CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 20 . . . .June 9, 2006
The Drowned Violin. (An Alan Nearing Mystery, #1).
Toronto, ON: Napoleon, 2006.
163 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14.
Review by Michelle Superle.
A bright green canoe sliced through the waters of Steamboat Lake, the three canoeists paddling hard, as if they were racing. There was no other boat in sight, though.
“Hey, you guys! Stop paddling for a second,” said the kid in the stern. He plunged his paddle straight down into the water, putting on the brakes. “There’s something weird floating in the water over there, see it?”
Alan and Josee, in bow and centre, quit and turned to look at Ziggy, who was pointing with his paddle.
“Zig, come on! We have to get to the dock before my mom shows up,” Alan said. Then he turned back to his work, making a face like a camel to blow a flop of hair out of his eyes, a habit that drove his mother crazy. They were all eleven years old—classmates and summer friends. It was Ziggy’s canoe—on permanent load from his grandfather.
“No wait, I see it,” Josee said. “It looks dead, whatever it is.” Alan stopped in mid-stroke and turned back to look. Dead? His heart told him that if he wasn’t there on the dock at five o’clock, his mom would have a nuclear meltdown, but his brain wasn’t listening. Something was floating there, for sure—off to the right, or starboard, as Ziggy would insist on saying. Something too interesting for a detective-type like himself, destined to be a private eye, to ignore.
With great success, adult mystery writer Mel Malton has turned her hand to detective novels for children. The Drowned Violin is the first book in Malton’s new “Alan Nearing Mystery” series, and it is a solid, intriguing story. And with great credibility, this mystery conjures up the world of professional music on the one hand and Anytown Canadian Cottage Country on the other. Descriptions of the melodious tones of a priceless Stradivarius, the anxious buildup to rehearsals, and the unfortunate results of keeping a bow too tightly strung for several days will resonate with young musicians and subtly educate the uninitiated. Similarly, the pace of daily life for locals in Cottage Country, details of life on the lakefront, and tensions between workaday folks and rich city intruders provide a rich Canadian cultural background to the enticing story of a gang of bullies, a stolen violin, and a vandalized home. Alan Nearing, an 11-year-old budding detective, and his close friends, Josee and Ziggy, along with their new city friend Monica, work together to crack the mystery and restore personal property, dignity, and happiness throughout their town.
The action is both convincing and entertaining, and the pages of The Drowned Violin almost turn themselves. Woven into the story are many subtle undercurrents of tensions around class, value systems, lifestyle, and cultural background, which flesh out this story into a subtly complex exploration of human existence; this is done quite deftly, and very much from a child’s point of view. The characters cover almost the whole checklist of political correctness: equally balanced boys and girls, WASP, Jew and French Canadian, child characters with agency, powerful single mothers, and a female police officer. With this commendable checklist, Malton still manages to draw the main characters with some definition and believable roundness. The title character, Alan, however, could be more carefully developed and defined; aside from his dislike of playing the violin and his goal of becoming a private investigator, he seems a bit pale and unformed.
That aside, young mystery fans will be very pleased to have a great new addition to the realm of Canadian mystery series.
Michelle Superle holds a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia. She teaches Children’s Literature and Composition at the University College of the Fraser Valley.
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