________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 22 . . . . February 10, 2012


The Source of Light.

David Richards.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2011.
251 pp., pbk., $15.95.
ISBN 978-1-897235-93-5.

Grades 9-11 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

*** /4



"...money in a week..."

The words came clear on the night air then turned back into indistinguishable murmur. Money? He raised the binoculars. The gym bag was open in the moonlight on the bench. Cindy had two handfuls of small sandwich bags, inspecting them. She replaced them, zipped the bag and hiked the jacket up. Her hand disappeared down the waistband of her skirt and reappeared full of bills. The engineer took them and stuck them in his jeans pocket. They kissed and stood. Arm-in-arm they walked back toward the gallery, Cindy now carrying the bag.

Mike was up and out of the hedge like a startled grouse. He flew up the bank onto the Spadina sidewalk and strode toward the entrance of the Mendel parking lot. He stopped short, stepping off the sidewalk and away from the direct street light. Five minutes later, Cindy's Tempo pulled out and drove south on Spadina past him. A minute after that, a Jeep Grand Cherokee followed, its lone bespectacled driver smoking a cigarette. Mike drew the binoculars and aimed then at the pool of light shed by the next street light thirty metres away, focusing on the pole. The Grand Cherokee passed through his field of view: black on dark blue, gold strips, license CKT 533. He fished a notebook and pencil from his coat and wrote slowly, neatly: CKT 533 Jeep G. Cherokee, 2002 to 2006, curly hair, glasses, moustache, goatee, smoker, U of S Engineering jacket. He paused, his grin came back as he wrote again. Crystal Meth dealer on the way down.

Mike Smith is a 17-year-old loner and something of a misfit without many friends and with very different interests from most kids his age. He is of medium height, has a medium build, gets medium grades, and doesn't stand out in any way. This situation suits him just fine; he has more time for his detective work. His espionage skills are needed when he has reason to suspect his mother is having an affair with one of his father's co-workers. Mike's dad is a physicist involved in a synchrotron project which uses the power of light to peer inside matter such as protein crystals. However his father doesn't realize that someone is plotting to steal his research and sell it on the back market. This provides another reason for Mike to put his detective abilities to use, and he calls in his assistants, Badger and Angie, to give him a hand with his covert operations.

      David Richards gives teen readers a novel with an intriguing plot and characters who aren't what they seem on the surface. The book will appeal to those who are willing to work at understanding the complexities of the story and who understand references to Columbine, MI 5, John LeCarre and James Bond. Fans of the spy and mystery genres will enjoy unravelling the secrets and intertwined plot threads as they go along but, as in Le Carre's novels, it takes a persistent reader.

      The opening pages of the novel bring readers into a conversation between Mike and Badger in which they debate the existence of God, and this theme of religion returns throughout the novel. Mike is a practising Catholic; his father admires the Biblical quote that God said, "Let there be light" and now he, Phil Smith and his team at Canadian Light Source are on the brink of doing exactly that.

      The Source of Light is difficult to classify. There are humorous moments alongside philosophical debates about God and scientific explanations of the synchrotron project. What pulls all of this together is the main character and his efforts to investigate the events occurring around him. As he attempts to understand the actions and motives of others Mike also becomes more aware of his own values. Thus the source of light in one's life can be religion, can be something more tangible like a synchrotron or can refer to the understanding which comes with learning about oneself.


Ann Ketcheson, who lives in Ottawa, ON, is a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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