cover image The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder: 5

The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder: 5

John Bellairs. Dial Books, $14.99 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-1450-2

Lewis Barnavelt, the plump worrywart and Sherlock Holmes aficionado last seen in The Letter, the Witch and the Ring , is making a grand tour of Europe with crotchety Uncle Jonathan. The trip culminates with a surprise visit to their ``umpteenth cousin, who-knows-how-many times removed,'' Pelham Barnavelt, who resides in genteel post-WW II poverty in the family seat, Barnavelt Manor. Together with his new-found English friend, Bertie (the blind son of Cousin Pelham's housekeeper), Lewis explores the overgrown maze on the manor's grounds. When they discover an ancient map--hidden, in classic Bellairs style, in the bindings of a crumbling book--the boys wend their way to the secret center of the maze, where a powerful evil force has long been imprisoned. Overweight, bookish and naturally timid, Lewis is nevertheless capable of true bravery; his endearing character, along with the novel's underlying current of melancholy, makes this much more than run-of-the-mill supernatural entertainment. Chock-full of deliciously spooky details and narrated in a voice that is as cozy as it is ornery, this tale is utterly spellbinding. Although Strickland (who also completed The Ghost in the Mirror ) serves him well, the late Bellairs will be greatly missed. Ages 10-up. ( Sept .)