Wednesday, July 27, 2016

THE VENGEANCE OF THE WITCH-FINDER by John Bellairs and Brad Strickland

"By John Bellairs, Completed by Brad Strickland," claims this book's cover and title page, but I'm inclined to believe it's mostly Strickland. That's not entirely bad.

Set concurrent with the previous book, THE GHOST IN THE MIRROR, this depicts Lewis' adventures in Europe with his uncle. They go to England first, to visit a cousin who lives in the ancestral mansion in the British countryside. Lewis is intrigued by a maze on the property, and moved by the poverty of his cousin, decides to explore and find a possible treasure within. He's assisted by Bertie Goodring, the son of the his cousin's housekeeper, who is blind after being struck by a beam during the Blitz. (The book touches on some of the realities of life in postwar Britain, where rationing was still in force.) They find a hidden area in the maze (as seen on the cover above) and unleash something invisible and hostile. Lewis and his uncle continue to journey through Europe, and when they return to Barnavelt Manor for a visit before returning to the US, they find things there to be strange and sinister....

It borrows elements from several sources, including M. R. James' "Mr. Humphreys and His Inheritance," Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Musgrave Ritual," and the real story of Matthew Hopkins. Bellairs/Strickland takes jabs at adult hypocrisy. Strickland was good at characterization and with this book it really starts to become a feature of the series.

It's got some good atmosphere in the descriptions of the maze and the old house. However, in the end this is one of my less favorite books in the series. One of the antagonists just shows up, supposedly "summoned" but summoned offstage. And Lewis is terrified of talking to his uncle about his experience in the maze, which presses credibility. Uncle Jonathan has been extremely understanding of Lewis' involvement with the supernatural, and Lewis should have got over his fear long before now. The way Lewis keeps his secret just doesn't ring true and seems more a plot device than anything else.

Still, it's a decent entertainment, and the hardcover is worth getting for the Gorey cover.

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