CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 2 . . . . September 14, 2007
This novel takes place in the 1950's in the small village of Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories. It is based on the author's personal experiences growing up there while his father was the local RCMP officer. Perhaps this is what makes the novel read more like a memoir in tribute to some special friends. Of particular interest is the strong relationship between the RCMP officer's family and a local native family. In fact, the strong sense of community in this culturally mixed, small town is one of the most positive aspects of this novel.
Mystery at Shildii Rock is a story most suited to young boys and, although the main characters are on adventures trying to solve a mystery, there just isn't enough motivation behind their actions or tension in the plot to call this a "page turning mystery." Instead, there is an abundance of technical information about the dogsleds, the equipment, the route to the outpost, etc. Although this information (presumably accurate) is detailed and may be of interest to some, it tends to overwhelm the basic story. The vocabulary and simplistic plot make it accessible to young readers, but there may not be enough plot-driven drama to keep them interested. Although there is a threatening stranger who chases the boys with a rifle and a murdered body discovered, there are no graphic details or disturbing scenes, thankfully. However, there are also lost opportunities for more drama and emotional tension to keep the reader "on the edge of his seat."
As characters in this novel, the young boys are firmly set in the '50s, and their dialogue and actions would, for the most part, be unfamiliar to today's young person. This style is quaint and delightful as a historical piece but may have been more attractive to modern readers if the story was set more currently.
As a truly Canadian story of historic life in the outposts of Northwest Territories, Mystery at Shildii Rock is an interesting addition to Canadian children's literature. It's fairly distinctive in its locale and time period but would have been a better novel with less technical details and more plot tension to attribute the title of Mystery at Shildii Rock.
Recommended with reservations.
Diana Lynn Wilkes, who has taught grades K to 10, is an English major with a Bachelor of Education from Simon Fraser University, and holds a Master of Arts Degree in Children's Literature from the University of British Columbia.
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