The Curse of the Blue Figurine
By John Bellairs
This is the first book in the Johnny Dixon series; as with the Lewis Barnavelt books, these are supernatural, light horror novels for children and young adults.
Johnny Dixon has recently moved in with his grandparents, following the death of his mother and his father's posting overseas (the story is set during the time of the Korean war). He is a quiet, thoughtful boy, and fits in well with his grandparents and their quiet life in a small town. He is adjusting well, and things are starting to look up, especially after he makes friends with his Grandfather's old army buddy, Professor Roderick Childremass, who enjoys a good game of chess and reenacting old military battles.
One night the Professor tells Johnny the history of the local church -- a priest went mad decades ago, apparently cursing his enemies to die and then disappearing himself. Not too long afterwards, Johnny finds a old Egyptian figurine hidden in a hollowed-out book in the church basement. This is bit spooky, but as time goes on more and more odd things happen -- spider infestations, strange old men in the church, and a bully at school becoming mysteriously injured after picking on Johnny. Johnny and the Professor become more and more entangled in mysterious happenings, although the Professor, being a hard-headed realist, refuses to believe that anything supernatural is going on.
This is a good story, and I read it over and over again when I was younger. Johnny's life in a small town in the 1950s, attending a Catholic school, and and hanging out with a eccentric professor, is interesting, and his adventures are pleasingly spooky. Reading it as an adult, the writing is a little hackneyed, with lots of foreshadowing, slightly overbearing coincidences, and some clumsy writing at parts. Many of his other books, such as The House with a Clock in its Walls are better written, although some of them are also a bit less serious in tone (although not less spooky). If you have not read any Bellairs, I would recommend starting with The House; if you like his other books, check this one out.
Johnny and the Professor return again in seven other books by John Bellairs and in four follow-up books written or completed by Brad Strickland after Bellair's death. The second book in series is The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt.
AR level: 5.1