Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review - The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt by John Bellairs

Short review: Johnny Dixon deals with family troubles and tries to uncover the mystery of a long-lost will to claim the reward. Standing in his way is a witch and a powerful guardian who don't want him to find it.

A sick grandmother
A missing dad presumed lost
A mystery solved

Full review: The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt, set in New England during the Korean War, is the second installment in Bellairs' Johnny Dixon/Professor Childermass series of mysteries aimed at young readers. The book's cover bills it as "the sequel to The Curse of the Blue Figurine", and given that the first book had an Egyptian-tinged mystery, one might think that a book that features a mummy in its title might be more of the same. However, this is not the case, the only real relationship between The Curse of the Blue Figurine and The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt is that Professor Childermass, Johnny Dixon, and Johnny's family are in the book: the mystery is entirely unconnected to anything that happened in the previous book.

In many ways the mystery in the book is secondary to the story of Johnny dealing with loss and isolation. Johnny does join the Boy Scouts and participate in a scout outing, which garners him a friend: the athletic but intellectual Byron "Fergie" Ferguson (who will remain a character through the rest of the series). However, Johnny must deal with his grandmother's life threatening illness, and the fear that if she dies, then his grandfather will quickly follow her, leaving him alone. This fear of being left alone is made all the more real due to the loss of his mother. Finally, Johnny's worst fear is realized when he learns that his father's plane has been shot down and he may be dead as well. This, to me, is the scariest part of the book, playing on the very real fear a child might have of being left without a family. Johnny does consider that he might live with Professor Childermass, but discounts it on the grounds that the Professor lives alone and probably wouldn't want anyone to mess up his bachelor existence. In the end, it is the fear of being left alone that places Johnny in danger, as he is driven to do some rather foolish things.

Those foolish things are related to the Gothic horror portion of the book: it seems that an eccentric millionaire cereal magnate who dabbled in black magic named H. Bagwell Glomus hid his will and left cryptic clues as to its whereabouts. Johnny becomes fascinated by the mystery, more so when the scout trip he is on takes him near an abandoned estate owned by the Glomus family and he has a flash of insight in which he figures out what the first set of clues mean. Johnny recruits his new friend Fergie to make a midnight hike to the estate where encounters the creepy Chad Glomus (who promptly mysteriously disappears, but not before revealing the existence of a magical malevolent guardian and showing Johnny the requisite hidden passage onto the estate). Driven by a $10,000 reward offered by the Glomus family to whoever can find the will, and believing that his ill grandmother needs the money to pay for her treatment, Johnny becomes obsessed with the puzzle, and eventually runs away from home to the Glomus estate to find it. For the most part Bellairs plays fair with the reader, giving the clues necessary to figure out the mystery, with only one big exception where he holds back information that the characters have. Overall, the mystery is fun, but ultimately secondary to the story.

In the end, the mystery of the missing will is solved, although not in a way that one would expect. Johnny learns that many of his fears had been unfounded, mostly because he jumped to conclusions rather than asking questions. Johnny also learns that he should not underestimate his friends, breaking down a little bit of the isolated loner personality that had been established for the character. Unlike most of the other Johnny Dixon stories, The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt is more about Johnny growing up than it is about any kind of Gothic mystery (although the mystery is well done, and fun to follow). Any kid who has ever felt left out, isolated, or alone will probably empathize with Johnny. Any kid who likes mystery stories mixed with a little bit of magic will probably enjoy this book, and might pick up a few useful lessons on the value of asking questions and trusting your friends to do the right thing.

Previous book in the series: The Curse of the Blue Figurine
Subsequent book in the series: The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull

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  1. My son loved this book. It's one of his keepers.

  2. @Julia Rachel Barrett: I love Bellairs' books, and I have most of them. I should get reviews for more of them up soon.