________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 12 . . . . February 16, 2001

cover Murder at Summerhouse.

Larry McCloskey.
Burnstown, ON: General Store Publishing House, 2000.
115 pp., pbk., $16.95.
ISBN 1-894263-18-9.

Grades 5 - 8 / Ages 10 - 13.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

*** /4


"I'M BORED," Punky said as she let out a great breath of air.

"Me too," Caitlin said.

The two friends sat under the great willow tree at Brown's Inlet, on the Rideau Canal. On the first day of summer holiday, the water in the pond was murky and still, and the air hung motionless. The girls had come to the park an hour ago to discuss their summer holiday plans. They sat at the edge of the pond with a pen and pencil in hand, ready to make a list of all the fun things they would do during the next two months.

"How come we can't think of fun things to do?" Punky pouted.

Residing in the Glebe section of Ottawa, Natasha (aka Punky) and Caitlin, 12-year-old best friends, have no problem in finding summer fun after they are visited by the ghost of Walter MacNeill who was murdered some 80 years before. About 60 at the time of the fatal bludgeoning, MacNeill, a prominent banker, was killed by Seamus Kilpatrick, one of the workmen constructing Summerhouse, MacNeill's home, during an argument ostensibly over the quality of Kilpatrick's work. Visible only to the two girls, MacNeill wants them to prevent another murder. According to MacNeill, Kilpatrick's grandson, Patrick Kilpatrick, will murder a James O'Brien, someone Patrick has yet to meet. The only other details MacNeill can supply, besides the fact that Patrick, a recently released convict, is living in a neighborhood halfway house, are that this murder is somehow connected to his own murder and that "the crime will be committed before the end of the cycle of the moon...."

      With just 16 days before the next full moon, the girls agree to take on the challenge. Their sleuthing leads them to the Ottawa archives and also to a seniors residence where they meet centenarian Sadie Squires, someone who lived in Glebe at the time of MacNeill's murder. What they discover is that MacNeill has not been entirely forthright with them for it appears that the married MacNeill was one side of a romantic triangle also involving Seamus and a beautiful young woman, Mary Burns. Despite what the girls have uncovered regarding the old murder, they must still prevent the impending one, and, to do so, they tail Patrick. His daily habits take him to a local pub where he holds court and where, on the day of the full moon, he encounters a new drinking companion, "Slick" O'Brien, whose given name, of course, is James. When the pair get into an argument over the affections of Tanya, the bartender, they agree to a fistfight during which Patrick tries to kill O'Brien; however, Punky and Caitlin intervene and prevent the murder from occurring. In the book's closing pages, readers learn that O'Brien was really the son of MacNeill's daughter, and, consequently, the grandsons of the original combatants were about to replicate the historical event. With the murder prevented, MacNeill's ghost can now find rest.

      In physical appearance, the book is unlike most early adolescent novels in two major ways: the cover illustration is a reproduction of a 1920's black and white photo (which is again reproduced in an uncropped version at the book's conclusion), and, in addition to chapter-beginning illustrations, there are another seven pen and ink illustrations scattered throughout the text. A hand drawn street map at the book's beginning assists readers in following the action. While the title, Murder at Summerhouse, suggests a mystery, the contents contain fantasy elements, and, although the plot initially appears to focus on the girls' preventing the murder, the book's real interest lies in their discovering the actual motive for MacNeill's murder. Generally well written, the plot challenges reader credulity in the scene involving the girls' actions during and immediately following the Kilpatrick/O'Brien fight. Nonetheless, McCloskey's work should be considered by libraries serving early adolescents.


A mystery fan, Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and YA literature in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364