CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 1. . . .September 7, 2012
Live to Tell.
Markham, ON: Dancing Cat Books/Cormorant Books, 2012.
168 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Dr. Murray closed my chart. "So Libby, how are you feeling today?"
"You probably want to know about your injuries."
I slowly nodded.
"You've had surgery to repair some damage to your spleen and to stop the bleeding. You suffered a concussion and there are some stitches," he leaned over to look at my forehead, "along the hairline, but your hair will probably cover the scar. You've also fractured your tibia, so you'll be in this cast for a number of weeks. We'll get you fitted with some crutches so you can start moving around. Any questions?"
Live to Tell, Harrington's second contribution to the crime literature genre, is even more engaging than her first, Rattled, itself an excellent read. Readers meet 16-year-old Libby Thorne in a Halifax hospital where she is recovering from the injuries [see excerpt] that she sustained while she was in single-vehicle accident involving her mother's 1989 Ford Escort. As the book progresses, more details about the incident are provided, including that Libby had been drinking prior to attending an unchaperoned Halloween party where she had consumed even more alcohol. Four witnesses assert that Libby was seen at about 11:30 p.m. speeding away from the party in the company of 19-year-old Caleb "Cal" McInnis, someone Libby had just met. Cal, who only had some minor injuries in the accident, is being credited with saving Libby's life after he regained consciousness and pulled her almost lifeless body from the burning vehicle before calling 911. Another important piece of information is that the car had struck a pedestrian, and this person remains in critical condition. When Libby is released from the hospital, she is charged with "impaired driving causing bodily harm, and having a blood alcohol level exceeding the legal limit." and, if the person she hit with the car should die, these charges will be upgraded.
Whether because of the concussion Libby sustained in the accident or as the result of some psychological trauma related to the event, Libby simply cannot recall the details of that evening. With the assistance of Kasey Evans, Libby's friend since primary school, Libby attempts to recreate in her mind exactly what happened over the course of that night. The contents of witness statements in police reports fill in some needed details, but, potentially, Cal, who was in the car with her, could be of most help. It is not until Libby is home that she's able to really question Cal and to ask what they did immediately following the party. His response, that they initially went to Tim Hortons for coffee, doesn't ring true as coffee is one beverage whose smell and taste absolutely repel Libby. Libby's later snooping on Cal's cell phone also reveals further inconsistencies between the timeline of events and Cal's statement to the police. Ultimately, almost all of Libby's memories of that fateful evening's car ride return when Libby follows Kasey's suggestion to listen to the music that had been playing that night on the tapedeck of her mother's old car, memories which reveal that Cal, not she, was behind the wheel. However, with the "crime" solved and just three pages remaining before the end of the book's final numbered chapter, author Harrington throws in a most surprising plot twist, one that will cause readers to review the book's entire contents to confirm that they had been forewarned about the surprise.
Part of the appeal of the "detective" story is that there is an implied contest between the author and the reader, with the latter believing that, by using the clues that the author provides, s/he can identify the bad guy/gal before the author's final reveal. The truly delightful aspect of Live to Tell is that the entire plot line around who was behind the wheel is just one big red herring, with the "surprise" being the true mystery that required solving. And Harrington makes it easy for readers to focus on Cal as being the "bad" guy. Older and more worldly than Libby, he's the son of a prominent lawyer, and he has reportedly been kicked out of university for stealing. Though Libby had never met Cal before the party, he presents himself as her boyfriend and over-aggressively romances her, but Libby learns that he has a university girlfriend, a fact Cal denies when she confronts him. As well, one of the chief "witnesses" against Libby, is Julia, Cal's truly nasty younger sister, who has just recently "reclaimed" Nate, Libby's boyfriend. As well, both Libby's mother and Kasey verbalize their uneasiness about Cal, with Kasey bluntly saying, "... there's something off about Cal. I don't trust him."
Harrington has a smooth writing style, and the text is peppered with conversations. She is also excellent at showing rather than telling. For example, in the opening chapter, instead of telling readers that Libby has been in hospital for X many days, Harrington simply says, "Flower arrangements lined the windowsill, some half-dead and wilted. A metallic balloon drooped sadly towards the floor." And Harrington engages readers from the book's first page, causing them to ask questions such as, "Where is she?" and "Why?" And for those readers who require closure to a book, Harrington provides an "Epilogue."
As satisfying as it is for a reader to solve a mystery before the author provides the "reveal." even more satisfying is marvelling at the ability of an author to lead readers down the garden path while, at the same time, providing them with road signs telling them that they are not going in the right direction. A terrific read!
Dave Jenkinson, who lives in Winnipeg, MB, has been a jury member of the Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award in the category of Juvenile/YA literature.
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