Saskatoon StarPhoenix Review - Tunnels of Time

Reviewed by: Verne Clemence

It's a history lesson, a time-travel fantasy and a comment on the status of women in the early 1920s. But mostly Tunnels of Time, a new young adult novel by Saskatoon writer and teacher Mary Harelkin Bishop, is just a cracking good story.

Subtitled A Moose Jaw Adventure, the novel grew out of the author's fascination with the mysterious network of tunnels discovered under an old hotel in the southern Saskatchewan city.

Harelkin Bishop toured the tunnels about three years ago on a holiday weekend with her husband and their two pre-teen children. "The story just jumped into my head," she said in an interview. "It wouldn't leave me alone. I got up in the middle of the night while we were down there and wrote the outline." 

The central character is 13-year-old Andrea Talbot. She travels with her family from their home in Saskatoon to be a junior bridesmaid at her cousin's wedding in Moose Jaw. Her adventure as a runner in the tunnels of the 1920s begins when she accidentally falls into a mirror in the basement banquet room of a remodelled hotel.

Herfirst encounter is with a youth of her own age who, mistaking her for a boy, presses her into service as a guide for the shady characters who use the tunnels.

Prohibition is in effect in Saskatchewan so bootleg liquor is carried through the tunnels. Illicit gambling goes on in several places and the customers are ushered to the games by the underground runners.

Danger lurks everywhere. International gangsters such as "Big Al." a.k.a. Scarface, hide in the subterranean world beneath the peaceful streets of the Canadian city when things get too hot back home. They arrive by train and the runners spirit them off through a special door that leads directly into the tunnels. They are cruel and evil men who don't hesitate to inflict pian on any young runner who disobeys.

Andrea's adventures are compelling in their own right, but they also serve to illuminate some real Prairie history, Harelkin Bishop says. She's an avid historian. She moved to Saskatoon with her family from Michigan in her early teens and says there is a wealth of material for a writer in the local history of this area. 

She says the time travel concept is a grabber for readers of all ages. And she laughingly acknowledges that the teacher is always lurking just behind the writer. "I think it is a way to give kids a good idea of what it ws like back then. The characters can ask all those questions, like what if I really lived here, without cell phones or TV."

She chose to have the main protagonist be female to put the lives of girls and women in the context of the male-dominated times.

Harelkin Bishop, 42, is a teacher-librarian. She splits her time between Victoria and Brevoort Park schools. A writer since childhood, she's had poetry and short stories published in magazines, but Tunnels of Time is her first book. She's working on a sequel. 

Coteau is the publisher; the price is $7.95.

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