Friday, November 5, 2010

The Mystery of the Crimson Ghost

Janey is excited about going to spend the summer at her aunt's home in Sussex County, New Jersey.  Janey lives on Staten Island, which isn't the best place to be if you are as crazy about horses as she is.  Sure, she can ride there, but owning a horse is out of the question.  Janey's aunt is thinking about moving, and she's like to sell her house to Janey's parents, but Janey's dad isn't sure about moving so far from the city.  If they don't have a positive experience, Janey fears that her dream of finally living in a place where owning a horse is an actual possibility will never come to pass.

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.


  1. Oh, I love Phyllis Whitney's kids' books too! I don't think I've read this one, but the cover looks so familiar I might have it kicking around in the house. Now I have to look for it!

  2. K.C. - I'm glad to hear it! I always checked them out of the library, so sadly I only own two of them, both of which I bought used as an adult. I hope you have a copy of this and can find it! :)

  3. I think my gradaughter might like this one... I'm always on a mission to find something she hasn't already read and these older books fit the bill nicely. Will go and investigate. Thanks for the review.

  4. Cath - I hope you can find a copy, and that it's a hit!


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