Tuesday, August 30, 2016

THE DOOM OF THE HAUNTED OPERA by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

Another Bellairs/Strickland "posthumous collaboration", although I'm strongly of the opinion that this is all Strickland. After this one, the covers would site, "John Bellairs' Lewis Barnavelt in (book title) by Brad Strickland."

Lewis and Rose Rita are doing a project on local history and remember stories of an abandoned opera house over some downtown shops. (Apparently Bellairs based this on a real abandoned theater in his childhood home town.) They ask nicely and are let in to look around, when Lewis stumbles on the score of an opera, hidden in a decayed piano, and is warned away by a ghost. Still, they take the opera away to show their teachers, who are suitably impressed. Meanwhile, Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann go off to Florida to attend a friend's funeral and wrap up his affairs...not coincidentally, their old friend was a wizard.

When a tune from the opera is played at a PTA meeting, a man claiming to be the composer's son shows up, and gets everyone worked up into a frenzy to get the opera produced. Lewis and Rose Rita, who distrust the man, go on a fact-finding mission and realize the town is surrounded by an impenetrable fog cloud, and no communications can go in or out. They attempt to find members of the county magician's society (who are real wizards and witches), only to find their houses gone and the neighbors having no memory of them. And Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Z are away in Florida. All alone, the two have to face a man who wants to become the King of the Dead.

This is good fun. The requisite thrills and chills are all there, as well as some good light humor. There's a great scene in the town cemetery where Lewis and Rose Rita are menaced by a sort of demonic guardian statue that can only move when nobody's looking at it, and which becomes more and more grotesque every time they see it. And this book introduces two fun supporting characters: Rose Rita's Grandpa Galway, a repository of local history and tinkerer, and Mildred Jaeger, a sensible, grounded would-be witch who simply lacks magical talent, but has a lot of knowledge.

Again, the kids are on their own, but this time there's a good reason as they're physically cut off. None of the old "Oh, we can't tell them because they'll hate us!" stuff.

This is a good YA horror programmer, not groundbreaking, but a fun read.

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