________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 5 . . . . October 26, 2007


Out of the Cold. (A Robyn Hunter Mystery).

Norah McClintock.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2007.
235 pp., pbk., $8.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99728-7.

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Libby McKeever.

***½ /4  


"I have to wake him up Robyn," Billy said." It'll be okay. I've done this before."

I stood back a few steps, just to be on the safe side, and watched him bend down and reach for what I assumed was a shoulder. He gave a gentle shake.

"Hello," he said. "Hello."

No response.

I edged in close to Billy. The person hadn't moved. Billy pulled the blanket down a little so that he could see who he was shaking. It was a man with a scruffy beard. He was lying on his side with his face pressed in against the door. Billy shook him again, more vigorously this time. The man fell over onto his back. It was Mr. Duffy but his eyes were closed.

Billy glanced at me. Then he shook him again, even harder.

"Mr. Duffy," he said. "Wake up, Mr. Duffy. We've got a hot drink for you."

There was something funny about the way he was lying. He seemed so still. Too still. Little clouds of white plumed from Billy's and my nose and mouth, but not from Mr. Duffy. I crouched down beside Billy, no longer afraid that Mr. Duffy would lash out at me, and loosened the scarf, stiff with grease and grit, that was wound around his neck. Billy looked bleakly at me as I pulled my mitten off and gingerly pressed my fingers against the side of his neck to check for a pulse.

I glanced at Billy "you'd better get Eileen," I said.

When Billy suggests that Robyn comes with him to help at the downtown drop-in centre, she agrees. Maybe her friends are right; she needs something to take her mind off Nick. Nick's sudden disappearance has left Robyn confused and hurt. While Robyn waits for Billy at the drop-in centre, a boy called Ben is assigned to show her around. Although he doesn't know Robyn, Ben is immediately hostile, assuming she's a rich kid doing her token, good deed. His opinion gradually changes when he sees Robyn's genuine interest in the clients who use the drop-in centre. Assigned to help in the kitchen, Robyn becomes wary when Mr. Duffy, one of the drop-in centre's clients, tries to steals cookies. The next day, Robyn is alone in the kitchen when Mr. Duffy sneaks in again, this time to steal cans of peaches. After confronting him, Mr. Duffy pushes Robyn hard, causing her to fall and cut her face.

     After telling the director what happened to her, Robyn is horrified to find out that Mr. Duffy has been barred from the centre. During a particularly cold night, Billy and Robyn work as team bringing hot soup and tea to homeless people on the street. Robyn is shocked when they find Mr. Duffy curled up in a doorway, dead. Ben's initial hostility towards her returns as he blatantly blames her for Mr. Duffy's death. Although she's sure she is not responsible, Robyn is desperate to try and make things right. Ben suggests she finds out a little about Mr. Duffy's past to help him with the memorial service he is planning. For Robyn, things just don't add up. Mr. Duffy is found with two classic books in his pocket, suggesting he was an educated man. After questioning people who regularly dropped money into his hat when he was panhandling, Robyn also finds out that he was skilled in computers. She also discovers that he was verbally hostile with one particular man and conversely had been very kind to one little girl and her mother.

     Ben, at first, is reluctantly impressed at how tenacious Robyn is, and when Mr. Duffy's accidental death just doesn't fit with his recent change in habits, he decides to help Robyn with her investigation. With Ben's help, it's not long before the clues add up and Robyn discovers that Mr. Duffy's death wasn't an accident. As they uncover a circle of jealousy, greed and lost love, Ben and Robyn grow closer. Ultimately, they unearth the true culprit who had assumed he'd killed Mr. Duffy (or Max Templeton as they find out his real name was) 23 years before.

     McClintock's well crafted novel Out of the Cold is the fourth in her “Robyn Hunter Mystery” series. Crime buffs will enjoy this fast-paced story which will take them into the reality of homeless people and the series of events that can radically change people's destiny. McClintock has successfully continued to develop her main characters, and readers will appreciate the exploration of their maturing ethics.

     Other stories in the “Robyn Hunter Mystery” series are Last Chance, You Can Run and Nothing to Lose. 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 nonfiction 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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