The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn
By John Bellairs
Bantam Skylark, 1978
The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn is a young adult adventure/mystery novel, and is the first book in the Anthony Monday series. While for the most part this series focuses on supernatural mysteries, as is Bellairs' usual style, this book is the exception, being sometimes scary but never supernatural.
Anthony is a fairly normal boy living in the small town of Hoosac, Minnesota in the 1950s. He has troubles -- his father runs a bar, which is somewhat disreputable in this time and place, and his mother has some sort of anxiety disorder -- but he's mostly happy. His life takes a turn for the adventurous when he takes a job at the local public library, built by a now-deceased eccentric millionaire.
While cleaning a hard-to-reach corner one day, he discovers an odd clue; a note with a cryptic poem, promising a treasure to anyone who could solve its riddle. He brings this to the librarian -- who is also a good friend and mentor -- and she tells him that the founder, the eccentric Alpheus Winterborn, loved riddles... and jokes. It could very well be nothing, but Anthony is determined to solve the puzzle. Which would be fine, except that Alpheus' son is also looking for the treasure, and will stop at nothing to get it first.
This story has a good balance of blood-and-thunder adventure and historical, small-town color. Life in the 50s was different, and writing from the 70s Bellairs gives a good feel for what it was like without giving the impression of writing of a distant and mysterious world. Anthony has a pretty exciting -- and often scary -- adventure, having to contend with a traditional bad-guy, but also dealing with a problems both familiar and outdated -- a neighbor booby-trapping their yard, the town flooding, spending a month in traction with a broken arm, and breaking into an abandoned mansion to look for clues hidden in the walls.
This is very much an outlier among Bellairs' novels, being entirely devoid of ghosts and evil magic. It is still a good read, but not what most of his fans are looking for, and likewise not a good introduction to his works. Moreover, the Anthony Monday series is not, in my opinion, the best of Bellairs' series. I would generally recommend this book to fans who have already read and enjoyed one of his other series, or to those new to Bellairs who aren't really sure if they want something too spooky... although, if you don't want something spooky, this is probably not the author you are looking for. All that said, it is a good read, and a good adventure, and it can stand alone if you do not wish to move on into the supernatural with the later books in the series.
The next book in the Anthony Monday series is The Dark Secret of Weatherend