Confession time: I have never read a Hardy Boy’s novel. I had several growing up, probably passed down to me from an older brother-in-law. They were hard cover treasures with blue spines and enticing cover images; two teen boys on the verge of discovering something, their eyes filled with both wonder and fear. The series featured two brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy, sons of a detective I do believe. They live the lives of clean-cut All-American boys, but oh gee whiz, here they go again, solving some kind of murder mystery that had led the boys on several dangerous escapades.
Okay, I lied in the above paragraph. I’ve read some chapters from some of this series. I remember getting lost in the plot, putting the books down and picking up the joystick of my Atari game system. Though these books were written for young adults, they failed to gain my attention for reasons for which I can’t remember. As an adult, I have never read Agatha Christie. I never watched Murder She Wrote. I have seen several Scooby-Doo episodes though! The “Scoobmiester” is more my speed. Each episode features several scary antics and the perpetrator is always that one other character introduced at the beginning of the episode. Oh but it was still exciting to remove the mask of the Scarecrow Man and find the face of Old Man Crawley.
For the Halloween season, I read James J Cudney’s “Haunted House Ghost”. It is a murder mystery and the disturbing events unfold in October, culminating on Halloween. Kellan is the central character, the solver of mysteries. As with the Hardy Boys, he’s done all this kind of solving before. This is the 5th book in Cudney’s Braxton Campus Mystery series. To date it is the last book and here I am, beginning the series with it. I had to, for it had a haunted house and a ghost. Kellen bought a house in his hometown of Braxton, a college town where he professes at (He’s a professor at Braxton college in other words). Oh but the house once belonged to Prudence Grey, who mysteriously disappeared a long time ago. Or maybe she was killed? So is it her ghost that is banging on the locked basement door? Is it her ghost that vandalizes his property and causes disarray for the construction crew?
Aside from murders and scandals, Braxton is a charming community. Everyone knows everyone. Former mayors patronize with librarians, the town’s female sheriff is “chummy” with Kellan, the parish priest is known by all, you get the idea. And it seems that all their energies are devoted to Braxton activities, especially the upcoming Fall Festival. And it is wonderful, several days of games, fortune telling, haunted hayrides, corn mazes. It really was fun reading about these things in October. Oh but gosh darn it, there goes a murder, right smack dab in the middle of the hayride. Does this murder have anything to do with the remains of a skeleton that was found at the construction site of a former library that burned down in the 1960’s? Does it have anything to do with “the ghost that haunts” Kellan;s house?
This is a whodunit book. In order for the reader that narrow the scope and take a guess at “who” the killer is, there has to be many suspects; a whole lot of potential “whos”. And there is. And…this confused the Hell out of me. Thankfully Cudney provided a character outline at the beginning of the book, describing who was who in the town of Braxton. He listed characters that fell under the heading of (This) Family or (That Family), even including ex-wives and long departed grandfathers and such. Constantly, I slid the eReader arrow back to the beginning to remind myself who a certain character was in relation to another character. Still I was bewildered, and it didn’t help that the “status” of many of these characters changed as the book went on. It turns out that Boy is not really the son of This Man but rather his father is Him. Him, as it turns out, once slept with HER and therefore That Lady over there is really an Aunt. And no, She was never murdered, it was Her instead who was killed, but maybe not because She was wearing a disguise the whole time and was never who you thought she was. Honestly, I felt like clawing my brains out at times.
I can’t really criticize the book though. It is very well written and assembled brilliantly like a house of cards, with each card representing a character, or a plot point, and no they can’t be out of place or else the whole story crumbles. The story doesn’t crumble. I would go mad trying to write this story and keep track of everything. I would fail. Cudney does not fail.
Maybe these whodunit stories just aren’t for me. I have nothing to compare Cudney’s story to due to my lack of experience with mystery novels. I’ve watched several Perry Mason episodes though and these plots drive me bonkers as well. I just wanted more action in the story. Most of the novel gets bogged down in backstories and unofficial testimonies and descriptions of families and extended families. But I guess that’s what is needed for this kind of novel. And there wasn’t much haunted house activity going on to satisfy me, a haunted house kinda’ guy! Oh well.
In short, this is a well-crafted mystery plot. Maybe it’s just not my kind of genre. I should read me some Agatha Christie. Hell even some Hardy Boys just to widen my perspective of the mystery genre. But I have a feeling you, my reader, will enjoy this Haunted House Ghost more than I did. It fits in quite well with the Halloween season.