||A Review of: The Adventures of Tommy Smith
by Heather Birrell
The year is 1882, and the place, Collingwood, Ontario. Tommy Smith,
a plucky underdog and orphan of the twelve-year-old redheaded
variety, uses his mouth organ to tame skittish horses, and likes
to sit on the shores of Lake Huron, dreaming of his long lost family.
But this relatively peaceful existence is shattered when his curiosity
draws him to the offices of the Northern Navigation Company. There,
he overhears not only an argument regarding the passenger ship S.S.
Asia, but also witnesses a murder. Unfortunately, the murderer
also spies little Tommy, and the adventures of the title are (quite
literally) set in motion. Robert Sutherland's historical novel
(appropriate for ten to fourteen-year-olds) begins with a chase,
and will undoubtedly keep readers on their toes.
In order to escape his pursuers, Tommy inadvertently becomes a
stowaway on the very ship in question which is already overloaded
with passengers and cargo and set to sail into a terrible gale in
the name of profit, and against the better judgment of the captain.
Tragically, the captain is proven right, and over one hundred people
lose their lives when the ship is engulfed by the stormy waters of
Georgian Bay. Lucky for the reader, Tommy survives to tell the
tale, although he has little desire to do so once he learns his
pursuers have blamed him for the murder, believing him dead. What
follows is a series of suspenseful escapades through the streets
of Toronto, where Tommy, aka Al Fort, hopes to find anonymity, and
instead lands a job in the circus. There, he gets a lot more
exposure than he bargained for, plus a little young love-Tommy
develops a crush on one of the girls who rides the beautiful white
Arab horses-a tried and true bit of romantic fantasy.
Sutherland is fond of dropping broad hooks or hints at the end of
every chapter, which will keep most readers engaged, but might
appear transparent to the more sophisticated. Similarly, the plot's
chock-a-block bustle and sometimes eyebrow-raising coincidence
(which even Tommy finds incredible at times), may not always ring
true. If the plot's neat twists of fate seem implausible, however,
the novel does have the cachet of being based on a true story-the
sinking of the S.S. Asia is historical fact. Besides, who has time
for quibbles when the circus is in town and a thug's on your tail?