________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 12 . . . .February 18, 2005


Thread of Deceit: A Tale of Crime and Betrayal in Upper Canada.

Susan Cliffe.
Toronto, ON: Sumach Press, 2004.
200 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 1-894549-38-4.

Subject Headings:
Detective and mystery stories.
Murder-Juvenile fiction.
Ontario-History-1791-1841-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Tanus Tosh McNeill.

*** /4



"Oh please," Mrs. Thomas begged, "let us not get into a political discussion." Then she turned to Lilly. "You're rather quiet this evening, dear. Still recovering from the shock, I suppose."

"Or daydreaming," one of the young Misses Riddle giggled, "about a certain person."

"I beg your pardon?" Lilly asked.

"Oh, nothing. I just saw a certain person out walking with a certain person on Lemons Point a couple of days ago. That's all."

"Frimsy-framsy who's your fancy?" the other sister chimed in.

Lilly couldn't stop the red flush from sweeping across her cheekbones. Nasty little busybodies - and hardly a brain to share between them.

"Are we here to gossip or are we here to sew?" she asked primly.

"That's enough, dears," Mrs. Riddle said.

But Lilly had to acknowledge that they'd hit a bit too close to the mark. She had been thinking about Stephen, and the impressive way he'd stepped in to rescue her father at the hustings. He seemed to possess a natural authority that others, regardless of station, respected. She sighed as her thoughts traced the lines of his strong, handsome face, and the handsome face, and expressive mouth. How often she has wondered what it would feel like—


Lilly's thoughts were sidetracked by the younger Miss Riddle, who had pricked her finger with her needle, as she often did, and was now carrying on about it rather more than necessary.


This young adult mystery weaves together the political strife and ongoing prejudice that make up the fabric of Upper Canada in the early 1800s. During this troubling time, Lilly McNabb, 19, finds herself in the middle of a mystery that she refuses to leave unsolved. Despite warnings to stop meddling in other people's business, Lilly sets out to solve the murder in her community.

     Lilly McNabb lives a simple life as a hat maker with her father. Suddenly, this all changes when Lilly's Algonquin friend, Jack, discovers the dead body of a young white man, John Reed. Lilly pretends she stumbled on the body while out walking to protect Jack from being falsely accused of the killing. She sets out to solve the mystery herself because she fears racial and political tensions may get in the way of a fair investigation. This story unfolds amidst the backdrop of political strife between the Reformists and the Orangemen. Lilly and her father are staunch Reformers, but Stephen, the man that is courting Lilly, is one of Orangemen. Lilly cannot understand why Stephen doesn't recognize the bullying tactics of his fellow Orangemen. Lilly is caught in her own struggling social circle as the women of the community meet to sew and gossip about the scandals in town. Lilly's livelihood is threatened when she uncovers more details about the dead man's past, and she is warned by one of the high society ladies to stop asking questions. Smuggling rings and another murder bring Lilly closer to solving the mystery, but not until she is trapped in an underground cellar and masterfully escapes does she unexpectedly step closer to the truth. Because of these traumatic events, Lilly finds comfort in the arms of her beloved, Stephen, only to uncover that he is the murderer. Stephen had been drawn to the underworld of smuggling with John Reed, an old school friend, but when Stephen decides he has had enough, his friends will not let him leave. Stephen accidentally kills John Reed, and the others in the smuggling gang blackmail him. During Stephen's emotional confession, Lilly is rescued by a family friend and Stephen is arrested. Lilly's former clients return to her millinery shop for new business.

     Lilly is a confident, self-sufficient young lady who lives in a restricted time for women. She does not conform to the norms of society despite the fact that everyone in the community continually try to dissuade her wayward behaviour. Lilly is curious and questions the authority and investigative skills of Sheriff Sherwood. She is adventurous and maneuvers her way into the middle of the action.

     Threads of Deceit is an interesting read with a strong female protagonist. The combination of historical fiction and mystery will be captivating for some high school readers. Knowledge of Canadian political history may be helpful, but the plot line is understandable without this background information. Oddly, though, Cliffe does not address the fact that women cannot participate in the elections taking place at the time. It seems unusual that a solid character like Lilly is not struck by the audacity that women cannot vote, but she is clearly appalled at the racism within her own community.

     This book can be a useful tool to support senior high social studies. The authentic excerpts from community newspapers and the snippets of Canadian history add to the richness of the text. Colloquial and idiomatic expressions also mark the time period in which the story takes place. Obviously, students who enjoy historical fiction and mystery will find this book appealing. Other themes from the book include life and politics in Upper Canada, genderism, prejudice against First Nations peoples, sewing, and smuggling. Cliffe has also included maps which add to the authenticity of the text.

     Steeped in history from the female perspective, Thread of Deceit sews together an interesting tale of political struggle, millinery skills, murder, and double standards between white and aboriginal peoples and men and women. Young adult readers are provided with a clear account of life in Upper Canada during this time. Canadian history fans will enjoy the story about Loyalists, Reformers, and Orangemen as told from the perspective of an independent-minded young female.


Tanus Tosh McNeill is a teacher-librarian at Van Walleghem School in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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