CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2006
Murder on the Ridge is a poignant and memorable tale of an extraordinary summer and the chain of events leading up to this summer, in a small prairie town in 1952. Part mystery novel, part historical fiction, this novel is an engaging and thought-provoking story of secrets, friendship, and racism.
A letter arrives in the small town of Grayson suggesting that Wilfred Black, known as Wolfleg among the Blackfoot community, was murdered on Vimy Ridge by a fellow soldier. Catface, Wolfleg's grandson, wants to know the truth. His two closest friends, Arthur, from the Blackfoot community, and Will, from the white community, decide to help him uncover the truth of what happened on Vimy Ridge so many years ago. They turn to Arthur's grandfather for help and unlock the past, and the truth, in ways none of them ever dreamed of.
Stenhouse has created a cast of memorable and believable characters. Even the villains in the novel are humanized and portrayed as complicated individuals. This layered characterization invites reflection on what is right and wrong and suggests possible reasons behind unthinkable acts of violence and racism while never offering justification for these often brutal acts. This is not a black and white world of right and wrong, but a layered complicated one that offers insight and truth and more importantly, hope for a friendlier future.
The friendship between William, a white boy, and Arthur, a Blackfoot boy, resounds with honesty. They fight, argue, get into trouble, and back each other up when it counts the most. They are a shining, yet realistic, example of an interracial friendship in a period during which such a relationship was not encouraged. Stenhouse is able to create a friendship that is both realistic and touching without a hint of sentimentality or cliché. Both boys have their flaws and preconceived notions of the other's lifestyle and history, but they are honest about them and learn from each other. It is a relationship that will resonate with young readers, especially boys.
Stenhouse's prose is clear and vivid. The story moves along at a steady pace, and it is a difficult book to put down. The settings of a sleepy Prairie town, the muddy front lines at Vimy Ridge, and the mystical sweat lodge are skillfully woven to create a novel with a distinct epic feel.
Murder on the Ridge defies categorization and is a fresh and unexpected mixture of historical fiction, mystery novel, native mysticism, and a coming of age story. Stenhouse blends all of these elements into a seamless and refreshingly different piece of work. Murder on the Ridge is a stand out novel by a skilled writer.
Vikki VanSickle is completing her Masters in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia. She is originally from Woodstock, ON, and is currently residing in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.