Friday, March 24, 2006

Review: Beast "One Of Strickland's Weaker Contributions"

Book review: The Beast under the Wizard's Bridge

Brad Strickland has written yet another tensely thrilling adventure starring Lewis Barnavelt. John Bellairs first introduced Lewis in 1971 in The House with a Clock in Its Walls, followed by two sequels. After Bellairs's death in 1991, Strickland completed three more from Bellairs's notes. The Beast under the Wizard's Bridge is Strickland's second original novel based on these characters, and it is easily as scary as any of Lewis's previous adventures, whether by Strickland or Bellairs himself.

Strickland pulls several details for his plot from that first Lewis book, where Bellairs had once mentioned in passing the Wilder Creek bridge and its unusual history; in a nice touch, Strickland also introduces Lewis's interest in astronomy -- or re-introduces, since Bellairs had said that Lewis would be an astronomer when he grows up.

Many of the best Bellairs trademarks are here: Uncle Jonathan's parlor illusions, the insults he and Mrs. Zimmerman trade, the small details -- like radio jingles -- of life in the early 1950s, and pure chill. The gray and crumbling Clabbernong farm could have been described by Bellairs himself, and indeed recalls a burnt forest from one of Bellairs's best works, The Face in the Frost. Yet Wizard's Bridge is one of Strickland's weaker contributions to the series. A sense of Bellairs humor, which Strickland caught successfully in earlier books (the whistling cat in The Doom of the Haunted Opera brings to mind a chuckle even now), is sadly absent. It is also difficult to reconcile the emphasis Strickland puts on Lewis's great fear of disappointing Jonathan with doing precisely what he thought Jonathan did not want him to do.

Even so, Lewis is less of a coward than he used to be and he faces his fears differently. He is more confident, more competent. Lewis may not even recognize it, but Strickland definitely does: Lewis is growing up. 

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