The Mystery of Croaker’s Island
The Mystery of Croaker’s Island
Owen fished inside his gigantic backpack. He brought out a radio set with huge antennae, and then he began unrolling wire from a spool.
Exactly like the little man who was lurking outside Blake's house the other day, Sam thought with a start.
"What are you doing?" Sam asked Owen, who was busily letting out a long length of wire across Blake's deck. Blake and Khallie turned to each other and shrugged.
"Trying to make a bigger antenna to pick up any radio signals being emitted in this area that might be bouncing off rocks," Owen said. He turned on the radio receiver he'd set up on the table beside Blake's laptop. Moments later he let out a small yelp.
"You hear a giant squid surfacing?" Khallie asked excitedly.
Owen shook his head. "Nope, but I have picked up other strange signals really close by."
"Where?" asked Sam.
"I'm guessing," Blake began, "it's ..."
"Croaker's Island," said Owen. Blake and Khallie gave a knowing nod.
"People have been hearing strange noises on that island for years," Khallie lowered her head and nervously pulled on her charm bracelet, rattling the dangling silver hearts and rubies. "I get bad dreams about that creepy place."
The Mystery of Croacker's Island has all the elements of a classical Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew story, with additions. Sam has problems with his older half-sister who is much less keen than he and his younger sister on being allowed to stay with Babcia (Polish for grandmother) in the small town on the coast of British Columbia. For them, it is rescue from the peripatetic life they had had previously, following their father from military posting to military posting and boarding school to boarding school. For her, it is exile from her life in Australia with her rather ditsy mother, Sam’s father's first wife. She doesn’t care if Babcia likes having them with her, but the other two do, and so she uses this as a control mechanism. Dory is not a pleasant character, but a very recognizable one! Then there is Blake, a sports jock who has been driven to taking an interest in nerdish things because a skiing accident has left him wheelchair-bound, but who would rather his sporting pals kept on thinking that he was going to come bouncing back onto the basketball court without an intellectual thought in his head. Owen is frankly a nerd; he has Boy Scout badges in every conceivable subject and glories in knowing things. And Khallie is, or was, Blake’s girlfriend who wants to pull him back into school, and life, again, and to stop thinking about what he can no longer do. She is a bit of a mystery in herself -- Sam isn't sure if she's lying about her home and family, or just not quite telling the whole truth. The Mystery of Croaker’s Island contains a formidable cast of interesting characters who are drawn together by their curiosity about the doings on Croaker’s Island and the Sinisitrus Mansion on it.
The mystery, itself, composed of disappearing cats, students -- always ones that have not had their immunization shots -- being haunted by bad dreams while being seen roaming the town late at night is far-fetched and out of this world, but this reader at least managed to suspend disbelief sufficiently to become interested in the little-men-from-Mars scenario and the interactions of the kids as they work out what is going on and what to do about it.
It's a good set of characters, sympathetic as far as the reader is concerned and empathetic towards one another. We like them, and we care about their well-being. The plot, however, is rather like Swiss cheese -- full of holes! Why are Sam and Molly moved from boarding school to boarding school when the very essence of such schools is that being at one can provide stability in the lives of kids who would otherwise be shunted about due to parental travels? Just who is Dr Marigold, the not-very-expert expert who hangs around the observatory and Ocean Institute apparently up to no good; who is prepared to deny to his last breath the faintest possibility of extraterrestrial life; who makes Sam's hair stand on end and appears to know how to disarm invasive species? What is the significance of the three -- always three -- scratches on the necks of the zombied students and cats? If they are the means of entrance for the tick-like extraterrestrials, why don't they heal after entry? Why the cats anyway? On a more practical level, how does Blake, wheelchair-bound since his accident, manage to row a solid boat in Pacific Ocean surf when, as anyone who goes to a gym knows, rowing machines give an all-body workout? In other words, you pull with your legs as much as with your arms. And Babcia, who with a PhD in oceanography as well as having raised at least one child must have some smarts, lets Dory roar all over town in her father's sports car with the only proviso apparently being that she provides transport for Sam and Molly as required and keep to her curfew.
So The Mystery of Croaker’s Island has its flaws. But it's fun, and as I say, by suspending disbelief, I enjoyed the book, only fastening on its weaknesses afterwards. Will kids like it? I'm not absolutely sure, but I think they will; and it will make them think.
Mary Thomas now lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for a good fraction of each year, but she was raised in the Thousand Islands in the St Lawrence River where none of mansions was ever even slightly mysterious. Falling down, yes, but haunted, no. And she had a rowboat.