CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 20. . . .January 29, 2016
In 1936, seven British children from two families, ranging in age from preschool to teenage, are invited by Captain Gunn, the uncle of one family, to explore the coast of British Columbia in a sailboat for the summer. They stumble upon the story of Brother XII who founded a cult colony on one of the islands and schemed many families out of their money before disappearing with his fortune as the police closed in. Determined to find the treasure and return it to its rightful owners, they hop from port to port, seeking clues about Brother XII’s whereabouts and dodging a criminal group equally determined to find the money. Just as they are about to give up the chase, an earthquake uncovers Brother XII’s buried gold and the crew return to Vancouver to a hero’s welcome.
A classic kids’ adventure in a very British tradition, Brother XII’s Treasure is an absorbing, fast-paced book full of interesting characters, unexpected events, and a sense of both compelling quest and exploration for its own sake. Its biggest strength lies in the richness of the detail, from geographic, to historical, to nautical. Whimsically drawn, informative and absorbing maps of the areas the group visits add dimension to the story. The author, an experienced sailor herself, spares no detail of the skills in navigation, meteorology, and mechanics that the kids learn as they sail through the Georgia Straight, all of them developing their particular passion with a view to making it part of their lives.
The plot is twisting, occasionally beguiling, but there is something ultimately unsatisfying about the fate of Brother XII and his treasure. Not only is he, himself, not found, but few details of his life emerge, even the meaning of his mysterious name, and the discovery of the treasure due only to a coincidental earthquake—quoted above—is highly anticlimactic. More time is spent describing their visits to destinations not related to the treasure hunt than in fully developing the clues and suspense that they encounter. A few details are not well sewn up—most glaringly, a mysterious set of footsteps on the dock that wakes them up on the night before the earthquake.
While the chase to the finish with the criminals is exciting at times, especially when the bullies misread the currents and run their boat aground, the reader is left wondering exactly how Gunn and the children were able to so well read their intentions; when they first encounter the group at a mutual anchorage, they assume from their disheveled appearance and ill behavior that they must be criminals. Although proving correct, readers in 2015 will be surprised at the degree to which “proper” behavior and appearance are used as judgment against strangers (a Chinese business owner and a Native band are treated with considerably more respect).
In the end, the timeless quality of the story and its setting often strays into the anachronistic. Although charming, the perfect behavior of the children, right down to the eldest girl’s constant providing of excellent meals and perfect housekeeping aboard the boat, is not quite believable. Even her inspiring “women’s rights” rebellion, when she goes on strike to force the others to do their fair share, ends in complete agreement and bonhomie. The narration is almost too upbeat—even when one girl is shot and injured by the criminal gang—relying on phrases like “washed down with gallons of tea” that occasionally stray into triteness.
The conclusion provides some satisfying, if too perfect, closure: a letter of thanks from the lawyer representing the defrauded families, specifically mentioning one victim the group had met who is now rebuilding his life. A further postscript details how each of the crew plans to spend their share of the reward money, underlining the passions each is developing. But, although full of as much charm and fascination as the BC coast scenery it so deftly evokes, when it comes right down to it, this story doesn’t have enough conflict to put it in the league of the real classics.
Recommended with Reservations.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and Vice-President of the Ontario Library Association.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.