CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 21. . . .June 13, 2008
Shadow of Doubt. (A Robyn Hunter Mystery).
Toronto, ON: Scholastic, 2008.
235 pp., pbk., $8.99.
Detective and mystery stories.
Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.
Review by Ruth Latta.
"It's a sturdy old house," Melissa said, "and it's so far away from the road and the neighbours' yards. I don't think anyone will hear us... I'm sorry I got you caught up in all this... I trusted the wrong person."
Who can be trusted? This question encapsulate the theme of Shadow of Doubt, a "Robyn Hunter Mystery" by Arthur Ellis Award winner Norah McClintock. Robyn, a high school student, isn't sure how she feels about her mother's gentleman caller, Ted. Bald, badly-sighted, he seems to have few charms except for his earning capacity (as a financial analyst) and his enthusiasm for Robyn's mother. He is a contrast to Robyn's father, a former cop turned private detective, who did not want a divorce from Robyn's mother.
Robyn is also torn between two young men. Her former boyfriend, Nick, left town six weeks before the story begins, taking off when she was away on a school trip. Nick has sent her a Christmas present with no return address and has left her a recorded message from a pay phone in another province. Meanwhile she is being actively pursued by a classmate, Ben, who is wealthy, handsome and very considerate. "I snuggled close to him," she says, "and pushed away memories of how I used to feel when Nick held me."
As the novel opens, Robyn delivers a box of roses which were dropped off at the school office for her favourite teacher, the young and lively Ms Denholm. Inside, nestled among the flowers, teacher and student discover a baby doll, minus its head, its chest ripped open and spattered with red paint. When Robyn suggests calling the police, the teacher says ruefully that "practical jokes aren't against the law."
Shadow of Doubt hinges on a coincidence. Ms Denholm turns out to be Ted's missing daughter; in fact, Ted hired Robyn's dad to locate her. When Ted and his wife split up, Melissa was an infant. His ex wanted him out of their lives; her second husband adopted the little girl. When mother and child dropped out of sight, Ted gave up on them. Recently, having fallen
in love with Robyn's mother, he realized that he must find his child and make amends before embarking upon a new marriage.
Robyn mulls over her teenage romantic experiences in the light of the similar but more complicated relationships of the adults around her. To what extent can we learn from past experience? When are others' experiences relevant to our own lives?
It turns out that Ms Denholm's stepfather was an abusive husband and, subsequently, a stalker. Her mother ran away, lived in hiding and adopted an assumed name for herself and her daughter. Consequently, when faced with a series of threatening incidents, Melissa Denholm immediately thinks that the harasser is a former boyfriend who has crossed the line from passion to pathological behaviour.
Robyn's dad, in his capacity as detective, thinks that the former boyfriend merely wants to get back together with Melissa and that the sinister pranks are being perpetrated by someone else, but Robyn's mother isn't convinced. "The whole problem would be solved," she says, "if he simply took the hint and left her alone."
Robyn compares Ben's ardor to what she knows of Ms Denholm's former boyfriend. She decides that her own guy's behaviour is adorable and flattering, but that Ms Denholm's ex sounds ultra-possessive and potentially dangerous. McClintock provides yet another parallel situation by showing the jealousy Robyn's best friend feels when her boyfriend must work with other girls in drama class. The identity of Ms Denholm's harasser comes as a surprise, though the clues are there.
How does one tell if a lover is unhealthily possessive? Shadow of Doubt does not answer this question, but the warning signs of an abuser are readily available on the internet.
Robyn's vacillation between Ben and Nick remains unresolved as Nick pops up on the last page. Her attraction to him is not shown or explained in Shadow of Doubt, but the reasons for his mysterious departure may be revealed in the next Robyn Hunter mystery.
Ruth Latta, who lives in Ottawa, ON, writes mysteries for adults.
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