With the jacket and a frontispiece by Edward Gorey, Bellairs' seventh book--about Johnny Dixon and the ever-cranky Professor Roderick Childermass--features a British villain who conjures up dark forces to advance his plans to take over the world. Professor Childermass learns that his brother Peregrine is dead, and with this news comes a riddle with a definite doomsday cast. Further, simply by spending the summer at his brother's Maine estate, the professor can inherit ten million dollars. He takes on the task, accompanied by his two young friends Johnny and Fergie--but none of them lasts the summer. An evil visitor to the estate, Mr. Stallybrass, who has in his possession a chess set of dwarflike pieces, uses black magic to foil the inheritance. He nearly succeeds in putting the deep freeze on the professor, Dr. Coote (an expert on magic and the occult), Johnny, and Fergie. Only a serendipitous meeting with an old witch who collects keys saves them--and the world as well. Only die-hard fans, enchanted by the previous books, will find solace and entertainment here. Incredible lapses of logic (the professor arrives at idea after idea without the least clue for readers as to his motives or his thinking processes) are shortcuts to longwinded passages that rush over crucial details and events. Formerly riveting characterizations have become, in this book, stock types. Thanks to the professor and Johnny, it's not the end of the world--but perhaps it should be the end of this formulaic series.