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On the bookshelf: The degrees of Barley Lick

The Degrees of Barley Lick by Susan Flanagan is available online and at Butterfly Book Boutique in Port aux Basques.

In a convoluted tale of mystery and mayhem, author Susan Flanagan drags the reader into a world that deals with a number of issues that are just as relevant today as they have been for decades. Interestingly the backdrop is geocaching, where participants of all ages search for hidden items using GPS devices that takes them to within 8 metres of the objective. These items are usually of little value to the searchers except for the thrill of discovery and triumph. However, in this tale the stakes become much higher when the two main characters, Barley and his on-again off-again girlfriend are tasked by the police to help find the victim of a kidnapping. In a race against time to discover the whereabouts of the victim and the kidnapper, the two have to cover a large swath of British Columbia, from Vancouver Island to the foothills of the Rockies.

The author touches on issues such as the preservation of the environment, child welfare, the lasting trauma often experienced by children and young adults, the painful re-construction of a family unit after tragedy, and young adults’ first foray into the mysteries of love, jealousy and lasting friendships.

Although I feel the novel would have a greater appeal to a younger readership group, even an old duffer such as myself may still find a good mystery enjoyable. In this one, the young son of a rich developer is abducted and the kidnapper leaves a set of co-ordinates. Other sets are revealed one after another, and our heroes are sent hither and yon in search of the next set of clues. And even though the reader becomes convinced that the victim will be rescued “in extremis”, the issues become focused more on who, what and how. We get to know from the start that Barley has recently lost his father and is deeply disturbed when his mother starts dating again. Further destabilizing the boy, he has broken up with his long-time girlfriend over a misplaced bout of jealousy.

Gerald J. Roy is a former Federal Canadian Human Rights mediator and educator. Hailing originally from Sherbrooke, Québec, he has retired to Port aux Basques to be near his family. His voracious book reading appetite trends towards westerns, spy novels, thrillers and mysteries. You can reach him via email at:

At its heart, this is a very entertaining novel with a lot of twists and unexpected turns and events. There are a number of inconsistencies which would prevent me from giving the book the higher rating it would otherwise have merited. For example, one would ponder how the head of the Major Crime Unit would not know about the geocaching game, whereas a disturbed woman with no experience can lead our heroes on a harrowing chase. I have no direct knowledge of the authority of the RCMP, but doubt it would allow an officer to make a local constable’s report disappear when it involves a high speed chase of a vehicle that is unregistered and un-insured and also reported stolen, without the involvement of the judiciary. It further boggles the mind to try to understand how the RCMP, with helicopters and fleets of vehicles at their disposal, find it difficult to get to various locations, when one lone disturbed miscreant has managed to go to all these places with none of these advantages.

Because of these considerations that defy basic logic, I cannot give it a higher rating.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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