CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 22. . . .June 26, 2009
Doom Lake Holiday.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2009.
238 pp., pbk., $12.99.
Blessing and cursing-Juvenile fiction.
Detective and mystery stories.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Kay Weisman.
"This is a message from Dr. Gwynn. He wants to welcome you to his house and invites you to stay as long as you wish on his island, which is called Freya's Island in honour of his late wife. It is about three miles long and a mile and a half wide; there are pleasant walks everywhere. You may find some small animals in the woods Deer sometimes visit, but no bears—so far as we know—have ever done so. The boats are yours to use. With them you can reach the nearest dock in about twenty minutes. There is a siren on the porch you can use to signal in case of fire or accident. You should make yourself at home and enjoy everything you can. There is ample food, and a drink offering of champagne with Dr. Gwynn's compliments, also fine books and music. Please do not try to move the archaeological objects; they are wired to set off an alarm. Please take care of the plants that require it. Feel free to cut flowers from the garden. It is possible that you will hear sounds that you cannot identify, especially at night. You may even see things you do not expect. Please ignore them. The island is full of natural beauty, lovely sights, and sounds are everywhere, as you will find. And now, to conclude, I give you a few minutes of welcoming music."
Hoping for one last family vacation before everyone gets caught up in their own busy lives, 17-year-old movie buff Chip Mallory, his sister, and parents set off for a remote part of Ontario's Rideau Lakes area. Unfortunately, the cottage they've rented is rundown and shabby, there is no cell phone reception, and the nearest hamlet, Bascombe, looks "right out of Deliverance." Following an uncomfortable night, they meet Cal and Rachel (employees of Dr. Gwynn, one of Mr. Mallory's clients), who offer them free use of a nearby private island. Once ensconced in these luxurious accommodations, they are greeted with a mysterious tape-recorded message (see excerpt above) from their host.
Chip is immediately swept into the mystery surrounding reclusive archeologist Dr. Gywnn. He glimpses a strange white horse, discovers a scientific notebook filled with enigmatic jottings, and spies an elusive blond girl swimming in the lake. Later, he hears loud ticking and anguished crying coming from the attic above his bedroom, and he sees the lights from a nearby tower flash on and off. Finally, with the help of Dr. Sinclair, a young colleague of Dr. Gywnn's who is studying black magic, they perform an exorcism of sorts, remove an ancient statue from its hiding place inside an old grandfather clock and throw it into the lake, thus ending its curse.
Henighan, the author of Demon in My View, Viking Terror and Mercury Man, offers here a contemporary mystery/fantasy. The main characters, especially Chip, are well drawn, and the writing and dialogue flow smoothly. The mystery is well conceived, with suspense and adventure building steadily, although some of the details depend on unlikely scenarios: would a well-to-do family who has just been burned renting an uninhabitable cottage in the middle of nowhere be likely to accept an offer by strangers of a free house on an even more remote island? And, would they leave another complete stranger (a young girl who has run away from an abusive home situation) in that creepy cottage because, "it sounds like she came from worse?" Still, the details of Dr. Gywnn's late wife (whose dabbling in Black Magic led to her suicide) and the idea that ancient artifacts might be cursed (and wreak havoc on the lives of people around them) are intriguing, and should appeal to younger teens.
Recommended with reservations.
Kay Weisman is a Master of Arts in Children's Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.
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