The Meg Duncan Mysteries

Persistence has paid off, as lately I’ve had surprising luck finding series books on Bookmooch, but that’s a post for another day. The only ones I’ve had a chance to read are two of the Meg Duncan mysteries by Holly Beth Walker.

I suppose this is what I get for calling the first book in the series dull, because The Ghost of Hidden Springs and The Mystery of the Black-Magic Cave were certainly different. I agree with the theory that the series had a variety of ghostwriters. As in Meg and the Disappearing Diamonds, the actual age of Meg and her best friend Kerry Carmody is never given, but based on the book length and style I stick to my estimate that they are around 11. I’m not really sure I would give these two stories to an 8-year-old to read.

The Ghost of Hidden Springs, set in Meg’s hometown, begins with the death of Miss Amelia Hannigan. She was a nice enough old lady but kept to herself in a historic mansion. Rumor has it the house is haunted, and even the town’s adults recall a tragedy of some sorts associated with it. Meg and Kerry ask the only lady in town who still remembers it, and this is where the plot gets disturbing.

Apparently when Amelia’s family first moved to Hidden Springs the town treated them aloofly for being Northerners. Only her vibrant younger sister Kathleen was able to make friends, becoming beloved by everyone. A party was planned at the house to celebrate Kathleen’s sixteenth birthday, with invitations to be sent to the many in the town, but on that fateful rainy night no one came. Kathleen was so upset that she ran out of the house crying, slipped on the wet stones, and fell into the river. No one in the town ever spoke of the invitations, they were so ashamed, but ever since then people have claimed to see the ghost of little Kathleen haunting the summerhouse by the river.

The mansion is now to be inherited by Amelia’s niece Kathleen Martin, provided that she and her mother stay in it for a month first. Afterwards she must throw a party according to exact instructions–but Miss Hannigan died before she could give the papers to her lawyer. Even her housekeeper Mrs. Grayham has no idea where they are. To make things worse, mysterious incidents have suddenly begun happening at the house, such as plates falling off shelves and steps creaking with no one around. Has the ghost suddenly turned into a poltergeist? Kathleen Martin is terrified, so Meg offers to stay with her. The older girl takes a strong liking to Meg, treating her like a sister and trusting her completely as they try to find the party instructions and get to the bottom of the strange happenings.

SPOILER ALERT

To make the disturbing factors worse, apparently the reason no one came to Kathleen Hannigan’s birthday was that Amelia was jealous of her sister’s popularity and never mailed the invitations, inadvertently causing her Kathleen’s death. Meg finds them nailed shut in the window seat of Amelia’s bedroom. Amelia spent the rest of her life mourning her sister, overwhelmed by guilt and afraid to tell the truth. The party dictated in her last wishes is meant to clear the air, inviting all the descendants of those invited to the previous party. How is this appropriate in a children’s book?

END SPOILER

The Mystery of the Black-Magic Cave is much less disturbing, though still questionably appropriate. As the title suggests, there is witchcraft involved. Meg’s Uncle Hal, whom she adores, vacations every year in Merrybones, Maine. Now the pretty young schoolteacher he met there last summer, Emily Hawthorne, has been receiving threatening letters. Even worse, her black cat Melissa has disappeared. When Uncle Hal flies up with Meg and Kerry to offer support, he also finds that stones marked with a pentacle have been left behind. Could there really be witches in Merrybones?

Emily is technically a newcomer in a town that distrusts them, but she hoped that living there as a girl until her father’s death would have made everyone more welcoming. (Apparently “Holly Beth Walker” thinks that close-knit towns automatically hate outsiders based on these two books.) It doesn’t seem to have helped; soon her cat disappears a second time. Meanwhile, Meg and Kelly find more evidence that witches are at work, and time is running out before Emily decides to leave Merrybones forever.

This was the first Meg mystery that actually had me laughing at parts, like when the girls notice the old-fashioned font in the book of spells and spend the rest of the morning pronouncing their s’s like f’s. I still don’t think witchcraft should be mentioned seriously in children’s books, though, even if it doesn’t really have any magic effects. (The Secret of Red Gate Farm and Harry Potter don’t bother me at all, though.) On the other hand, unlike most series books, the story has good people who did bad things rather than dastardly crooks. Much different from Nancy Drew!

I hadn’t planned on this post being so long when I decided to review them together; sorry about that! There don’t seem to be many sites about the series so I wanted to put out what information I could.

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Published in: on April 8, 2011 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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