________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 1 . . . . September 1, 2006


The Light-Fingered Gang. (1912: The Mackenzie Davis Files, #1).

Dave Glaze.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2006.
158 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-55050-326-X.

Subject Heading:
Saskatoon (Sask.)-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-7 / Ages 10-12.

Review by Marina Cohen.

** /4


Clattering Typewriter keys

Just inside the door to The Daily Phoenix, Mackenzie stopped and took a deep breath. Ink. Machinery oil. Paper fresh from the mill. He breathed again. Cigar smoke. Even blindfolded, he would know he was in a newspaper office.

In three steps Mackenzie was at the counter that ran across the front of the room. His father, Theodore Davis, sat bent over a typewriter at a desk on the far side. His fingers fell on the clattering typewriter keys, paused, then struck again. A moment later his hands rose and hovered over the letter, his eyes fixed on the words that had just appeared on the yellow paper curled above the machine.

Behind Mackenzie’s father a door with a window of rippled glass opened to the office of Mr. Aikin. Mackenzie spied the editor hunched over his immense desk, shouting into the mouthpiece of the newspaper’s receiver the man held like a fragile cup close to his ear. Mr. Aikin was in shirt sleeves, his jacket hanging from the knob of the office’s safe.

A second door in the back wall was closed. Sometimes Mackenzie’s father took him through that door to the composing room. There, sitting on a steel stool, a typesetter operated the linotype machine that noisily prepared the lines of words that would be printed in the newspaper.

Near the end of the counter, a wrought-iron wicket, like a teller’s cage at a bank, surrounded Miss Price. A man leaned over the counter, his nose almost touching the grill. Mackenzie shuffled closer.

“Have you got that?” the man asked, pulling on the ends of his moustache. “I’m paying for each word, so I don’t want any mistakes.

”Miss Price said something that Mackenzie couldn’t hear.

“All right,” the man said and read from a piece of paper he held in front of him. “For sale. Snap! Large rooming house having 22 rooms. Each big enough to comfortably hold two men with lots of spare.” He looked up. “If you put in double bunks, they’ll take four men, maybe more. But if I say that, Doc McKay will have his snoops out trying to find some reason to outlaw it. Anyone with an eye for real estate will know what I mean.”

He checked his paper again. “Okay, then it says, Well located. Pleasantly finished. Sewer and water lines nearby. Easily made modern.” Peering at Miss Price, he added, “Some of the people you get in these rooming houses, they don’t even want city water. They’re not used to it where they come from. They’re happy enough without it.”

The man ran his finger down the paper. “Then, Price, $14,500. Half cash, balance arranged. See the House Man, 102 Cahill Block.” He folded the paper. “That’s me. The House Man. Now, how much will that cost?”

As she answered, Miss Price drew a white handkerchief from the sleeve of her dress, touched it to the tip of her nose, then slipped it back into her sleeve. The man acted surprised. “That much?” he said. “The Star’s being much more considerate.”

Mackenzie headed back toward his father but stopped to glance at a copy of the Daily Phoenix morning paper lying on the counter.

The Light-Fingered Gang, Dave Glaze’s first novel in “The Mackenzie Davis Files” series, focuses on 10 days in the life of a young Saskatchewan boy. The year is 1912, and the reader follows young Mackenzie Davis through his daily life, viewing the world around him through his eyes and listening through his ears. Mackenzie searches for lost coins under the wooden sidewalks, helps deliver newspapers, watches a circus Strong Man presentation, takes items in to be laundered, fetches water, races his best friend and unwittingly manages to catch jewel thieves.

     Glaze’s descriptions of turn-of-the-century Saskatoon are rich in detail. After reading The Light-Fingered Gang, one is left with a clear picture of every facet of life in 1912 Saskatoon including housing, transportation, communication, daily living, modern inventions, lack of necessities, illnesses, remedies, etc. Vocabulary and expressions of the era add to the credibility of the text.

     Where this novel falls short is in characterization and plot.

     Each chapter, representing one day, is divided into sub-headings which relay separate events as Mackenzie experiences them. The narration seems to drift from one incident to another, with little more stringing together than the fact that the main character views, reads, or overhears something. Description upon description fills the pages, with minimal action and no conflict to draw the reader in. All in all, it strikes this reviewer as though Glaze may have let his enthusiasm for his research drive the plot and not his passion for his characters.

     The reader gains little insight into the main character as Glaze provides no reactions, inner thoughts, hopes, fears or desires the character might have. The closest we come to something tangible is the fact that Mackenzie wants a pocket knife, though even here, we know little, other than this is a possession all young boys of the day hope to have. As well, when Mackenzie’s little sister becomes ill, possibly with Typhoid, the reader catches only a glimmer of emotion as Mackenzie checks one night to make sure she is breathing.

     The theme of prejudice surfaces in several of the episodes. Again, we see events as they unfold in front of Mackenzie who does nothing to intervene. He watches as a Chinese boy is verbally assaulted, but the reader has no insight into how Mackenzie feels about what he sees, thus making his admonition in the end, “He is a person,” seem superficial and contrived.

     The thin plot and two-dimensional characters will not captivate reluctant readers and may prove a struggle even for avid readers. Though the target audience seems to be the 9-11 year old range, the small font and lengthy chapters (some as many as 27 pages), are more suited to older grades.


Marina Cohen, who has a Master’s Degree in French Literature from the University of Toronto, has been teaching in the York Region District School Board for over ten years.


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

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