THE DARK STAIRS by Betsy Byars


A Herculeah Jones Mystery
Age Range: 8 - 12
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A versatile standby (1971 Newbery) brings her usual brisk aplomb to a projected series about a self-reliant early teen whose first adventure is closer in spirit, despite her name, to the Nancy Drews recalled by its jacket than to the exploits of Indiana Jones. Neither of Herculeah Jones's divorced parents -- Dad's a cop, Mom's a PI -- welcomes her participation in discovering the role played by the hulking "Moloch" in an apparent death ten years ago in the empty old mansion known as Dead Oaks. Still, the girl and her sidekick, Meat, explore the house, where someone traps Herculeah; fortunately, she's able to burst open the nailed-shut door. Finding out that the Moloch is Mrs. Jones's client, they eavesdrop on a tape of an interview between the two and learn his identity. In the end, Herculeah not only deduces what happened years ago but locates a missing body by inadvertently tumbling down a secret stairway. For sophisticated readers, it might have been more fun if Byars had chosen to parody the genre; instead, she plays it almost straight, although there are occasional touches of wit in the pert dialogue and descriptions. Meanwhile, she establishes characters with a sure touch and provides enough spooky atmosphere to bring readers back for more. A promising start for a series that could easily become a popular alternative to massmarket mysteries. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-670-85487-5
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1994


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