Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Haunted Mystery, Book Two - The Hanging Hill

I always love it when I get so into a story I'm reading that I don't want to put the book down - in fact, if I'm so caught up in it that I pick it up at every stop light when I'm driving and read until the light turns green, then you know it has to be good! And there's no doubt that The Hanging Hill, the second book in the Haunted Mystery series, is good. It's better than good - it's great!  (Yeah, I'm channeling my Tony the Tiger there)

This second book picks up not too long after the end of The Crossroads, the first book in the series. Zack, his father, his step-mom, and his dog Zipper have been living out of a hotel due to the fire that destroyed their home. A fire that Zack sort-of caused when he was trying to defeat the ghost at the crossroads from coming back to the real world. Now, his step-mom has sold a script that is going to be produced in a theater on the east coast of Connecticut - a theater known as Hanging Hill Playhouse. A theater that is built right on the spot that used to see a lot of hangings back in the day. A spot that is ripe with spectral energy. So, needless to say, there are plenty of ghosts afoot.

As with the first book, Grabenstein tells the story through alternating points of view - each chapter is pretty much focused on a different character in the story, and it alternates throughout. From Zack and his step-mom, to the artistic director of the play, to a dying magician intent on coming back by whatever means necessary, to a young actress whose hopes are forever dashed by the cruel revenge of a spurned director. There is never any doubt who the villain is in the story - but, then again, that's not what this is about. It's not a whodunnit. It's more of a journey, as Zack not only comes to terms with his ability to see and communicate with the dead, but also his own fears and insecurities.

The author introduces some rather interesting characters in this story. There's Meghan McKenna, an award winning child actress who befriends Zack and reveals that she is able to see ghosts too. Then there's Derek Stone, the television child star who would rather be playing with his remote control truck than learn his lines. There's also Wilbur Kimble, the theater's custodian who has worked at the theater for many, many years and who harbors a few dark secrets of his own. And let's not forget Reginald Grimes, the villainous start of this drama, a man so set on gaining power and fame that he's willing to sacrifice the lives of two children to get it.

The story is fast-paced, and although there are 322 pages of mystery and mayhem, it reads easily. I was so drawn into the story that I managed to finish it in just a few hours of reading, over the course of two days. That's not to say that it is a simple story, nor that it skips over certain elements any book needs to be a good read. It simply means it really is that GREAT of a read! Plus, Grabenstein continues several plot elements introduced in the first book - including the death of Zack's birth mother and his unresolved feelings regarding her dislike of him. We learn more about his real mother, we see more of Zack's stepmom and her building relationship with Zack, and we see Zack's confidence in his "ghost-finder" ability grow more and more.

If I were to try and describe the book to someone, I could only offer that it has elements of a children's mystery series (such as Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys), with a bit of Dark Shadows thrown in for good measure. The ghosts are real, the danger is real, and this book closes with a truly explosive ending (no, literally - there are some pretty powerful explosions!). I cannot recommend this series, and this book in particular, enough to anyone who enjoys mysteries, anyone who enjoys ghost tales, and really, for anyone who loves to read!

RATING:  10 juggling girl ghosts out of 10 for taking two genres I love so much, combining them, and giving me several hours of enjoyment with this wonderful read!

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