CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 7. . . .October 16, 2015
Wednesday Smythe, 14, is sent to live with foster parents Brianna and Ricki who use him and his few belongings to help build their fledgling salon business in Goose Bay, Labrador. Exploring the wilderness around their home, Wednesday stumbles upon the remains of a World War II German submarine that is still filled with the corpses of the forty or so sailors who died in a mysterious incident. With research, and by translating the captain’s logbook, he manages to recreate the history of the U-boat which was on a top-secret mission to deliver an SS officer and his cargo to a secret rendezvous point in the Churchill River when they sank after a battle provoked with a marine convoy. The SS officer, Colonel Scherer, kills all of the survivors in order to preserve oxygen for himself, but he ultimately perishes. Wednesday finds himself investigating a mysterious concrete bunker at the site of the missed rendezvous point where he stumbles upon a spy ring keeping an eye on a nearby Canadian Forces base. With his new-found family and friends all kidnapped by the spies, he manages to free them and expose the spy ring, bringing his discovery to the attention of the world.
With an exciting, suspenseful, and intriguing premise, this story has a lot of promise. The first half of the book alternates between the back story of the sub, a fairly taut and thrilling narrative, and the modern story of the hapless foster child, a less riveting story that takes time to build and draw the reader in. In the second half, the discovery and investigation of the sub and the bunker site, along with the mysterious threats and violence against Wednesday’s foster family, become riveting. Wednesday and his somewhat bizarre foster family, plus his new neighbours, become sympathetic characters caught up in an intrigue outside of their control, and Wednesday convincingly uses his smarts and his defiance to unearth secrets that are taunting him, culminating in the setting of a massive forest fire in order to attract help to the isolated bunker site.
However, the story does stray into territory that is less believable and not always consistent, not to mention poor copy editing that has left numerous typographical errors in the text. A few cases in point: after the explosion on the sub, Colonel Scherer is not mentioned until a few chapters later, leaving the reader wondering whether the most important figure in that story is alive or not. The opening scene, in which Wednesday is abandoned by a previous foster family, is left unexplained until chapters later. His foster mother is introduced as Glenda, which is corrected to Brittany—without any explanation. Brittany and Ricki rarely allow him time away from work at the salon, and yet they don’t seem to object when he asks them to drive him to the home of long-time resident Gertie Grimes without telling them why (it is part of his clandestine investigation). When Gertie, who turns out to the matriarch of the spy ring, abducts Wednesday, they get into a pointless car accident which results in her firing her gun accidentally, causing the dashboard to explode in an “orange ball of flame”—and yet the two of them walk away unharmed.
But it is the premise of the long-standing spy ring and its connection to Scherer’s mysterious cargo that is the most difficult to swallow. Grimes’ father had been paid by the Germans to keep the existence of the downed sub a secret, and he later passed on the tradition to his daughter, who now leads a group who spy for the Russians. Scherer was carrying the mythical “spear of destiny” which he was to unite with an ancient Viking settlement site in Labrador to carry out some unexplained Aryan racial rite; the group had established a somehow related underground shrine of pagan European artifacts. What that has to do with their spying, and whether they were some sort of modern white supremacists, is never explained.
At 376 pages, Kill Shot’s intriguing yet convoluted story is perhaps a little too long for its intended audience, if not worth reading at least for the engrossing portrayal of a German U-boat, its crew and inner workings, and its mysterious mission that ends in tragedy and sacrifice.
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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