Post Your Opinion
by Heather Birrell

In this, the fourth in Valerie Sherrard's Shelby Belgarden Mystery series, our eponymous heroine finds herself embroiled in some back-handed office politicking right in her own home town of Little River, New Brunswick. Supposedly alone for the summer¨with her boyfriend Greg away with his father and her bosom buddy Betts on vacation¨Shelby follows her nose, and an ambulance, only to find that an acquaintance, the elderly Mr. Stanley, has broken his hip. Shelby, ever kind and somewhat of a meddler, is charged with taking care of his cat, Ernie, and thus a red herring is born. Although the incident initially appears ominous, Shelby's relationship with Mr. Stanley is less about foul play than a love-your-neighbour lesson that threads its way through the novel.
As it turns out, the real mystery here lies in the fact that Betts and her family have not in fact been holidaying, but are under a self-imposed house arrest, brought on by the fact that Betts's mother, Mrs. Thompson, has been accused of stealing company secrets from her employer. Once Shelby has reconnoitered with Betts, her friend convinces her to go undercover at the office as a summer student in order to do some of the snooping and solving she has become famous for. When she's not at her day job, Shelby spends time on her long distance relationship with Greg. Although charming in places, this correspondence leans heavily towards the soppy, and might grate on more hard-boiled sensibilities.
Fortunately, Sherrard sketches the office in all its attendant pettiness and co-operation very well, delineating certain "types" with which we are all familiar¨including the ditzy, ever-manicuring receptionist¨ without resorting too often to clichT. Shelby takes all of this in stride, covering for her co-workers and impressing the boss even as she jots clues in her pocket notebook. This immersion in an environment foreign to a teenager is the book's strong suit. Not only is it handled with humour and just the right amount of voice- driven naivete, it acts as fair warning regarding the absurdities of the working world for both Shelby and the reader.
But what of the mystery? The clues are few and far between, and I, like Shelby, found it difficult to link any of them with any certainty. This made the denouement, wherein the teenaged sleuth deduces not only who the culprit is but the whys and hows of the crime, seem somewhat unlikely and frustrating. Despite this shortcoming however, Sherrard has delivered a lively read, Nancy Drew-esque in its innocence and reliance on old-fashioned values.

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