________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 17 . . . . April 25, 2003


The Spy in the Alley. (A Dinah Galloway Mystery).

Melanie Jackson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2002.
186 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-55143-207-2.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

****/ 4


Time to give up. Wilfred would come back in his own time. Cats always came back, didn’t they? The song said they did. Besides, my glasses were steaming up from being in that hothouse of flowers and weeds. Removing the glasses, I began to wipe them off on my T-shirt. Suddenly, past the foxgloves, a rustle.

“Wilfred?” I parted the foxgloves.

Even with my glasses off, I could tell that the white feet in front of me were far too big to be paws. I slid my glasses back on and the feet turned into running shoes. I looked up, past khaki pants and a white shirt blotted with perspiration, to a powder-blue sun-hatted, bucktoothed young man holding binoculars.

He was spying on us.

Given the number of juvenile sleuths, literary variety that is, who are resident in British Columbia (Eric Wilson’s Liz and Tom Austen and Linda Bailey’s Stevie Diamond just to name three), one might conclude that Canada’s most westerly province is a hotbed of crime. Now joining the ranks of BC’s crime fighting minors is Jackson’s Dinah Galloway, 11, who lives in Vancouver with her widowed library clerk mother, attractive older sister Marguerite aka Madge, and Wilfred, the cowardly family cat. Sixteen-year-old Madge, who aspires to go to art school following her high school graduation, presently models part-time for Bonna Terra Sports. The money Madge earns is welcomed by her mother as the family’s financial situation has been strained since the death of Mr. Galloway, an alcoholic who perished in a drunken car accident. Madge’s current boyfriend, whom Dinah dislikes and characterizes as a dweeb, is Roderick Wellman, the son of the owner of the Wellman Talent Agency which represents Madge. When Dinah discovers that a neighboring home is being housesat for the summer by a recent high school graduate, Jack French, she immediately thinks that she has found the replacement for Roderick in Madge’s life. However, Jack and Madge do not immediately hit it off. Jack, who is taking a year off before going to university to become a teacher, is working on his photography and volunteering for GASP, an anti-smoking organization, his motivation for the latter being his mother’s death from lung cancer. Since Bonna Terra organizes sports events with Fields Tobacco, Jack is critical of Madge’s association with the tobacco firm.

     The mystery portion of the novel commences with Dinah’s discovering a buck-toothed, binocular-toting young man who seems to have been spying on Madge. But why? And then the house in which Jack is living is twice burglarized with some of Jack’s photographs of tomatoes being taken in the first instance and his briefcase containing an old laptop plus GASP publicity items in the second. Following the first robbery, Buckteeth’s blue hat is found in the garden. Confounding the entire matter is Buckteeth’s apparent connection to GASP. Later, Roderick’s new car and Madge’s billboards are vandalized, seemingly by GASP members, and Jack’s and Madge’s relationship is thereby further jeopardized. Like all good sleuths, Dinah has a sidekick, Pantelli Audia, who accompanies her as she tracks down clues’ meanings. Suspects, opportunities and motivations abound, but, as in all works of this genre, the detective eventually figures out who did what, when and why.

     Dinah Galloway is a most likeable character who, to some degree, lives in the shadow of her attractive older sister, a local celebrity. Dinah is definitely a pesky and, at times, an obnoxious younger sibling, but the two sisters do show real affection for each other, and by the book’s end, Dinah has revealed a talent of her own that attracts larger attention. The Spy in the Alley is a fine introduction to a new series, and most young mystery fans will look forward to Dinah’s further cases. Hopefully, the rather cartoonish cover art on the current volume will be replaced in future series’ offerings by more realistic images which better reflect the series’ content and mood.

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children’s and YA literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364
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