________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 7 . . . .November 25, 2005


Jack’s Knife. (A Sirius Mystery).

Beverley Wood & Chris Wood.
Vancouver, BC: Polestar/Raincoast Books, 2005.
293 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 1-55192-709-8.

Subject Headings:
Patsy Ann (Dog)-Juvenile fiction.
Juneau (Alaska)-History-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4



"Permission to come aboard, Captain?" Rose called out.

Patsy Ann crouched, eyeing the edge of the deck. As it rolled down toward the dock her stocky white body tensed. It uncoiled a fraction of a second before the deck hit the bottom of its roll, sending her plump little body in a tidy leap onto the boat's narrow side deck. She deposited a lick on the old sailor's extended hand and disappeared inside the little cabin.

The old man turned to look at Jackson and the crinkles disappeared from his deep-set eyes. His brows lowered, as though the gray gaze were searching a hazy horizon for hidden squalls. "And who have we here?" he asked, concluding his examination with a long, thoughtful look at the teenager's feet.

"He says his name is Jack," Rose said, gripping the boat's wooden rail. In a smooth movement she pulled herself up to stand beside the cabin door. "He says he's from Canada. And," her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, "he's got funny shoes. And Patsy Ann brought him!" She raised her eyebrows meaningfully at this last point. Then she turned sideways on the deck and leaned against the cabin wall so she could look again at Jack.


For some people reading this review, I am going to spoil a surprise, but since the surprise occurs in chapter five (of twenty-eight), perhaps I was just being naive when I didn't realize that this was going to be a time-travel book until Jackson actually followed the bull terrier through the fence in Brampton, Ontario, in 2005 to emerge in Juneau, Alaska, back in the 1930s. Instead of a novel of a teenager with an over-protective single-parent mum suspicious of the motives of Jack's best friend (who just happens to be an older man), we get a mystery and adventure story set in 1935! Patsy Ann, the bull terrier, was a real dog who, although completely deaf, could sense the imminent arrival of any ship in the harbour at Juneau. It is not documented that she ever engineered the transfer of people from the future to accomplish some task in her time, but she was a legend even then, so why not? Jack has apparently been co-opted to prevent a serious miscarriage of justice. An early Save-the-Whales protester has been set up to take the blame for the hijacking of a plane bringing in the payroll money for the local whale hunters, and the US marshal responsible for sorting out the facts is none other than Jack's elderly friend, Al, then, of course, hardly older than Jack himself.

      Writers of time-travel fiction have to decide for themselves whether their characters can actually change what has, for them in their 'real' time, already happened, or whether the facts are immutable. The Woods have opted for the possibility of change. We get a hint at the beginning of Jack's Knife that Al had a case back at the beginning of his career as Marshall that looked absolutely water tight, but about which he has always had doubts, and which had disastrous consequences for the person convicted and his family. Jack's trip back to that period of Al's life enables him to help prevent the mistake and hopefully allows Al to enjoy the end of his life free of the shadow of doubt.

      One of the pluses of time travel is that it tends to give the traveler a better perspective on his own time and troubles. Jack, given the chance to observe a single-parent dad who couldn't care less about his daughter, comes to realize that a mother who cares somewhat too much is not the worst thing that can happen to a chap, and that perhaps he should be thankful. That, in addition to the useful experience of having to work to if he wants to eat, develops Jack's character in a believable fashion. I can't help wondering whether all the muscle development and callouses that are remarked upon several times while Jack is in Alaska are ever noticed once he gets back to Brampton. They might make his mother think that maybe he is beginning to be old enough to look after himself, at least in some situations!

      The book does have its flaws and its share of incredible moments. Captain Harper is a bit too understanding and accepting of Jack's status as a time traveler, and he is too prepared to help him hang about in Juneau until his mission should be accomplished, whatever it was. Patsy Ann, the Juneau legend, understands too much of the human conversation floating about her, and everyone seems remarkably ready to interpret her barks, licks, and nudges in a manner favourable to Jack's inquiries. Myself, having been brought up on the St. Lawrence River when old wooden motor launches were still in use, I couldn't swallow the fact of a boat which was not in constant use (a) starting at all, especially at first crack and for someone not accustomed to its ways, and (b) being able to overtake a similar one that was tuned up, ready to go, and already had a head start.

      These difficulties aside, however, we are left with a fast-paced, exciting book where the clues appear logically—with Patsy Ann's help!—and Jack does an intelligent job of interpreting them. Kids will be glued to the pages.


Mary Thomas, now of Winnipeg, MB, was raised on stories of motor boats that had to be coaxed to life daily, which may be why she still prefers kayaks.

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

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