The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost: Very scary but too similar to previous books

The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost by John Bellairs & Brad StricklandThe Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost by John Bellairs & Brad StricklandIn 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.

The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost by John Bellairs & Brad StricklandHighlights 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.

Published in 2003. Lewis Barnavelt is back! And this time, our lovable underdog/hero has stumbled upon something more powerful than even his overactive imagination can dream up. A camping trip with his Scout troop leads Lewis straight to an old grave and a mysterious, magical whistle. When Lewis discovers that this whistle has the power to stop the boys who insist upon bullying him, he is left with a tough decision. Does he continue to use the whistle, which he suspects might not be fully benign? Is Lewis strong enough to face the potent spirit that he is unknowingly summoning? Brad Strickland continues to attract readers to the best-selling series begun by the late John Bellairs. Fans of the series will delight in the familiar cast of Lewis, his uncle Jonathan, and best friend Rose Rita Pottinger. Those new to the books will be lured in by the masterfully written supernatural elements and hair-raising situations.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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3 comments

  1. I’m thinking some of these would be good to pick up for Halloween books (I give out books as well as candy.)

  2. Goosebumps are great for that!

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