Murder in the Market
Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
Too many characters, too little characterization, and too many subplots are just some of the problems which make this mystery/adventure story one that many intermediate graders will elect not to finish. Familiarity with the other two titles using the same four major juvenile characters (Danger on the River, Irwin, 1982 and Spies for Dinner, Collins, 1984) might cause readers to recognize the individuality of the quartet’s members for, in the present work, the four remain largely undifferentiated. Jim, Alice, Katie, and Rolly, the book’s principal player, are referred to once as being teens, but their exact ages remain ambiguous; none yet drives a car, but they are able to follow an adult into a bar without being challenged. Their behaviors, ranging from the very mature to the infantile, further contribute to readers’ age confusion. The multicultural villains, Chinese, Greek, Irish and Russian, who initially seem nasty, unrealistically turn out to be somewhat good at heart.
The principal plot concern ultimately turns out to be the answer to the question: Who has the jewels from the two and a half million dollar Birks heist? In addition to the eight aforementioned characters, finding the answer involves Annie Badgers, an old bag lady; Mandy Louis, a stall operator in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market and employer of the four friends; Neil Brendon, a market official with large gambling debts; and his daughter Eileen, alias The Fixer. But characters also deal with other problems. Market authorities threaten to cancel Mandy’s lease, thereby placing her mortgaged farm at risk. Alice, whose interest in Rolly makes her jealous of his attention to Eileen, becomes alarmed when Mandy predicts that he will die shortly. Coincidence plays an overabundant role in the plot, and sudden setting shifts involving new sets of characters also contribute to making the storyline hard to follow.