Wednesday, July 6, 2016

THE GHOST IN THE MIRROR by John Bellairs and Brad Strickland

John Bellairs died in 1991, but his books were continued by author Brad Strickland. This book was a bit of a surprise as we were to believe the Barnavelt series ended in 1976...but in 1993 it was resurrected, and ran for quite a while.

It's the summer of 1951. Lewis and Uncle Jonathan have taken off for Europe, and Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmermann were supposed to go with them, but Rose Rita broke her leg and can't travel, so Mrs. Z is staying home with her. Mrs. Z is having her own issues; she's experiencing weird phenomena in her house, and a ghostly figure in an old mirror seems to be calling for her.

Soon all is revealed. Mrs. Z does miss her magic powers, lost back in THE FIGURE IN THE SHADOWS, and while she was fine without them for a while, she misses them. The mirror ghost is the woman who originally taught her magic, and is offering her a chance to get her powers back if she "rights a great wrong." Mrs. Z must travel to the town of Stonebridge, PA, where her teacher, Granny Weatherbee, lived, and Rose Rita, now released from her cast, goes with her.

Not sure what wrong must be righted, or how, they travel to Pennsylvania...and when they exit a tunnel through the mountains, suddenly find themselves in a snowbound landscape, with no road. They hide their car and get a lift from a passing farm family, the Weisses, in their horse-drawn wagon, and then realize it's 1828! Young daughter Hilda is Granny Weatherbee as a young girl, and the family is beset with problems, including being suspected for witchcraft by the locals!

The jacket claims this book was "completed" by Strickland, but I've heard that Bellairs left behind only a bare outline that had to be fleshed out fairly significantly. Strickland does a decent job. His descriptions of their travels don't capture the feel of small-town America the way Bellairs could, but he did gothicism well. He handles the historic setting OK (there are a few times when it just didn't seem quite right) but the Pennsylvania Dutch milieu is interesting, and the inclusion of some of the folk magic of the area is a plus.The villain is appropriately nasty, and has an OK motivation. There's some real menace at work here, and there's a harrowing dream scene and a great nasty ending for the villain.

In the end, Mrs. Z does get her powers back, which is good, because the series would carry on for a while yet. The original hardcover also has a great cover and frontispiece by Edward Gorey. Strickland isn't Bellairs, but he had his own strengths and would carry the Bellairs brand for a number of years to come.

No comments: