________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2005


A Thief in the House of Memory.

Tim Wynne-Jones.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2004.
180 pp., pbk., $13.95.
ISBN 0-88899-574-1.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Sylvia Pantaleo.

***½ /4


Just then, as if his father had heard him, the lights in the shed went off. And in the new darkness Dec thought he saw, far up on the very top of the hill, another light. He stared. Must have been a shard of moonlight shining on a window in the big house. Where they used to live when his real mother was still around.


Six years ago when Declan Steeple was 10-years-old, his mother, Lindy, deserted him, his father and his baby sister, Sunny. Since that time, Dec’s father, Bernard, who is a reclusive millionaire, has developed a relationship with Lindy’s former best friend, Birdy. Since Birdy refused to live in the Steeple manor on the hill, Dec’s father built Camelot, a split-level house finished to appear like a Tudor mansion, on the same property. Sunny adores Dec, and Birdy and his father allow Dec a great deal of freedom. Dec is intelligent, dreams of becoming an architect, and has a supporting and intellectually challenging peer group, including his loyal and astute best friend, Ezra.

     A chain of events that changes Dec’s life is set in motion when he hitches a ride home from school one day in a water haulage truck. As the story unfolds, readers discover that the driver of the truck, Denny Runyon, was involved with Dec’s mother, before and after her marriage to Bernard. Runyon is accidentally killed in the Steeple mansion when he attempts to steal property from the house. Dec’s discovery of Runyon’s body in the mansion unleashes a flood of memories of his past life in the house with his mother. As Dec attempts to comprehend the memories and unravel the mystery of his mother’s disappearance, he becomes increasingly suspicious of his father’s role in both Runyon’s death and his mother’s sudden departure. However, as Dec’s recollections and the facts merge, he learns the truth about his mother’s leaving and uncovers several disconcerting secrets and memories.

     Beginning in the prologue, Wynne-Jones provides clues for readers to store in their houses of memories as they read the novel and construct their own understanding of the multilayered narrative. He carefully creates a mood of distrust and suspense in the Steeple household with Dec’s interpretation of events. Dec’s ideas are logical, and many times the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit the way Dec wants them to. The characters are believable and interesting, and the plot trajectory includes time switches and dreams. Wynne-Jones skillfully builds tension in his interdependent conflicts that emphasize the importance of the truth.

Highly Recommended.

Sylvia Pantaleo is a language arts professor in the Faculty of Education, the University of Victoria, Victoria, BC.

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

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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