Barney was legendary for appalling acts of canine depravity until his recent death; two kids—Zarabeth, his (one) mourner, and Keenan, her at-first-skeptical new friend—investigate his possible murder.
Keenan misses his cosmopolitan life in Shanghai, where his mom and stepdad teach at an international school. Recovering from tuberculosis at his dad’s house on tiny Centerlight Island, divided between the U.S. and Canada, is beyond boring until he meets Zarabeth, with Barney’s well-behaved (but sadly disdained) replacement and colorful tales of famous Prohibition-era gangsters attracted to the quiet island’s largely unguarded international border; Tommy-Gun Ferguson, who built her family’s house, might have hidden his gold bullion on the island. When Keenan, now well, proves popular at his new island school, Zarabeth feels isolated. Centrelight’s few Canadian kids must attend mainland schools via ferry. Not incidentally, the island’s more-numerous American kids resent contrarian Zarabeth’s stubborn advocacy for anything-but-lamented Barney. Now snubbed by Zarabeth, Keenan looks into Barney’s death to appease her—and finds her suspicions well founded. Like the island’s two spellings, Zarabeth’s cross-border observations wryly assert Canadian cultural identity. She and Keenan, both presumed white, alternate narration and are good company. Vivid secondary characters commit spontaneous acts of hilarious mayhem—the unscheduled school-lockdown drill is one standout—though Barney’s extreme depredations (like destroying a Porsche and a house porch in one go) occasionally strain credulity. Readers need to buy such pivotal plot points.
Chalk up another treat for Korman fans. (Fiction. 8-12)