The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland
In the tenth installment in John Bellairs & Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series, Lewis is camping with his fellow Scouts (who are bullying him, of course) when he finds an old whistle near a grave and puts it in his pocket. The whistle has a Latin encryption on it and, when he asks the priest at his church to help him with the translation, the priest (who Lewis isn’t particularly fond of), becomes suspicious and strangely interested in the whistle.
Lewis’s best friend Rose Rita is also interested, of course, so the two kids hit the library for some research. Their investigation takes them to the ghost stories of M.R. James where they learn about Lamia, a serpentine child-eating monster from Greek mythology.
When Lewis discovers that blowing the whistle summons the lamia, and that she can help him get away from bullies, things begin to get out of control and some kids end up in the hospital with a mysterious deadly illness. Can Lewis get rid of the lamia? Does he even want to?
The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost (2003) is a terrifying installment in the LEWIS BARNAVELT series — it’s seriously scary, but not too scary for middle grade kids. The level of fright is similar to popular series like Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE or Darren Shan’s CIRQUE DU FREAK.
Highlights of the LEWIS BARNAVELT books are the charming early 1950’s American setting, the difficulties the kids face (Lewis is cowardly and Rose Rita was dealing with gender dysphoria in earlier books though, unfortunately, Strickland seems to have dropped that arc), and the relationship between the recurring characters. It’s always fun to spend time with Lewis, Rose Rita, and the two supportive adults in their lives. I especially like how The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost ended, with a bit of redemption for one of the characters (that’s unusual for this series).
You don’t need to read the previous novels before reading The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost. Each story in this series is self-contained, so it’s okay to jump in right here and Strickland, who took over the series after Bellairs’ death, does a good job of catching the reader up on necessary facts right at the beginning.
In fact, it might be more rewarding to read The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost without having read all of the previous books because it’s becoming clear that Strickland is recycling the same plot elements in these later installments. For example, we see Lewis become disagreeable, sulky, and mean, just like Rose Rita did in book 7, The Specter from the Magicians Museum. There are other repetitive elements, too. On its own, The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost is a scary and entertaining horror story but, in the context of the entire series, this one feels formulaic.
George Guidall continues to give an excellent audio performance in Recorded Books’ editions of the LEWIS BARNAVELT series.
I’m thinking some of these would be good to pick up for Halloween books (I give out books as well as candy.)
Definitely. Also GOOSEBUMPS, which I’ve also been reading.
Goosebumps are great for that!