This series is by far one of the most enjoyable ones I've been reading. It is one that definitely must be read in order, as the first book, The Crossroads, introduces us to Zack Jennings, his father, stepmother, and dog - and introduces us to his ability to see and speak with ghosts. The second book, The Hanging Hill, not only furthered his abilities to communicate with the dead, but helped Zack to grow and confide in others (his stepmother being one) about his ability. Now, in the third book, not only must Zack face ghosts, but he must also deal with the reality of zombies!
Grabenstein once again provides engaging characters, and it's fun to watch Zach interact not only with fellow "nerds," but also how he stands up to the class bully (who just happens to be the older brother of the boy he embarrassed in the first book). In fact, it's refreshing to see how his standing up to the bully encourages his newfound friends to also have courage. What is a bit unrealistic, however, is how suddenly Zach, who is not so outgoing and who is a nerd, suddenly becomes so popular simply because his fellow ghosts help him solve some problems for his fellow students (like where a girl left her homework, how a boy with a heart murmur should not be doing physical activity in gym, etc.). First, I think his fellow students would start to wonder how he could know all of these things and start to get suspicious. And second, even if he did help them, somehow it's doubtful that they would all suddenly gravitate towards him. I know this was a plot device for Grabenstein that comes into play towards the end, when the students show up at the most inopportune time for the villains in the story - but it just felt rushed and too "Afterschool Special"-ish.
Other than that, the actual mystery this time was quite well done. The Donnelly boys accidentally set fire to themselves in a locked hall, also killing a teacher who tried to save them. Their story has been told for years, but Zack, in his interactions with the ghosts - and his stepmother, through her research at the library - finds out that things aren't always what they seem. Good ol' Horace P. Pettimore was rumored to have buried some gold he had stolen from the South during the Civil War somewhere on the school property. And, as luck would have it, Horace is still hanging around, trying to find a way to get a new boy, which he can only do through a blood relative, thanks to voodoo magic he had performed years before. At first, he thinks Zack might be the one, but it ultimately turns out that it is one of Zack's friends, one he is determined to save from the ghost's machinations.
And if that weren't enough on its own, there's always the truth behind the Donnelly boys, how that truth connects to the new history teacher, and just what is going on with that zombie (and what happens when the custodian comes into contact with and gets bitten by that zombie!)?
The books reads easily and smoothly, as the story flows naturally without feeling too rushed. It's interesting to notice that in all three of these books so far, it is Zack and his stepmother. Zack's natural father seems to only pop in now and then - although, at the end of this mystery, we do learn a secret that Zack's father has been keeping from him, something that changes everything - and leaves me wondering what's in store in the fourth (and final) book in this series!
As I know I've said before, I definitely recommend this series for anyone who enjoys young adult mysteries, as well as those who enjoy ghost stories. They are fun, they are engaging, and a great way to escape the world in the rapture of a book for a while!
RATING: 10 bloody marys out of 10 for ever-broadening the world of Zack Jennings and leaving me longing for more - much more!