CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 5 . . . . October 28, 2005
Author Jo Hammond excels at evoking life on the waters off the Sunshine Coast. The adventures of Erik, a student, log salvor and solver of mysteries, will appeal to young male readers who relish adventures on the water and the technical details of boating. Books on the craft of writing suggest that readers like to learn new things through fiction, and in this novel, one learns about a number of things, ranging from the geography of the BC coast, to the work involved in log salvaging and the rewards of excavating old garbage dumps in quest of rare old bottles and other treasures.
Of the five teenaged friends in this novel, Erik is the most fully rounded character. The two young women are as strong, accomplished and talented as the young men; however, one gets little insight into anyone's heart and mind. Plot and setting are paramount in this novel, not character. Are four supporting characters essential? They didn't seem so to me, but I suspect that the author intends to write a series, with the supporting characters taking turns in central roles in subsequent books.
"Danger lurks in the coastal rainforest" warns the cover blurb. Usually in a "who-done-it," the murder, or the seeds of the mysterious situation, appear in the first five pages. On the sixth page of Home Before Dark, the first mysterious element arises when a malodorous, rough-looking older man is caught in the act of untying the young people's boat. Claiming that he has mistaken it for that of a friend, he takes off. For the next 22 pages, there is no hint that the story will be about anything than boating mishaps and father-son conflicts. Then, on page 28, the grubby old fellow appears again.
On a camping trip to Gambier Island, Erik and his pals find a cave created by blasting for gold years earlier. Eric recalls a childhood visit to an abandoned farm on the island, and so he and his friends go there and find an overgrown orchard and a chimney and foundation where a house once stood. Mystery again pops up when Erik recalls his father’s saying that the property owners died in the fire that destroyed their home. In exploring the old garbage dump on the property, the young people find a miner's Davy lamp. That night, camping on the beach, they hear organ music, which leads them to the home of Gareth, a grandfatherly retired logger who also has a Davy lamp.
The unkempt thief, who is connected to Gareth and the abandoned farm, turns out to be a thoroughly villainous character. Surface appearance is not misleading in this novel. In the end, the five teens save the day, and their grandfather-figure, Gareth. In the conflict between the good and evil cousins, I hoped for an intriguing twist, perhaps a role reversal, but it never happened.
Fans of action/adventure will enjoy Home Before Dark.
Ruth Latta, a writer and teacher living in Ottawa, hopes that her young adult novel, The Secret of White Birch Road, will be published in 2005.
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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.