are just a little bit thinner than they are in other places. As a result some people there are attuned to the existence of the supernatural. This is a North American city but, aside from its human population, it is home to a polyglot assortment of indigenous and immigrant faeries, minor gods, shapeshifters and other creatures.

Recently it has become the home of 17 year old Imogene, whose family has moved there after her mother and father, who were previously free spirited hippie types, separated. She and her brother, Jared, have to fit into a new school and find a new social life.

For Imogene this is more of a chore, an actual reinvention, as she decides to leave behind her gang-oriented habits and try to clean up her act.  One of her first decisions at school is to stay away from cliques and pick a friend who seems the least likely to be part of one. Thus it is that she settles on Maxine, who is definitely the odd girl out at Redding High.

Imogene’s is one of the first person narratives we follow, bouncing back and forth in time in chapters headed “then” and “now”.

Maxine’s is another path we take, though her chapters are mostly in the “now”.

Our final narrator is Adrian, also a “then” and “now” fellow, but he’s a bit different, since he’s a ghost – a ghost with quite a crush on Imogene. Strangely Imogene can see him, talk with him, and yet refuses to believe in the fairie creatures that he explains tricked him into what turned out to be a suicide dive off the roof of the school some years back.

Annoyed with her, Adrian asks his friends if there isn’t some way to get her to believe in them. There is, but it’s a solution that enhances a sort of “shine” that Imogene already has, and makes her a mortal target for creatures called the anamithim.

Fortunately, Imogene’s peculiar talent has already enabled her to communicate with Pelly, the imaginary friend that she used to believe in when she was a child, and he (or it) assists her in coping with her supernatural problems.

Perhaps the weakest plot point in the book is that a girl who can see a ghost and converse with an imaginary friend doesn’t want to believe in fairies, but this attitude is what provides the trigger for the problems which follow, so I’ll let it go. The story was too enjoyable to quibble much about that.

Much of the book is quite down to earth, as Imogene and Maxine work out problems with their respective mothers and influence each other in ways that neither of them really notice until later in the story. Imogene needs to become more responsible and Maxine needs to loosen up. Both things happen, and their home relationships improve. Since this is a rare development in books aimed at young adult audiences, I found it quite refreshing.

Friends of the Newford books will find a few names and one character that they will have met before, but this is a book that doesn’t require you to have read any of the previous Newford Chronicles (a sizeable shelf of novels and short story collections at this point) to make sense of the time and place.

DeLint is one of the originators of the sub-genre critics refer to as urban fantasy, and has collected quite a few awards in the fantasy world over the years. He is a roots musician as well as a writer and has a very tenuous Yukon connection in that his father worked here briefly as highway engineer when DeLint was just a baby.

His books often don’t seem to make it to the mass market paperback stage, but are available in very comfortable to read trade editions with good bindings that seem to stay in print. This book is listed as having been aimed at Grade 9 and up, and I can see that, but aside from the age of its protagonists, I didn’t find this vastly different than his novels with adult characters. DeLint frequently spends some time exploring the childhood backgrounds of his large cast of regular characters.

As always with this writer, I had a good time and was sorry to see the story come to an end. I don’t think I’d want to live in Newford, but I always enjoy my visits there.







Bookends: Family Tragedies Are Blurred by False Assumptions October 24, 2012

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Bookends: Family Tragedies Are Blurred by False Assumptions

By Dan Davidson

July 18, 2012, Star July 20/12

– 725 words –



By Norah McClintock

Orca Book Publishers

219 pages



A decade ago a young boy named Finn Newsome came home after spending an evening with his father at his nightclub to find his mother dead, apparently the victim of a Robbery gone bad. She was killed by a man named Louis Ouimette.

As this story opens, Finn looks out his bedroom window to see his dad struggling with an armed man. The gun goes off, killing Finn’s stepmother (who he has never liked) and then goes off again, killing the stranger, who turns out to be the same Louis Ouimette.

In another part of town Lila wonders where her father is. She has just moved into this apartment with him after 10 years of separation while he served time for a murder he has always sworn to her he did not commit. She has been raised by her aunt, who had nothing good to say about him, but she has always believed in his innocence. She is just beginning to think he may have fallen off the wagon again (he is a recovering alcoholic) when there is a knock at the door. Two police officers ask if she is Lila Ouimette and inform her that her father has just been shot after killing a woman named Tracie Newsome.

I’ve begun this review in the way that the author has written it, alternating chapters narrated by Finn and Lila, except that they are first person narrators. McClintock has managed to up with two distinctive voices for these young people, but the chapters are named so that you won’t ever get lost.

There’s quite a bit of back-story to be provided and all of this comes along quite naturally as the two of them reflect on what has happened to them and their parents. The action of the story itself only covers a few days, and is quite intense.

The pair meet by accident at the police station while dealing with the deaths in their families, neither having a clue who the other is. Lila is the first to catch on, and shows up at Tracie’s interment in an attempt to learn more about the family that is so tragically linked to hers. She is also the one who does most of the factual digging at the local library to provide the hard evidence we need to figure out what’s going on.

Finn, still in the dark as to who she is, is attracted to her, and feels that they have something in common. He finds out where she lives and goes to visit her, which is when she inadvertently plants the first seeds of doubt in his mind about what actually happened when he was younger.

Both young people pursue independent lines of inquiry after that; neither realizing what long buried cans if worms they are digging up. Lila uncovers some facts about her father that totally invalidate the premise behind his original conviction. Finn comes to understand that the loving family home of his youth was not actually quite what he has always recalled it to be.

When they meet again Finn learns who Lila is. In spite of his anger and suspicion they end up comparing notes. It takes a couple of meetings before Finn is willing to accept her conviction that her father might not have committed the original murder. He has always accepted the official version of events, while she has not.

The second murder prompts her to do a ton of research into the case, something he had always found it too painful to do. In fairness to Finn, she’s had decade of refusing to accept the official story, and he hasn’t. She’s ready to pounce on the inconsistencies and he isn’t, but he does get there.

Neither one of them is prepared for the way events surge to a dramatic conclusion as the official truth unravels and real killer becomes desperate.

This is a tidy little mystery. Written for young adults, it’s not at all condescending in tone and quite satisfactory for older readers. McClintock’s books have been in good rotation at our public library in Dawson. I picked this one up when she was a mentor author at April’s Young Authors’ Conference.