________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 11 . . . . February 3, 2006


Alberta Alibi.

Dayle Campbell Gaetz.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2005.
189 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-55143-404-0.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Jennifer Caldwell.

*** /4


"The bullet that shot the night watchman came from one of your rifles," the big officer told him. "And both rifles have been fired recently."

Her father sagged. For a second, Sheila thought he would fall and she was about to run to him, but he straightened and started for the house. "I don't know how that can be," he said, "but I'm sure we can straighten it out." Suddenly he seemed to brighten. "What about fingerprints? Did you check for prints?"

"Both rifles contained multiple sets of prints."

Her dad quickened his pace. "I need to call Adele James. As soon as she arrives to be with the kids, I'll come with you."

Sheila stood alone in the shadows while the two officers walked on either side of her father toward that hateful red door.


Once again,12-year old Katie, her friend Sheila, and cousin Rusty find themselves in a pickup truck headed towards mystery, this time in Alberta at Sheila's dad's ranch. Readers met the trio in Mystery from History (Orca, 2001). They successfully cracked a ring of art thieves and corrupt police officers in their hometown of Victoria, BC. After that, their parents sent them on a summer trip with Katie and Rusty's grandparents to keep them out of trouble. However, the trio found themselves embroiled in yet another dangerous and historic mystery, described in Barkerville Gold (Orca, 2004).

     In Alberta Alibi, the trio arrive at Sheila's old home, the Triple W Ranch. Sheila is anxious and irritable because her dad, Chris Walton, has not kept in touch since her parents separated two years ago. There have been changes around the ranch since Sheila and her mother left, including the new housing development next door and its environmental impact on the land and ranchers, the presence of Chris's new girlfriend, Adele, and her son, and even the repainted red front door.

     Sheila and her friends learn that the development's night watchman was shot the night before they arrived, and whoever shot him drove away in Chris's truck. This sparks Katie's sleuthing tendencies and further aggravates Sheila's worries. RCMP officers question Chris, and the evidence points to his involvement. When the RCMP search the truck the day after a fire at the development, they find the rifle used to shoot the watchman and a gas can. They take Chris away for "further questioning," leaving Katie, Rusty, and Sheila in Adele's care. Sheila is understandably upset. She's been trying to get Katie to quit thinking of her father's frame-up as a mystery to solve, but now she asks her friend to help prove his innocence.

     As the story unfolds, Gaetz introduces plenty of characters with motive or opportunity for the shooting. Adele is angry with the developers for swindling her ailing mother into selling the family land. Chris emails Adele, saying that he's got a "surefire way" of keeping the developers from taking over Adele's land. Other stock characters could have been at the development on the night the watchman was shot: Ben Brown, family friend and helper on Chris' ranch; his son, Ryan, the grumpy twenty-something back from the big city and concerned with money; and Wendell Wedman, the unofficial watchman and standard hick character who lives in a trailer on the edge of Chris's land, overlooking the development.

     Mystery from History was told through Katie's eyes, Rusty was featured in Barkerville Gold, and it's Sheila's turn for the spotlight in Alberta Alibi. Gaetz sprinkles details from previous books through the story, but without alienating readers, just joining the three-book storyline or retelling previous stories.

     Gaetz skillfully weaves together a variety of story elements: Sheila's relationship with her father and friends, the mystery surrounding the shooting and arson, and information about conservation and environmental protection. Gaetz has improved her suspenseful timing from the past two mysteries in this unnamed series, and Alberta Alibi reads more realistically than the other two books. Sheila shows more emotional depth than the other featured characters in the previous books, and Gaetz illustrates typical 12- year-old insecurities in a realistic way that will help readers identify with Sheila.


Jennifer Caldwell, a librarian at Richmond Public Library, BC, chaired the Fiction Selection Committee for the 2005-2006 Red Cedar Award.

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

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