________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 20 . . . . June 6, 2002

cover The Spy in the Alley. (A Dinah Galloway Mystery; 1).

Melanie Jackson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2002.
186 pp., pbk., $6.95.
ISBN 1-55143-207-2.

Grades 3- 6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


Even with my glasses off, I could tell that the white feet in front of me were far too big to be [my cat Wilfred's] paws. I slid my glasses back on and the feet turned into running shoes. I looked up, past khaki pants and a white shirt blotted with perspiration, to a powder-blue sun-hatted, bucktoothed young man holding binoculars.

He was spying on us.

I was so indignant that I forgot all the safety warnings about never confronting intruders. I stood up, through the flowers, branches and stalks, and glared at him. The young man drew back his lips and sneered, displaying his buckteeth even more prominently.

"You must be a younger sister or something," he said. "You're obviously not the glamorous Madge Galloway, the well-known local model."

He jammed the binoculars into a fraying leather pouch around his skinny waist. Then, wrenching the gate open, he pelted out into the alley.

Dinah is a short, chubby, hungry, 11-year-old with a big voice and insatiable curiosity; her sister is tall, slender, and 16 with a burgeoning career in modelling sports clothes, especially for a shop known for co-sponsoring health-related sporting events with a tobacco company. When Dinah surprises a boy with binoculars and buckteeth in their overgrown back garden in Vancouver, everyone assumes he is spying on Madge rather than connecting his activity with the arrival of the local chairperson of GASP (Grad Advocates for Smoking Prevention) a housesitter for one of the neighbours.

     Coincidence follows upon coincidence, clue upon clue, and slapstick comedic situation upon..., etc. until, in the end, everything gets straightened out---including the spy's teeth---and is brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

     Jackson has not written the best book in the world, but Dinah and her friend, Pantelli, are very likeable characters and only somewhat unbelievable Madge, the sister, and Frank, the GASPer, are more so, being stereotypical teens in love, but Roderick, the high school graduate left in complete charge(!) of a talent agency while his father takes a stress-free vacation, is unreal in all senses of the word. His interactions with Dinah are funny, however, and I can see 10-year-olds giggling aloud over many passages in this book.

     The "serious" side to the novel deals with addictions. Frank's mother died of lung cancer, and so he has taken up anti-smoking campaigns, whereas Dinah's and Madge's father died after wrapping his car around a tree while drunk. Madge is driven to philosophize about how her denial of her father's addiction is less constructive than Frank's fight against his mother's habit. This worthy tone is in sharp contrast to Dinah's usual noisy comedy and doesn't quite ring true, or fit in. On the other hand, it is pleasant to have a young people's mystery that does not involve excessive violence, or Hardy-Boy style jewel robberies.

     On the whole, I think this is a fun read which children will enjoy. The number 1 in the series title, "A Dinah Galloway Mystery," seems to presage more to come; they'll be welcome.


Mary Thomas likes mysteries and so do the kids at the two elementary schools in Winnipeg, MB, where she works.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364