Jessica Scott Kerrin, best known for her lauded Martin Bridge series, is back with another adventure book for boys. In The Spotted Dog Last Seen, readers are introduced to Derek Knowles-Collier, who fears that his Grade 6 community-service project – helping out with landscaping and minor repairs at the local cemetery – will trigger nightmares about his friend Dennis, who died several years earlier after being hit by a car.
On rainy days, Derek’s duties place him at the public library across the street from the cemetery. When one of his classmates discovers words pencilled inside some anonymously donated mystery novels, Derek and his friends realize they have stumbled upon a secret code and are launched into an investigation that leads them to a time capsule. The secrets it contains allow Derek to accept that he wasn’t responsible for Dennis’s death, and bring an end to his nightmares.
Mini-bibliophiles will appreciate the story’s discussion of books (The Spotted Dog Last Seen is also the title of a novel being read by the characters), the description of imagery found on gravestones, and Derek’s collection of inspirational quotes, which he prints on his T-shirts. Fans of mystery and adventure, meanwhile, will have fun trying to piece together the clues along with Derek and his friends.
Despite a slow start, the pace picks up in the second half, and though the novel explores some hefty issues (death, grief, fear of the unknown), the framework in which they are presented makes them easier for young readers to process. The story is tied up a bit too neatly, but this doesn’t detract from Kerrin’s likeable and relatable characters and thought-provoking subject matter.