While volunteering at a local graveyard, Derek discovers that solving a mystery from long ago will also help him put his own present-day fears to rest.
While tracking clues from a secret code pencilled in the margins of mystery novels at a public library, Derek Knowles-Collier discovers a time capsule that may finally put his haunting past to rest.
At Queensview Elementary, grade-six students are required to complete a community service unit as part of their school curriculum. Derek Knowles-Collier was sick when groups were assigned, so he is stuck with what’s leftover: landscape and repair duty at the local cemetery.
Derek is not happy about his assignment. When he was very young, his friend Dennis was killed by a car after running into the road to catch a ball. Ever since, Derek has had recurring nightmares, and he is afraid that spending time in a cemetery will make it even harder for him to sleep through the night.
It’s a relief, therefore, when his group’s lessons on all aspects of cemetery care are so interesting and strange that Derek just doesn’t have time to dwell on his experience with death. And when it rains, the lessons take place in the nearby public library, which takes him out of the cemetery altogether, at least for an afternoon.
One day, a book arrives at the library, an anonymous donation that happens every year. On reading the book, Derek and his group mates find a secret code written on an inside margin. One code leads to the next, with the last code leading the students to a time capsule.
Through a series of discoveries and deductions, Derek and his friends discover who has been sending books to the library every year. They also discover the truth behind Dennis’s long-ago death, which means that Derek is finally able to put his terrifying memories (and his nightmares) to rest.
Includes a secret code for readers to decipher!
- Atlantic News Today: “The Spotted Dog Last Seen is an offering from Halifax-based novelist and NSCAD grad Jessica Scott Kerrin. It’s a clever mystery that will hook middle-grade problem solvers, provided they stick around during the slow early chapters which set the scene. Kerrin is fine writer and there’s hardly a wasted word. The book delves into some very weighty issues, including guilt, death, loss and anxiety, with a quiet, understated sympathy.”
- Canadian Children’s Booknews: “Although this book deals with the serious, devastating subject of the loss of a child, its tone is gentle and humorous. Jessica Scott Kerrin treats death and coping, not often discussed with children, in a realistic yet optimistic way. The book is also about the joy and escape of reading, as well as the release and therapy of writing. Mysterious on many levels, the novel’s largest mysteries are about death itself and how to live.”
- School Library Journal starred review: “Kerrin understands this age group and creates a sympathetic protagonist who will draw in readers…portraying authentic preteen feelings of self-doubt, self-consciousness, and even guilt. Going far beyond mystery book conventions, Spotted Dog is also a well-told story of growth and self-forgiveness.”
- Kirkus Reviews: “Derek tells his own story, allowing readers to empathize with his fears and struggles as he comes to grips with them. The supporting characters are pleasingly eccentric, and the action is fast-paced. The plot is convoluted and deals with some serious issues, but it all comes together in a manner that seems perfectly reasonable. Surprising twists and turns amid laughter and tears.”
- CM: Canadian Review of Materials: “It takes great skill to balance suspense, adequate pacing of plot, and necessary levity for a heavy plot. In The Spotted Dog Last Seen, Jessica Scott Kerrin manages to excel at this nuanced storytelling, all complemented by her excellent writing. The many threads of the intricate plot could easily come undone in the hands of a less-skilled writer, but Kerrin manages to knot the ending nicely. The reader is left wondering, until the last minute possible, what the solution to this puzzle will be. And the resolution is a wonderfully satisfying wrap-up to a fantastic quest.”