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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Mystery at Shildii Rock

Reviewed: September 24, 2007
By: Robert Feagan
Publisher: Dundrun Press
167 pages, $11.99

Robin Harris is known for his imagination and for his persuasiveness. His friend, Wayne Reindeer, could tell you about the time Robin talked him into believing that all you had to do to fly like Superman was to tie a towel around your neck for a cape.

So when Robin says he thinks he sees something strange - a person, perhaps - up on top of Shildii Rock while he and his RCMP officer father are motoring home on the river late in the season, there’s some excuse for people thinking it is just his imagination. After all, his father does go back and look, and doesn’t find anything there.

It’s a while before Robin and Wayne can get Wayne’s dad, a Special Constable, to drop them off at the rock. They don’t have a lot of time to look, and they don’t tell anyone what they’re up to, but when they find what seems to be a used trail, and a package of paper matches from Montana, they are positive that something is going on.

It’s winter before they have time to go again. In the meantime they’ve started grade 7 in school, discovered that Mr. Debark is just as much of a slave driver as everyone had said he would be, and had to deal with the snobby new kind, Timothy Parch, son of the new Hudson’s Bay Store manager.

They have to do all this, plus take some dogsled trips with their fathers, and begin to get ready for the races that will take place in the New Year.

The setting for the story is Fort McPherson, and while the time is not exactly clear, dogsleds are still preferred to snow machines, and so it has to be around the time when the author, who was born in 1959, was a boy himself in that town and, adding to the similarity, the son of an RCMP officer.

Shildii Rock is a real place on the river, mentioned in a number of on-line documents, but the legend that surrounds it is explained as well in this book as in any reference I could find. The mystery that the boys help to solve has nothing to do with the mythology attached to the place, but that legend adds a bite to their concerns as they investigate.

There are several kinds of story being told here, all woven together in an effective way. Timothy has to adjust to small town life after Winnipeg. Robin and Wayne have to find solid proof of their suspicions before they can tell their dads anything. They have to cope with school and prepare for the contests at the New Year’s Festival.

The McPherson RCMP have to deal with the bigoted assumptions of an Inspector who is brought in to head up a murder investigation, while that man has to learn a few lessons about bushcraft and respecting the ways of others.

This is a very positive little book. Almost everyone who needs to learn something manages to do it. There are lots of interesting asides about life in the north at that time (how to empty a honey bucket, how to prepare fish as dogfood, life on the mushing trail, etc.) to give a sense of the place. The mystery, which eventually includes the murder, is the thread which ties it all together, and the resulting package is an interesting one.

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