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