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One of those hidden treasures,
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This review is from: The House with a Clock in Its Walls (John Bellairs Mysteries) (Paperback)
It's beautifully written. It's one of those books that doesn't employ particular artifice (after all, it's written for nine to twelve year-olds) but every word in it seems perfectly placed. I read it out loud late at night to try to instil nightmares in my girlfriend, and it's very easy to do so.
To read out loud, that is. She hasn't had any horological-architectural dreams. Yet.
Reading out loud can be quite a tough test of a book (Alexei Sayle's Barcelona Plates is punishing, to say the least) but THWACIIW passes easily. It feels like a wonderfully crafted object, that Bellairs clearly put a lot of work into.
Although it's aimed at youngsters, there are some surprisingly mature themes in it; friends outgrowing one another, dealing with loss, guilt, and also magical artefacts that require body parts from executed felons. So that's an odd mix, and possibly a lot darker than the natural comparison, Harry Potter. Young hero, parents dead, magically gifted? Check, check, check.
However, there are a few flaws. While the start of the book is fantastically creepy, with skulking in mysterious darkened passages, towards the end this feeling of dread is replaced by something rather too close to a deus ex machina. For much of the climax of the story Lewis, the protagonist, is relegated to the position of onlooker, while the adults, Jonathan and Mrs Zimmermann, get on with the serious business.
There's also one or two loose ends (cars, Tarby, Hammerhandle) but to be fair, this does seem like Bellairs preparing the way for the rest of his series of books. And it would be stretching credulity (ok, if you've accepted an evil supernatural clock then realism was hardly a high priority for you) if Lewis was immediately a potent wizard. But it would have been good to either have Lewis a bit more active, or to draw out the climax a little longer.
But that said, it's still a wonderful book, and stands up well, even at thirty-seven years of age. I wonder why it hasn't got the movie treatment already. Or perhaps it has?