CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 11 . . . . November 11, 2011
The Secret of the Old Swing Bridge. (An Angus Wolfe Adventure).
Orillia, ON: Classic Books for Boys/Canadian Branchline Miniatures, 2010.
224 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Mary Thomas.
"Oh, look at that neat model display! That's Washago, isn't it?"
"Yes. I'm impressed," [Angus] replied with admiration. "But it's not present-day. Dad and I built it to represent ..."
"Don't tell me, let me guess," [Amanda] interrupted. "Well, there's a 1949 Buick like Grandpa has, and a 1950 Chevrolet pickup. You've already told me that the swing bridge was taken out in early 1955. So this can't be later than 1954, nor earlier than 1950," she concluded.
Angus was impressed. "You're amazing." Then in a quieter tone, "But remember one thing, Amanda."
The girl blushed, and then looked at him fondly, "Thank you for calling me Amanda, for like only the second time."
He leaned closer to her. "Remember, Amanda," he repeated softly.
"Yes?" she murmured.
His face was six inches away from hers as they stared into each other's brown eyes. "Remember that 1950 cars actually came out in 1949," he breathed gently.
Now she leaned closer and whispered into his ear, as if telling him a secret. "Yes, but not until the fall, Wolfie. The leaves on all of your trees are still green. So it can't be 1949."
The boy drew back and shook her hand. "Wow, Miss Webb, you're really amazing! You are definitely my assistant!"
The Secret of the Old Swing Bridge is a good old-fashioned adventure story in the tradition of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. The plot clips along, more clues are revealed in each chapter, or the hero, 12-year-old Angus Wolfe, happens upon them. Family friends have just the right documents -- letters, newspaper clippings, etc. -- to fill in necessary details; and people have extraordinarily good memories of where they put the things that aged relatives left behind when they died/moved/sold their houses. But it all works, and an ancient Nazi conspiracy to blow up the train on which President Roosevelt was travelling to Muskoka and have the explosion blamed on the Russians -- and why it didn't happen -- is neatly fitted into our twenty-first-century world of cell phones and the internet.
That part is all good fun. Unfortunately the telling of it bogs down a bit in unnecessary and banal descriptions and over-enthusiastic verbs. I well remember Nancy Drew's blond hair and blue eyes; they were mentioned several times in every one of Carolyn Keene's novels. Well, Angus's eyes are brown, as is his hair; his mother is blond; Hookah Hopkins beard is white, his hair grey, and he is seventy. And so it goes on. Wilson has been told that "he said" is boring; so his characters rarely "say" anything. They observe, they question, they shudder, they urge -- not always appropriately.
Wilson has written a number of historical nonfiction books about trains and the CNR so it is not surprising that Angus's dad, or, as he is inevitably called, "Norman Wolfe", is a railway buff. One can be sure that details, such as the positions of the CN and CP bridges over the Trent-Severn canal, are correct and that the station agent could well have noticed suspicious shipments. Since Dad is so keen on history, however, I wonder that he had never googled his father's war record, especially given that Angus's grandfather was so reluctant to speak of it. Angus discovered in a very few minutes that his grandfather's record did not agree with the few facts that they had been told. Hmm.
I loved the Muskoka setting, the occasional archival photograph, and the general plot. The telling of it, not so much. However I am not the intended audience, and that group should enjoy this story a lot.
Mary Thomas, who resides in Winnipeg, MB, isn't exactly ashamed of enjoying Nancy Drew in her youth, but fears she has outgrown the genre.
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