Regina Sun Review - Tunnels of Time

Novel is set in famous tunnels
Reviewed by: Jacolyn Caton

Tunnels of Time (Coteau 2000) by Mary Harelkin Bishop is sub-titled "A Moose Jaw Adventure". This novel for middle years (recommended for ages 11 and up), is a time-travel story set in the famous tunnels beneath the streets of Moose Jaw.

This series of tunnels may have been used in Prohibition days to shelter criminals, including Al Capone.

The main character in the story is 13-year-old Andrea Talbot who is a reluctant visitor to Moose Jaw. While her family is in town for a wedding in the family, the disgruntled and skeptical Andrea is cajoled into a tour of the tunnels.

When she accidentally runs into a mirror during the tour, she loses consciousness and finds herself transported back to 1924. Andrea becomes an unwilling participant in the liquor smuggling activities of the underground criminals heading by a dangerous man known as "Scarface" or "Big Al". 

An attractive, mysterious cover picture by Dawn Pearcey invites the reader into the adventure. In the picture, a child in old-fashioned clothing holds up a lantern against a background of dark tunnel walls where an imposing, stone clock tower looms. A line drawing of the same clock heads each chapter of the book where chapters are also headed by day, hour and minute. Maps at the beginning of the book show the tunnels below as well as the streets and buildings above ground.

The first chapter title -- "Not Moose Jaw!" -- expresses Andrea's feelings about visiting relatives in Moose Jaw and attending the wedding of her cousin Vanessa. She was supposed to be going on a bike trip to Banff, instead, she is "stuck in dumb old Moose Jaw with dizzy cousin Vanessa and her blasted wedding". 

We are introduced to Andrea's relatives including "Crazy Aunt Bea", when the family meets for supper in the banquet room downstairs in a local restaurant. Flamboyant Aunt Bea has always had a special, not always welcome, fondness for Andrea. Aunt Bea, as well as Andrea's grandfather, keeps making vague and mysterious references to memories.

The scene is set for the adventure to  come when Andrea notices that old Mr. Saunders, has "a faint scar running the length of one cheek". Mr. Saunders explains that Moose Jaw ("a swinging town back then, with a wild reputation") was known as "Little Chicago". "Rumour has it that gangsters such as Al Capone travelled on the Soo Line Railway up to Moose Jaw to get liquor and to avoid the police."

The author connects the characters from the prohibition with Andrea's own family. This device ties in themes of family history, understanding history as life, not just facts and learning from the repetitive nature of human behavior while it weaves the two time periods in the story together.

In the tunnels, Andrea meets Vance, a child who is working running errands for the gangsters. As she is drawn into the same occupation, Andrea gets to know Vance and also the head gangster, Scarface. During the adventure, she is forced to evaluate character, loyalty and morality and make difficult decisions about her actions.

Although the gangsters are disreputable, unscrupulous and dangerous, they are also colorful. Their dress, talk and actions provide the excitement and some humour in the story. 

"That's the trouble with ya," Big Al broke in, "Ya think too much. Leave that ta me, ya got that? Otherwise you and me are gonna have a short partnership."

Andrea describes one the gangsters who arrives on the train from Chicago -- "He smelled of cheap, overpowering cologne and cigars" and when she accidentally steps on his toe -- "Watch the patent leather, buddy!" the miffed man ground out between clenched teeth. "These are brand new shoes.

Children may enjoy a story set in a local setting where legend, or history is brought to life through a child's perspective.

Bishop is a teacher-librarian in the Saskatoon public school system. This is her first book although, she has published poetry and short fiction. She was born in Michigan and moved to Saskatoon in 1970. 

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