CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 31 . . . . April 13, 2012
Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2012.
152 pp., trade pbk., $11.99.
Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Jonine Bergen.
At the blast from the shipís horn, the lines were cast off. The Rapids Prince was under way. Their work done for the moment, the tired deckhands could relax.
All except Scott.
No. Not when he knew who was up there, mixing with the other passengers, acting as if they were just tourists too. German agents, Scott suspected, from what he overheard Ė one could be the agent rumored to have landed recently from a U boat on the East Coast, the other already established in the country.
From the first line of Man Overboard!, Parkinson sends his readers on a fast and furious ride through the Long Sault Rapids along with Nazi spies, bombs, espionage, and a touch of romance. As the Rapids Prince heads down the St. Lawrence River in the summer of 1943 on its course to Montreal, 16-year old Scott and his friend, Adam, must try to thwart the efforts of the Nazi spies whose mission it is to disrupt shipping by blowing up the Rapids Prince and, in the process, destroying the locks.
Parkinson, an accomplished author of historical thrillers, has an innate sense of what historical events make excellent fodder for a modern retelling. In this case, he has placed his plot in the middle of the Second World War when German spies were known to have been put ashore in Canada from U boats with the assignment of espionage and sabotage. As with Parkinsonís other tales, Man Overboard! has all the elements for success: the regular Joe who must act heroically to save the day and an action laden race against time plot. In this novel, however, Parkinson fails to capitalize on these elements as he continually hamstrings his plot with too much backstory, too many secondary characters, and too many unnecessary events.
For example, when the Nazi spies realize that Scott overheard their conversation, one invites Scott to look at their cool car. Scott naively leaves the ship with them, although he is sure they are spies. At the last minute, Scott realizes it is a trap and heads back to the ship. When a bad guy starts to follow him, Scottís friend, Adam, miraculously appears and trips the bad guy, thereby letting Scott get away. The Nazis then cart Adam off instead. Scott, realizing his friend is in danger, jumps onto the back of the car which speeds away. Several people, including his girlfriend, see him clinging to the back of the speeding car and do nothing to intercede.
When the car stops, Scott watches Adam be taken away blindfolded. As the car drives off again, Scott, who is still on the bumper, is noticed and captured. The Nazis then threaten Adamís life if Scott says anything and they let Scott go. Unsure where is he and what he should do, Scott then spends several paragraphs wandering around Old Montreal trying to find the ship. Now, Parkinson splits his narrative between what Scott is not doing and Adam, who, although scared and confused, decides to read his book and discuss classical literature with the beautiful Collette who is unwittingly helping the bad guys. I found myself wishing Parkinson would stop putting on the brakes and let the plot race.
A leaner version of the tale would have been a nail bitter. Currently, although the concept behind Man Overboard! is a winner, the choppy unnecessarily complicated plot bogs down the pacing of the tale. Instead of a fast, suspenseful ride through the rapids, the reader will find himself repeatedly struggling to move past yet another sandbar.
Recommended with reservations.
Jonine Bergen is a librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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