________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 15 . . . . March 28, 2003


Tom Thomson’s Last Paddle: A Dani and Caitlin Mystery.

Larry McCloskey.
Vancouver, BC: Sandcastle Books/Beach Holme, 2002.
159 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 0-88878-430197.

Subject Heading:
Thomson, Tom, 1877-1917-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Jocelyn A. Dimm.

** ½ /4


"I'm bored," Dani sighed.

"What took you so long?" Caitlin asked."I've been bored ever since these trees started. I mean, have you ever seen so many trees? Trees, and trees, and trees - it's enough to drive a person insane. Trees to the left, trees to the right. Bored? Of course, you're bored."

“You should never be bored in this life," Dani's dad announced in a deep voice from the front of the van.

"It comes with the territory of being twelve-years-old, John," Caitlin's dad interjected.

John ignored his friend. "Why, look at the magnificence of the landscape, the history of the area." Gripping the wheel tightly and Ping-Ponging his head repeatedly to make eye contact with the girls in the back seat, he seemed to be bouncing with the excitement of personally introducing two preteens to Mother Nature.

So starts "A Dani and Caitlin Mystery,” as the fathers of two 12-year-old best friends take them on a camping trip in Ontario's Algonquin Park. The first chapter is dedicated to one of the girls’ fathers sharing the history of the area by telling the story of Tom Thomson, one of Canada's foremost landscape painters, and the detail that interests the girls the most is that many believe Tom Thomson was murdered. Being amateur sleuths, it seems Dani and Caitlin are always up for a good mystery, especially when it involves murder. After spending a sleepless night at a campsite on Canoe Lake, the girls are taken back by the appearance of what seems to be Tom Thomson's ghost and his request of them - to reveal his killer.

     McCloskey weaves in as much Canadian history as possible, and the girls are treated to conversations with Tom Thomson's ghost and clues to the murder even from the famous Gray Owl. Woven through encounters with an assortment of different people, including a history professor and his graduate student, the girls charge through a fast paced "who-dun-it" set among the pines of the famous park.

     Written as almost a spoof, McCloskey gets away with painting a picture of a couple of really clueless fathers, a stumbling, overweight park ranger, a pompous old professor, and an eccentric homeless man, plus numerous other pop-up characters. What he doesn't get away with is the fact that two fathers let their twelve-year-old "being introduced to Mother Nature" daughters go off and camp by themselves in a dangerous forest, breaking some of the believability needed to hold the reader within the plot. The voices of the girls would also be easier to believe if they were in grade five or grade six. The "illegal dog in the park" as a run-on gag seems geared toward a much younger audience.

     This aside, the Canadian content is commendable, but if McCloskey is intent on writing in the humour genre, he might want to push further and play with his characters and their development more. This novel seems best suited for a younger audience.


Jocelyn A. Dimm is a sessional instructor and doctoral student at the University of Victoria where she teaches drama education and young adult literature in the Faculty of Education.

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

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