CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 41. . . .June 20, 2014
Old Bones. (A Casey Templeton Mystery).
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2014.
133 pp., trade pbk., EPub & PDF, $12.99 (pbk.), $8.99 (Epub), $12.99 (PDF).
ISBN 978-1-4597-1404-5 (pbk), ISBN 978-1-4597-1406-9 (ePub) ISBN 978-1-4597-1405-2 (PDF).
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Susie Wilson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
As he reached up to close the window, Casey heard a man’s deep voice say, “I’d about given up on you. Where the heck have you been?”
The voice was coming from a room whose window was at right angles to Casey’s. Because the window was at the far end of the room the voice was coming from, Casey couldn’t see anything but the side of the television set that someone clicked off, and the blank wall beyond it. He listened, silently.
“I’d have stayed away longer,” – the second man’s voice was higher pitched – “if I’d known how much this room stinks. Why don’t you close the window?”
“I tried, but it’s stuck,” said the first voice. “Forget the smell. Where have you been?”
“Look,” said the second man, “I was having a friendly drink with some of the locals, two guys that work security for the museum. And I found out exactly what we needed to know. That area we took the video in today, where the stuff we’re supposed to take is – it does have its own door on the outside. And, get this, it’s not on the same alarm system as the rest of the museum, though it does have a guard night and day.”
“So, when we come back for the stuff, we can put the guard out of commission and disarm that one system?” the low voice asked.
“That’s what I’m saying, yeah,” the second man replied.
And with that, a summer of adventure begins for Casey Templeton, the boy at the centre of Old Bones, in the second Casey Templeton mystery, Hate Cell being the first. Gwen Molnar is writing a true Canadian children’s mystery series, one with recognizable real-life settings and a plucky, relatable kid at the centre, reminiscent of Eric Wilson’s Tom and Liz Austen mysteries from my childhood. While being heavier on non-mystery-related plotlines and relying a bit too much on deus ex machina, Old Bones is a fun, engaging read, and helps lay a solid foundation for what I think will be a successful series.
The book starts with Casey’s class going on a trip to the Royal Tyrell museum, and, on the first night back at the hotel, Casey overhears two men who appear to be plotting a museum robbery. Casey reports what he heard to the curator of the museum who happens to be the father of one of his old friends. Casey is offered a job at the museum for the summer, watching all the people coming and going from the museum to try and identify the would-be thieves.
At this point, the book lapses into a central section where, from the mystery standpoint, a whole lot of nothing happens. Trevor, the manager of the museum shop, is jealous of Casey and begins stealing the fossils Casey is cataloguing as a pretense for him being in the museum all day every day. Of course, Casey cleverly catches him. Casey and his friend Mandy end up lost and disoriented on a late-night hike in a canyon, but they are safely rescued and have a much calmer social life for the rest of the summer. These plot threads, while not so long and tedious as to cause the reader to lose focus, do nothing to further the central plot, nor do they offer much character insight or development. More importantly, when all put together, readers end up with a significant space of time where there are no more clues brought to light. This makes it seem as if the central mystery was not as well constructed as it needed to be to carry a book of this length.
In the end, Casey and Mandy do happen to run into the robbers when out for a bike ride in the country. At this point, the real excitement commences. The robbers kidnap the kids and leave them tied up in a farm house. After they escape their bonds, Casey and Mandy flag down a crop duster who takes Casey in to town, while, on the way, taking the robbers’ vehicle out with some clever flying and a strategic use of a fire-extinguisher. Since it’s the night of a gala reception at the museum and the police are worried about the robbers identifying Casey, there’s a plan to disguise Casey as a female waitress to scope out the party and stop the robbers. Finally, Casey identifies the robbers, and the plan is foiled.
Sadly, instead of writing the scene of the capture and explanation of motives, Molnar has Casey and Mandy relay it to readers by way of a detail-heavy conversation that happens weeks after the fact. At every point in the book where Casey makes a discovery, it is more due to luck or happenstance than any detective work, thereby creating more the image of a boy who happens to always be at the right place at the right time than one of a clever detective. The style and voice of the writing are engaging, and the characters are likeable and far enough from typical stock characters that I have faith that as the series progresses that Casey will become more and more like a true detective.
The engaging story, likeable characters, and lack of specific targeting of one gender as a reader make this a good book for children in its intended age range. Throw in the fact that the book’s set in the Royal Tyrell Museum and that Casey starts out the book on a dinosaur dig, and you have a recipe for a mystery even reluctant readers will pick up off the shelf, especially those who are in their dinosaur-obsessed phase.
Susie Wilson, a recent graduate from SLIS at the University of Alberta, lives and works in Prince George, BC.
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