by by Antony Di Nardo
"Charlie's point of view depends mostly on hearing, touch, smell and imagination..." This is what we are told in the first pages of this book. Charlie is blind. He has been blind since birth and he has adapted perfectly to the world of the sighted. He doesn't like to be considered "special." Rather, as we soon find out, "the word he likes to use for himself is handicap. The way a horse is handicapped, he says, to make the race fair. It carries more weight because it's a faster horse." He navigates the darkness with all his other senses in high gear and, somehow, he can even conjure his guardian angel, Gideon, when the going gets tough. Charlie is fourteen and about to enter Middle School.
His father, a bank employee, is a prime suspect as the notorious Stocking Bandit, a thief who has been smashing open ATMs for their cash. But Charlie knows his father is innocent and, with the help of his two friends, Bernadette and Lewis, he sets out to prove it to the police by apprehending the bandit himself.
On the strength of this plot line, Richard Scrimger creates an entertaining detective mystery that is more comedy than suspense. His characters are street-wise and loveable. Bernadette is a saint; she is Charlie's eyes and his guardian; she is protective of him, yet relies on him for a "life" away from mom. Lewis is part goof and part charmer. He plays the jester-acting silly while imparting witty, semi-brilliant observations. Gideon is a mystery and his presence is confusing at times; he's like an extra on stage, there just to fill up the space or set up a slapstick moment. He is a foil to Frank, the class bully, who strikes terror in the hearts of our heroes. Scrimger's portrait of a bully plays up the comic side of such conduct to ridicule, but there are also psychological insights here into the schoolyard tyrant that go beyond caricature.
Charlie, as a blind sleuth, is believable. He is smart, tactful, resourceful and a pretty good detective. Like other super-snoops he has his own unique set of powers, including an amazing biological clock that keeps time with uncanny precision and, of course, the power to "see" in the dark. By the end of the book, I felt I knew Charlie like someone who might have sat next to me in Grade 8 and who kept me posted on the ongoing story of his life.
However, I thought Scrimger's portrayal of the parents was heavy-handed. Adults are presented as weak and ridiculous, foolishly sentimental and, in the case of Bernadette's mother, outright disorderly. Such gratuitous depictions get a few laughs, but that's about all.
Nonetheless, From Charlie's Point of View will without question keep a pre-teen entertained. It's upbeat; it maintains a good fast pace; there are real clues to sift through; a few red herrings to keep the reader guessing; and there's the humour that seeps in between the cracks. Scrimger, as he has shown himself in his other books for children, tells his stories with a mischievous grin. He wants his young readers to laugh as well as to think. His language is robust, descriptive, direct. His scenes rely more on the characters' actions and interactions, less on their reflections. It makes for a page-turner and the kind of book that hooks a kid on reading. I'd like to see more of Charlie, the sleuth, breaking open another case from his unique point of view.