November 03, 2011


by William Bell
Doubleday Canada
289 pp.
Ages 12+

Garnet Havelock and Raphaella Skye from Bell's award-winning book, Stones (Doubleday Canada, 2001) are still together, having graduated from high school in Orillia and pursuing careers in furniture-making and stage management, respectively.  For a nominal lease on the coach house (for his workshop) at the estate of the recently-deceased Professor Corbizzi, Garnet reaches an agreement with Mrs. Stoppini, the professor's housekeeper and companion, to make repairs to the fire-damaged library and to catalogue the scholar's book collection. After stumbling across a hidden cupboard with a manuscript titled "Fanatics", a medal and an ornate cross, and enduring nightmares of a tortured man, Garnet enlists Raphaella's psychic tendencies to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the late professor's demise.

As in Stones, a parallel but contemporary storyline reinforces the theme, here of religious intolerance.  In his attempt to return a found GPS, Garnet discovers a covert camp of men in camouflage gear (including firearms) and speaking an unfamiliar language.  He parlays this information to deter his mother, the investigative journalist, from pursuing another dangerous assignment, one in Afghanistan.  As Garnet and Raphaella learn of the fanaticism and fate of the 15th c. Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola, they must also discover the means by which to exorcise his spectre from the library.

I've read reviews by those who declare parallel plot lines, in the past and the present, to be contrived and unimaginative.  But, as the selection committee for the Canadian Library Association's Young Adult Canadian Book Award undoubtedly recognized in its 2001 choice, Stones, the folding of one story into another does not compromise either, but rather enhances the texture (not unlike folding egg whites into batter - as Mrs. Stoppini would know from making her zuccotto).

Just as Garnet crafts a piece of furniture or Mrs. Stoppini creates an Italian dessert, William Bell builds his plots from the commonplace through meticulous detail to a riveting and satisfying resolution.  No detail, such as Garnet and Raphaella's relationship, is misplaced or extraneous. The read is enriching and satiating.

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