Odd doings at the Maudlin Towers School for the Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy.
First young Arthur Mildew and Algernon Spongely-Partwork spot (to quote the title of Chapter 1) “A Viking in the Ha-Ha.” Shortly thereafter the school’s prized Spoon is stolen (twice), and rumors of an arm-waving ghost give way to the arrival of a beautiful, arm-waving new Latin teacher. The lads decide to do a bit of “detectivating” (Mildew, explaining “red herring” to his dim associate: “Something that seems relevant at first but turns out not to be. Like algebra”)—and hardly have they begun than they come upon a time machine built by former physics instructor Mr. Particle before his recent gruesome death. Decorating his “unfortunate events”–style narrative with gothic ink drawings of the all-white (even corpselike) students, faculty, and occasional slavering monster, Priestley sends his bumbling but resourceful detectivators crisscrossing back and forth from their present to Viking times, Roman Britain, and even into the future (where cookies are shockingly expensive and which readers will find quite familiar). By the end all mysteries are sorted (more or less), and Sponge and Mildew are left gloomily poised for another outing.
There’s no place like school, “grimy, gargoyle-encrusted walls” and all. (Gothic farce. 10-12)