CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 25. . . .March 4th, 2011.
The Fall Guy. (Rapid Reads).
Victoria, BC: Raven Books/Orca, 2011.
119 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Mark Mueller.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
I’d just done a job for Jeff Wilkins. A big job, building a new deck on his fancy waterfront cottage. We’d squeezed it in just under the size limit. So no permit, no paperwork, no taxes. My mouth went dry.
I put on some bluster. “What is all this about? Somebody complained?”
The smirk grew wider. “Don’t you read the papers? Watch the news?”
“No,” I snapped. I never read the paper. My jerry-rigged TV antenna did a fine job of getting me the hockey games and nature shows I liked to watch, but I never bothered with the news. Who wanted to know what big-city drug dealers and snake-oil politicians were up to anyway?
Then he said the words I was most afraid of hearing.
“You might want to get yourself a good lawyer.”
Cedric (or “Rick”) O’Toole is a small-town handyman who barely scrapes by in life by doing odd jobs. He gets about in what could be any small town in Northern Ontario in a ramshackle pick-up truck, and he lives on a “hardscrabble farm” collecting junk, dreaming up crazy inventions and schemes. He also likes watching hockey on his old jerry-rigged television. Life is simple for Rick, and he wants to keep it that way.
One day, Rick’s world is turned upside down when a sleazy lawyer from downtown Toronto shows up at his doorstep with a summons to appear in court on a count of manslaughter. Rick’s faulty workmanship on a deck that he built for a local business tycoon, Jeffrey Wilkins, resulted in the death of Ms. Wilkins during a freak accident. When Rick visits the scene of the accident to investigate the debris, he discovers that the screws he used to piece together the deck had been deliberately replaced with old rusty screws. What ensues is a simple whodunit mystery novel starring a simple protagonist whose only motive is to clear his name.
Barbara Fradkin does a nice job in combining the elements of a good murder mystery with the telling of the story through Rick’s character. At one point in the novel, for instance, Rick encounters the possibility that there could be more than one suspect after his being deliberately run off the road by another vehicle. Rick, as well as the reader, not only question the evidence but also Rick’s ability to rationalize the facts and piece together his side of the story. Rick’s reputation as a trouble-maker also precedes him, and he has a difficult time getting the authorities to take him seriously. He often needs to rely on what few friends and family he has to take his side when presenting himself to the authorities. This sort of constant tension between the narrator and the world around him is one of the novel’s greatest strengths.
The only weakness the novel does have is that the story ends a little too abruptly – one chapter after the climax. As a result, I felt a sense of a crash-and-burn at the end of the novel. Fortunately, Fradkin stays true to the character in that he sees a money making opportunity in the technology he uses to find out the culprit for the murder.
Though The Fall Guy is an easy read targeted at adult readers, it could work in a grade 11 or 12 literature class, particularly the workplace stream. The novel deals with the themes of stereotypes and class-bias that could prove useful for discussion. It also deals with how different people with different intellectual capacities use language to construct meaning, which would also provide useful for discussion.
Mark Mueller is the Education Librarian at Tyndale University College in Toronto, ON.
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