The background of the Erie Canal in 1910 promises color and excitement, but the balance swings more toward message than mystery here. Twelve year old Pete McKann is warned away from canalboat families by his mother whose judgment of that ilk is based on one brutal encounter. Yet the Kuroskis, their boat-house and their son, Ivan, fascinate and befriend him. The mystery is a cloud of unexplained rumor surrounding the Kuroskis-- their affluence and how they came by it. The answers to the gossip raised are mostly by eavesdrop and guess. At least the twelve year olds are not made to do anything that would be impossible for twelve year olds. It is all tied up too tightly right to be as real as some of the Erie Canal life it describes-- which emerges as rather bland here. Mrs. McKann revises her opinion of canal-folk on the basis of her experience with the Kuroskis-- but it turns out that they really weren't bona-fide, born-to-it, barge dwellers after all. The result is a rather odd message tagged on to a run of the towpath juvenile mystery.