________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


Last Chance. (A Robyn Hunter Mystery).

Norah McClintock.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2006.
228 pp., pbk., $8.99.
ISBN 0-439-95229-8.

Subject Headings:
Problem youth-Juvenile fiction.
Dogs-Training-Juvenile fiction.
Fear-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Libby McKeever.

***½ /4


The dog made a sound that some people might describe as barking, but barking didn't begin to capture it. This wasn't an arf-arf or bow-bow. This was the sound of thunder being channeled through a canine throat. I jumped. Then I immediately thought; stupid, stupid, stupid! You know the rules. You should not have moved.

The dog knew the rules, too. When I jumped, he charged.

A single thought flashed through my brain like a comet in a midnight sky: Run.

Run now.

Run fast.

Then I thought about that brute chasing me and catching me, and I stayed put.

I tried not to look at the dog.

I tried not to panic.

Time stopped, and I began to wish it would never restart because if it did, I knew the dog would reach me.

A miracle happened.

The dog aborted its charge less than a metre away and contented itself with a growling menacingly at me.

A glimmer of hope: maybe the rules really worked.

Then someone shouted: "Orion!"

Finally. A human being. A rescuer.

"Orion! Come!"

The dog stopped growling. I dared a peek at it. The dog had turned its head to look at the person who had called his name - a teenage boy who looked like the human equivalent of the animal in front of me. His hair was as black as the dog's coat. A hairline scar cut diagonally across his right cheek, from close to the top of his nose to close to the bottom of his ear. Despite the intense heat of the afternoon, he was wearing a black T-shirt, black jeans, and black boots that would have been happy nestled on the footrests of a motorcycle. The dog looked at the boy, but it didn't back off. On the plus side, it didn't come any closer to me, either. Instead, it stood its ground until the boy came over and snapped leash onto its collar. A chain leash, I noticed. The kind a dog couldn't chew through.

Now that the dog was restrained, I took a good long look at it - and my knees buckled. It was fifty percent teeth and one hundred percent muscle, and it was staining so hard on the leash that the boy's biceps bulged as he held it. I hoped the boy was as strong as he looked.

I'm sorry, he said. "He got away from me."

"No problem," I said, my voice trembling. No problem, big problem. If this boy was responsible for the dog, he shouldn't have let it get away from him. On the other hand, he sounded genuinely apologetic and, despite his all-black wardrobe, he was kind of hot. His eyes were an amazing shade of blue that verged on purple. I had only ever seen eyes like that once before and that was back when nothing about boys interested me, including their eyes.

"Hey," he said. "It's been bugging me since the first day, but now I know who you are." His purple-blue eye were as hard as amethyst. "You're the girl who turned me in."

Robyn had planned to spend the summer lying on the dock with her friend Morgan at her family's lake cottage. These arrangements are effectively ruined when an unfortunate series of events at an animal rights protest rally finds Robyn blamed for a broken store window. In exchange for not pressing charges, the store owner suggests that Robyn volunteer at her favourite charity, a local animal shelter. This agreement poses one problem for Robyn. Although passionate about her cause, an earlier encounter with a large dog has left Robyn with a deep-seated fear of big dogs and subsequently nervous about this commitment. Her dad, an ex-cop, thinks the arrest and the outcome quite amusing, whereas her lawyer-mother is far from amused and frets about how Robyn will cope with this consequence.

     Robyn's fears are temporarily allayed when she finds out her duties will be mainly computer work involving entering the names and addresses of donors from a recent fund-raising campaign. Robyn's doubts, however, are unfortunately realized on her very first day when she is confronted by a large, snarling black dog and a youth who is also "volunteering" his summer at the refuge. This encounter leaves Robyn shaken but also curious and a little uncomfortable as to where she has met this youth before. Over the weeks, Robyn realizes that this boy, Nick, was the one she testified as having stolen fund-raising money when she was in grade school. From her office window, Robyn watches Nick and the other boys work with the dogs, and she becomes reluctantly impressed by Nick's love and talent for this vocation. It is clear that Orion, the nasty black beast that scared her on her first day, is responding well under his tutelage.

     Just as Robyn's opinion of Nick is softening, a robbery at the shelter causes her to believe that Nick is responsible. This appears to be just the start of Nick's troubles as he is accused of stealing a car, a theft that results in the death of a pedestrian. Somehow, it all seems all wrong to Robyn.

     After witnessing how passionate Nick was about Orion and learning that he wished to keep this hard-to-adopt animal, Robyn can't help but feel that he has been wrongly accused, and she begins to rethink her estimation of this tough-looking youth. With the help of her dad and some tenacious investigative skills, Robyn's is determined to unearth the real culprit and hopefully repay Nick for wrongly assuming his guilt.

     Last Chance is an exciting read that will challenge young readers to take note of the events that develop into clues as Robyn tries to make sense of the disastrous turn of events in which she has become embroiled. I enjoyed this well-paced mystery and believe that the reader will appreciate McClintock's effort to link the effects of an abusive upbringing with the tough choices that children in these situation face. I believe this story will connect strongly with both boys and girls in middle school.

     Norah McClintock has won five Arthur Ellis Awards for Mistaken Identity, The Body in the Basement, Sins of the Father, Scared to Death, and Break and Enter. She was also nominated for the Arthur Ellis award for her non-fiction title, Body, Crime, Suspect and for the Anthony Award for No Escape.


Highly Recommended.

Libby McKeever is a Library Technician who works in the library at Whistler Secondary School in Whistler, BC.

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

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