CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 14. . . .December 3, 2010.
Rattled: A Mystery.
Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2010.
189 pp., pbk., $11.95.
Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
The blood formed a pool on the floor, surrounded by a kind of circular splatter design. It was like a preschool painting, the ones with the drops of paint squished between a folded piece of paper. There always seemed to be a big glob in the middle. The blood looked just like that.
Flickering through the kitchen, the rotating light from the ambulance made it feel more like a disco than a crime scene. Two officers leaned against the counter talking quietly, taking notes.
The knife had spun, propeller-style, across the floor to rest in front of the fridge. It was now considered evidence.
Outside, pyjama-clad neighbours lined the street, shaking their heads in disbelief. Things like this just didn’t happen around here, not in this neighbourhood. At least they didn’t before the Swickers moved in.
In her excellent debut novel, Rattled, a mystery with thriller elements, Halifax’s Lisa Harrington begins the story in an unusual fashion - via a prologue (which is reproduced in the excerpt above). It will be the rare adolescent who won’t be hooked because of the many questions this opening page raises. There’s blood, but whose blood is it? The narrator’s, or is it someone else’s? And if it’s someone else’s, who is that person? Because the police are there, whatever happened must have been serious, especially when the knife is “considered evidence.” But, what was the crime, and who committed it? Because the neighbours are still in their pj’s, the event must have happened either at night or very early in the morning. And, the neighbourhood appears to have been a peaceful one until the Swickers moved in, but who are the Swickers, and how and why did their arrival change the neighbourhood’s character?
Adolescents who turn the page will move back five weeks in time, to four days into the beginning of summer vacation which is also six days after the fifteenth birthday of the story’s main character, Lydia Tanner. Lydia shares her Halifax home with her 16 1/2-year-old sister Jilly (who annoying calls Lydia, Lid) and the girls’ mother and father. While Jilly has a summer job babysitting in the neighbourhood, Lydia sees herself facing two boring months as her friends are all away and she is jobless.
However, things begin to look up when a beat-up Volkswagen camper van stops in front of the house-for-rent directly across the street from the Tanner home, and a teen boy, who appears to be about Jilly’s age, and girl about Lydia’s age, plus an adult woman, begin to carry things into the house. Curious, especially about the good-looking teen guy, the Tanner sisters immediately cross the street and introduce themselves. The girls learn that Sam and Megan and their cat, along with their photographer mother, Bernadette Swicker, have just moved to Halifax from Ottawa, and that, because of their mother’s transient profession, the teens are home-schooled
Immediately, Lydia feels a coldness being directed towards her by Mrs. Swicker. As the next few days pass, Lydia observes how Mrs. Swicker controls Sam and Megan’s whereabouts and does not let them visit at the Tanner home, or, when Lydia visits in the Swicker home, Mrs. Swicker hovers nearby. Both Sam and Megan, who aren’t allowed to have anyone over when their mother is not home, explain that their mother’s isolating behaviour is due to the fact that “She’s really not a people person.” The Swicker teens also say they have no idea who their father is and that their mother will not speak of him.
When Lydia invites Sam and Megan to take a tour of Halifax Harbor, Mrs. Swicker drives them to their destination, but then she tags along. While in a gift shop, Lydia sees Mrs. Swicker being approached by a tourist from a cruise ship, but, when the woman addresses Mrs. Swicker by another given name and claims they were school classmates, Mrs. Swicker denies any knowledge of this woman and says she has the wrong person. Her suspicions raised, Lydia gets an opportunity to snoop when she is asked to feed the Swickers’ cat while the Swickers are away overnight. While in the Swickers’ basement cleaning up a mess she accidentally made, Lydia has to open a cardboard box, and in it, she discovers a silver rattle that is engraved “Amy Elizabeth, July 1, 1994.” Before she can explore further, Lydia hears a car, and fearing discovery, she leaves but keeps the house key with the intent of returning another time. When that opportunity later arises, Lydia enlists Jilly’s help, and this time the pair find another silver rattle in the box, this one engraved “Michael Edward, July 1, 1994.” As well, the girls find a pistol in the bottom of the box. Already suspicious that Mrs. Swicker may have killed her husband, the discovery of these three items makes Lydia determined to discover whatever secrets Mrs. Swicker may be hiding. With Jilly’s help, Lydia uses the Internet to track down the woman from the cruise ship and, after she explains that she believes Sam and Megan may be being mistreated, Lydia asks the woman to fax whatever information she has on the woman who was her former classmate. The information that arrives provides the key that Lydia needs to identify what crime Mrs. Swicker has committed; however, before the authorities are alerted, an armed Mrs. Swicker arrives in the Tanner home where Lydia is alone. A closing “Epilogue,” set two months after Mrs. Swicker’s confrontation of Lydia, ties up the loose ends.
While the juvenile mystery genre is often populated by two-dimensional character types, such is not the case with Rattled. Although Lydia initially and simplistically views her annoying older sister, Jilly, to be a rather bubble-headed, makeup and fashion-focused, boy-crazy individual, their working together reveals that Jilly has much more depth than Lydia had previously given her credit. Justine, the Tanner girls’ mother, is also a well-rounded character who exhibits a mother’s canny sense that alerts her when her adolescent children are trying to con her.
A most worthy addition to the mystery collections of school and public libraries.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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