________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 7 . . . . November 21, 2008

cover The Castle on Deadman's Island.

Curtis Parkinson.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2009.
216 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-893-4.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Lindsay Schluter.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.

In his sequel to Death in Kingsport, Curtis Parkinson pulls out all the stops: suspense, intrigue, danger, and above all, mystery with a twist of Canadiana. Having already braved the cool crispiness of Ontario's bone-chilling winter, the characters of Neil and Graham are back, but this time they are amidst the mosquitoes and poison ivy of the province's menacing backwoods during the dog days of summer. The sounds of Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington fill the air, and with perhaps greater success than in his previous book, Parkinson peppers the pages with 1940s cultural references that support a strong sense of setting.

     It is summer vacation in Kingsport, and although Neil and Graham have barely even had a chance to hang up their deerstalker caps, the two young sleuths find themselves, yet again, in the midst of a mystery. Graham's Aunt Etta has inherited a castle in the Thousand Islands, and according to local lore, the castle is cursed. With each passing owner, tragedy and misfortune has followed, ultimately bringing new meaning to the island's ominous name: Deadman's Island.

     With much concern for his Aunt Etta's safety, Graham decides to do some research at the local library; however, while he is reading a book about the castle's history, a small piece of paper falls to the ground from between the book's pages. Inscribed with a mysterious note, the paper reads:

Have important news about you-know-who. Urgent we act immediately. This is our chance. She suspects nothing. Meet me at the usual place — coal pile end. Tomorrow night at eight.

     Suddenly realizing that a man in a grey fedora is staring at him intently, Graham hurriedly puts the piece of paper back in the book and rushes out of the library. Confused about what he just read, Graham loses himself deep in thought... For whom was the note intended? And what on earth was it doing in a library book about his aunt's castle? WHIIIZZZZ. BEEEEEEP. Just then, Graham nearly gets hit by a speeding car. He falls to the ground, keenly noticing that the driver is wearing a grey fedora. Clearly, Graham wasn't meant to have read the mysterious note at the library, but does that really mean that he is now the target of a hitman?

     Throughout the entirety of the novel, the characters of Graham and Neil act as the ultimate detective duo: where Graham is intelligent and witty, Neil is adventurous and gutsy (if reluctantly so). I found myself laughing out loud when Graham would quote Confucius or describe the medically correct terminology for "funny bone" (ulnar nerve, by the way). At the same time, I found myself on the edge of my seat, barely able to turn the page fast enough as Neil would narrowly miss getting captured by the latest suspect or gruesome villain. A particularly well-written and utterly suspenseful sequence occurs when Neil is forced to swim through an underwater cave in order to reach safety — a moment that literally had me holding my breath:

A cloud of bubbles burst from his mouth. Immediately, a terrible urge to breathe in again took over, and he fought against it. He stroked and frog-kicked desperately, knowing the decision had been made for him now. He'd never make it back. He could only go forward. Was this the end? Air. Air. Air. Where is it? Please, God, air.

     As in his previous book, Parkinson also includes the likes of a female character — Crescent. However, in Deadman's Island, Crescent acts as a bit of a third wheel. Parkinson is careful not to imitate the Harry-Ron-Hermione triangle too closely, but perhaps he is a little too careful. Crescent is a likeable character, and I think Parkinson could have done more to turn the detective duo into a trio.

     Overall, the latest Kingsport mystery is definitely worth adding to the bookshelf. Parkinson has truly proven himself as a craftsman of suspense, and with indisputable certainty, Neil and Graham will be solving many more mysteries to come.

Highly Recommended.

Lindsay Schluter is a librarian at West Vancouver Memorial Library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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