Friday, November 5, 2010
Aunt Viv's house is a wonderful place, with a gorgeous view of the lake that stands behind it, and there's even a rowboat for Janie to use, and a girl just about her own age who lives just a few houses away. But Janie's attention is taken up by the Burley house just across the lake. When they stopped to ask directions that first night, Mrs. Burley was rude and abrasive, and seemed to have some sort of negative history with Aunt Viv, who refuses to discuss it. Janie is sure she heard the unmistakable sound of a horse up there, and she's dying to investigate. The more she looks into it, the more she discovers something truly strange happening there: a mysterious crimson light that glows in the night in the place where, years earlier, there was a devastating fire. On the nights of the full moon, there's also the mournful baying of a hound that everyone hears but no one can ever locate...
I read this one to my girls (9 and 11 years old) as one of our Halloween-season books. Phyllis A. Whitney was one of my very favorite authors when I was growing up, and because I was just as crazy about horses and Janey is, this book was the one I loved the most. Despite the fact that it was written in the late sixties, the story holds up well and doesn't seem too terribly dated, aside from some language usage that has changed over the years (such as "queer" to mean strange).
As an adult rereading this book, I really appreciated the character development of the adults, which isn't necessarily typical of children's books. Mrs. Burley is a fascinating, complicated character, a mix of positive and negative elements, and although it takes her a while, Janey manages to understand the tough old woman, and she helps the people around them understand her better, too. I liked that. Janey herself is a good kid, but she is sometimes thoughtless and irresponsible, and she grows quite a bit by the end of the story.
This book is out of print, but is worth tracking down for young readers who love horses and mysteries. My girls and I enjoyed it very much. I love it when I share one of my childhood favorites with them, and it's a hit!
The Mystery of the Crimson Ghost by Phyllis A. Whitney (Scholastic Book Services, 1969)
Source: My own personal collection
Also reviewed by this author:
Mystery of the Green Cat
Have you reviewed this book, too? Let me know in the comments, and I'll link to your review.