By the Skin of His Teeth


155 pages
ISBN 0-88878-448-1
DDC jC813'.54





Reviewed by Allison Sivak

Allison Sivak is a librarian in the Science and Technology Library at
the University of Alberta.


In 1870, Barkerville, B.C., is thriving. It’s the height of the gold
rush, and the town’s French, Scottish, and Chinese populations are
growing. The Chinese, however, are facing racism from many.

While walking home one cold and snowy night, 16-year-old woodworker Ted
MacIntosh (who appeared in Walsh’s previous novels Moses, Me and
Murder and The Doctor’s Apprentice) hears someone shout “Murder!”
Following the voice into Chinatown, he meets his friend Sing Kee, an
herbalist, who tells him that a Chinese man named Ah Mow has been
murdered by Henri Tremblay, a French merchant. Tremblay is arrested, and
the story follows his trial. Interwoven into the story is a second
narrative thread about Ted’s budding romance with Jenny, a feisty,
talkative Scottish nanny

By the Skin of His Teeth is based on a real murder case, although all
the main characters (including the accused murderer) are fictional. The
story is well researched. Walsh does not soften the facts about racism
and injustice at that time in order to make it more palatable to
readers, but instead uses Ted to create sympathy and outrage about the
way that the Chinese have been treated in Canada. She also illustrates
the complexities of race through Ted’s friendship with Peter, a young
Chinese boy who works for Ted’s father. Ted’s naive attempt to
“make things fair” for the Chinese community results in violence
toward Peter. At times Walsh’s prose is overly didactic, particularly
when she is trying to convey important plot or historical information.
The story, however, is an engaging read, and provides interesting detail
on pioneer life in the Cariboo region. Recommended.


Walsh, Ann., “By the Skin of His Teeth,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024,