The Mansion in the Mist
By John Bellairs
Dial books, 1992
The Mansion in the Mist is a children's/young adult novel, generally classified as fantasy; however, Bellairs writes spooky tales, and in this case he has probably entered into territory which might be called horror, if it wasn't for children. This is also the fourth and last book in the Anthony Monday series. While these books do not need to be read in order, the series starts with The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn.
Anthony, Miss Ells, and her brother Emerson are off on vacation, on a isolated island in Northern Canada. This is supposed to be a uneventful and restful summer, but there is something odd about the old house they're staying in -- one room, on some nights, has a single, mysterious chest appear. On these nights, ghostly presences and mysterious sounds plague the house. So they run away.
Well, sort of. Anthony is not a very good communicator, so he doesn't actually tell the others about this until a mysterious force possesses him, leads him to close himself in the chest, and transports him to a mysterious, misty land containing a mysterious mansion inhabited by dark, cloaked figures. And Emerson is rather adventuresome, so when he learns of this he decides to go into the chest himself, and take Anthony with him. And then goes back again, this time convincing Miss Ells to accompany them. But then one of the mysterious, shadowy figures follows them out of the box to threaten them, and then they run away.
They think their adventure has ended, but of course, it hasn't. Back home they find tantalizing clues that there are other ways to enter, and exit, the secret mansion, and that if they don't do something the dark creatures will come after them and their world. With Emerson charging full speed ahead, and Miss Ells predicting doom and gloom, it's up to Anthony to protect his friends, not get eaten, and save the world.
This is a pretty good book, and more horrific in tone than many of Bellairs (it's one of the few that has a significant body count), but it is not one of my favorites. By this point the books are becoming somewhat formulaic, and the pocket universe filled with dark creatures deserves a much more in-depth treatment than it is given. Moreover, the pacing, chaotic ending, and the leading character's apparent willingness to forget about previous travelers trapped in horrible torturous prisons makes me think that this book was not as fully written and edited as the author might have preferred.
This is the last book written entirely by John Bellairs before his death. He had outlined a number of additional books, which were completed and published by Brad Strickland. However, all posthumous books follow Lewis Barnavelt or Johnny Dixon, suggesting that this was perhaps really intended to be the end of the Anthony Monday series.