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The Return of the Grudstone Ghosts

by Arthur Slade

Arthur Slade’s new novel is the first in his Canadian Chills Series, a line of mysteries for middle readers set in Canadian locales. As in the author’s Northern Frights novels (beginning with Draugr in 1998), this one is propelled by horror and suspense. What’s new here is a layer of comedy that keeps the tone light and insulates the reader fairly thickly against the chills of the uncanny.

The heroine of the novel is Daphne Shea, a Grade 7 student at St. Woolcott School in Moose Jaw and an up-and-coming detective. When a teacher falls from the school’s bell tower, Daphne and her two best friends decide to investigate the incident. The trail of clues leads from the top of the haunted belfry – the site of a fire in the 1920s that destroyed Grudstone School and killed 12 schoolchildren – down to the bowels of the city. In one of Moose Jaw’s famous tunnels, Daphne meets an underworld character who helps her battle the lurking menace above ground.

There is little room in this humorous, plot-driven novel for depth of character, but Daphne is engaging as the narrator. Her voice comes across like that of a detective from a 1950s TV series, with a semi-ironic patter suggesting cool sophistication. The novel is considerably enriched by the setting, which incorporates the city’s history during the Prohibition years when Chicago bootleggers used its tunnel system. In the movement between belfry and tunnels, there is also an interesting symbolic structure to the novel, a secular vision of a multi-layered purgatory. With its quick pace and imaginative details, this book is a promising inauguration to Slade’s series.