|The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn|
A review by Jennifer Goheen
Anthony Monday is a boy who works at the library for Miss Eells. One day he finds some clues to a mysterious treasure, which are a poem and a gold coin. The poem is:
"Acorns upAnthony believes the poem contains a riddle which tells where a great treasure is. Because of his father's poor health, his family is always worried about money, so Anthony is determined to find the treasure. Miss Eells thinks the treasure hunt is a wild goose chase since Alpheus Winterborn was a crazy practical joker.
Anthony finds more clues and solves the puzzle, but he has to beat Mr. Philpotts, the greedy, rich bank vice-president and nephew of Alpheus Winterborn. He knows about the treasure and is trying to get it. Anthony goes to search for the treasure during a flood, but he has to rescue Miss Eells and get the treasure in time.
One thing about John Bellairs' books is there is usually a friendship between a lonely adult and a child who doesn't have many other young friends, like Mrs. Zimmermann and Lewis Barnevelt and Professor Childermass and Johnny Dixon in Bellairs' other series. Another good part of the book is the pictures by Judith Gwyn Brown. These help you feel what the characters are feeling and figure out what is going on.
I liked the riddles and thought the mystery was challenging. Although I like the Lewis Barnevelt and Johnny Dixon / Professor Childermass books a little better, I want to read more Anthony Monday mysteries and I'm glad they are being published again.
Jennifer Goheen recently started middle school, where she plays clarinet in the band and is active in Girl Scouts. At any given time she is typically reading 5 or 6 different books, and her literary interests range from fantasy, horror and mystery to historical fiction and classic children's literature. She has a cat named Misty and is actively trying to convince her father to let her have a dog.
A review by Chris Goheen
On the positive side, the characterizations of Miss Eells, the elderly town librarian, and Anthony Monday, the boy at the center of this novel, were quite interesting. The relationship between the two, the lonely spinster and the not particularly popular child is heartwarming. They complement each other well, she providing Anthony with gainful employment and friendship, he providing her in turn with loyalty, companionship and later, some crucial help when she is injured.
The characterization of Anthony's parents is considerably weaker, although to Bellairs' credit he handles Anthony's anxieties over money, which are a direct result of his mother's obsessive worry about financial matters, rather well. Anthony's rival in the treasure hunt, Mr. Philpotts, the bank vice-president and nephew of Alpheus Winterborn, is unfortunately a complete caricature, merely a stock character like the villain in a silent film melodrama who ties helpless maidens to railroad tracks and laughs while foreclosing on an old widow's shack.
The mystery at the heart of this novel shows early promise. Is there really a treasure? If so, is it really anything valuable? Where is it and how can Anthony get to it? However, some extremely unlikely plot contrivances conspired to jar me out of any reasonable suspension of disbelief. In particular, the scene in which all the main characters just happen to attend an auction where a key artifact is found, and later the untimely crossing of telephone wires during a flood in order to set up the climax were just too big a stretch to accept and could have been handled in a more clever way.
I did like the use of red herrings and reasonable fair play in providing clues. I also liked the fact that it takes a mixture of determination, teamwork, sleuthing and adventurous exploits for Anthony and Miss Eells to unravel the mystery. The black- and-white artwork by Judith Gwyn Brown is another good feature, as the pictures are well-placed throughout the book and present a thoughtful interpretation of events in the story. The cover illustration by Edward Gorey (of PBS Mystery! Fame) is also a treat.
The prose is descriptive, well-paced and accessible for elementary-age readers. I can see why Bellairs is a must read for young adults with a taste for mystery and suspense, but I think with a less melodramatic treatment of the villain and more skillful handling of a few of the plot twists this would have been a much better read.
Chris Goheen has a doctorate in chemical engineering and currently works in the field of on-line process optimization. After many years of playing College Bowl and other academic quiz games, he finally made it onto Jeopardy! and won a modest sum. An avid reader of science fiction and fantasy in his teen years, over the last decade his reading interests have leaned more towards mystery, 20th century world literature and works of non-fiction. He has recently developed an interest in children's and young adult literature and re-discovered fantasy while reading with his two children.
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