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#20 - Real estate problems

I have fond memories of John Bellairs' young-adult thriller The Dark Secret of Weatherend, so I was pleasantly surprised to find one of the sequels, The Mansion in the Mist, in a charity sale at our local supermarket. Young teen Anthony Monday faces the prospect of a stultifying summer in his small 1950s Minnesota town till his friend and local elderly librarian Miss Eells invites him on a fishing retreat to her brother's northern island summer home. Things go well till Anthony discovers a mysterious chest in the attic that, when opened, transports him to a mirror version of the island, dominated by a mansion in the titular mist so forbiddingly gothic it could have been drawn by Edward Gorey. (Oh, hey - it was.) The mansion, Anthony discovers, is inhabitated by a virtual Shriners' Club of creepy cultists who're planning on taking their nefarious activities beyond the confines of their otherworldly abode. Anthony escapes, though, and it seems that the cultists, despite their ambitions, are safely confined in their extradimensional pocket - until the cult leader comes looking for Anthony...

I liked Weatherend for its genuinely creepy atmosphere and life-or-death struggle founded in eldritch lore successfully contrasted with the cozily oblivious goings-on in the heroes' small town, plus Anthony's cross-generational friendship with the steely, proactive Miss Eells. Unfortunately, Mansion leaves the sleuthing mostly up to Miss Eells's brother, who is kind of too all-knowing and short on character to be a compelling protagonist and whose time in the limelight robs the reader of the Eells-Anthony friendship that drove their debut book. The threat of the cultists is kind of generic and ill-defined, and it's kind of hard to believe Anthony would find weeks on the tiny island, with little to explore and nothing to do but fish and play cards, invigorating. Reviews indicate that Mansion suffered from coming at the end of Bellairs' illustrious career, and it is indeed the last installment in its series; I suppose that I'll have to hunt down Anthony's other two books to find a successful follow-up to Weatherend.

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