Saturday, November 18, 2017
THE TREASURE OF ALPHEUS WINTERBORN by John Bellairs
The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn is set in the 1950s in the fictional town of Hoosac, MN, along the Mississippi River. Anthony is a more-or-less "normal" teen (a rarity for Bellairs) who comes from a lower-middle-class family. His father operates a saloon (euphemistically called a "cigar store"). Despite not being particularly bookish, Anthony's best friend is elderly librarian Myra Eels, who gets him a part-time job at the library assisting her.
The Hoosac library is the unacknowledged star of the novel; it's a quaint, curious building donated by the Alpheus Winterborn of the title, an eccentric millionaire and world traveler who supposedly hid a treasure somewhere, possibly in the library itself, before dying himself.
When Anthony stumbles on a clue that the treasure is real and hidden somewhere in town, he quickly comes to view it as the possible cure to his family's money troubles. Miss Eels warns him that Winterborn was also a notorious practical joker, and this all may be a sham, but he is eager to find a solution.
His efforts catch the eye of Hugo Philpotts, a vice-president of the local bank and a relative of Winterborn; Philpotts, of course, wants the treasure for himself. And as Anthony and Miss Eels stumble on one clue after another, Philpotts becomes more and more dangerous to them. Eventually, the treasure is found....in the library.
Wait, I hear you cry. Where's the supernatural? Well, there is none. That's right, this is all a mundane mystery. It's kind of a disappointment, and many Bellairs fans rank this near the bottom. It has its strengths; the milieu is well-depicted, and apparently this was Bellairs' biggest effort at recapturing his own youth in Michigan. However, the villain is a bit over-the-top, the plot sometimes drags, the villain sometimes seems to always be in the right place at the right time, and some events that he should have been responsible for are brushed off as mere accidents. But the nature of the treasure is intriguing and a macabre story could have been built around it. It's unfortunate that Bellairs chose differently.
When first published in 1978, it was illustrated, and had a cover, by Judith Gwyn Brown, but when it was issued in paperback in 1980, it was given a one-off Edward Gorey cover that has stuck with it. Future Monday volumes would feature Gorey art.
Never fear, the rest of the Monday series features supernatural thrills, so there's more to come!