June 29, 2016

Trial by Fire: A Riley Donovan Mystery

by Norah McClintock
Orca Book Publishers
231 pp.
Ages 12+
April 2016

Everybody’s hiding something, big or little.  Everybody tells lies, even if they’re little white ones.  Everybody is a potential suspect until they’re eliminated from the list.  Every smile might be hiding black thoughts and even black actions. (pg. 154)
Teen Riley Donovan has already had a complicated life.  Her mother died when Riley was a baby and her father, who travels extensively as a medical docor with an international charity, left her in the care of her sixties rocker grandfather Jimmy Donovan with whom she toured for years.  Upon his death, Riley has moved in with her mother’s sister Ginny, a police detective, with whom she has just relocated to a small town.

Their moving boxes haven’t even been broken down before Riley discovers the barn of their neighbour, Mr. Goran, on fire and the man trapped within.  In critical condition, Mr. Goran is unable to say what happened, though small-town gossip suggests he set the fire himself for the insurance money.  Riley cannot believe that the kind gentleman from Kurdistan who welcomed them so warmly and spoke so lovingly of his farm would be capable of such fraud or destruction.  Though warned by her Aunt Ginny against poking her nose into police business, Riley discovers a small-town community steeped in bitterness and discrimination against Mr. Goran and knows that their neighbour was the victim, not the instigator.  And Riley sets out to prove it.

Though Norah McClintock's better-known mystery series for young people include her Robyn Hunter Mysteries, Chloe and Levesque Mysteries and Mike and Riel series, Riley Donovan is hardly a newcomer to Norah McClintock's repertoire of crime fiction.  This series which includes at least six titles previously published in Australia is now being published in Canada by Orca Book Publishers and Trial by Fire is essentially our introduction to this young sleuth and fortunately there is a follow-up title, From Above, due out in October. (Earlier English titles published by International Masters Publishers include Breaking In, Picking Up the Scent, Framed, The Secret of Golden Acres, Schooled and Web of Lies.)

While not as gritty as some of Norah McClintock’s other mysteries, Trial by Fire is as packed with the plot twists and turns of any of her award-winning crime fiction.  Moreover, setting it in a small-town, rife with familial connections and intolerant attitudes, adds further tension to this first-rate mystery.  As for Riley, she’s a character whose life adventures I hope we’ll continue to share.  Her past has shaped her into a conscientious and compassionate young woman who sees beyond the surface and endeavours to make things right.  What better grounds to establish a teen solver of mysteries?

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