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THE DARK STAIRS:


A Herculeah Jones Mystery By Betsy Byars

Puffin/Sleuth (Penguin Young Readers Group), 2006 ($5.99)
ISBN: 0140369961
Ages 8 and up

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

On Friday the 13th, Herculeah Jones is in an antique shop trying to decide whether to buy some binoculars to help her private investigator mom with her stakeouts or the granny glasses that made the world go dreamy and unfocused. Looking out the window, she sees her police detective dad coming out of the local "haunted house," nicknamed Dead Oaks by the neighbors. When she questions him, he says itís nothing, just checking out reports of a prowler. Sheís not content with his evasive answer: for one thing, her hair begins to frizz, always a sign that somethingís not right, but she drops the subject and goes home.

When she arrives at her house, she finds her portly friend "Meat" sitting on her front porch. He warns her not to go inside, because a very scary and huge man, unlike any of her momís usual clients, is in the house. Of course she goes right in, and sees that the man is indeed very scary, almost a giant, eyes burning, threatening manner--he reminds her of the villain in the movie her mother watched the day Herculeah was born, Hercules and the Moloch. Her mom tries to keep her away from the man and will not tell her why he consulted her, but Herculeah is extremely resourceful and learns that he is connected in some way with Dead Oaks, and the mystery of the owner who disappeared years ago.

Being a curious girl, she refuses to be put off by warnings from her mom and dad to stay away from the house. Being her friend, Meat reluctantly goes along with her.

Herculeah is an engaging heroine, and, as her mom points out, she seems to have some of the skills of her namesake Hercules. Iím a little bothered that her mother appears to be so preoccupied with her career that she allows her daughter a bit too much freedom. Her parents are divorced, and her dad has the same concern. In a way, though, Herculeahís family may be more typical of todayís world than, say, that of Nancy Drew.

I would recommend this series for kids on the upper range of "8 and up."

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