cover image School Spirits

School Spirits

Michael O. Tunnell. Holiday House, $15.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1310-2

What begins as a rather flaccid rendition of a 20th-century gothic mystery turns into something more gripping once Patrick Meeres, the new boy in town, starts piecing together the puzzle surrounding a blue-green apparition. Lured by the ghost of eight-year-old Barnaby Dawe, whose sudden disappearance in November, 1920, remains unsolved, Patrick and his friend, Nairen, end up at Craven Hill School, a castle-like structure built by an eccentric English immigrant. There Patrick slides down the ""tube"" fire escape and travels back in time to discover Barnaby's bizarre fate in the school library. Tunnel (Mailing May) relies on a plethora of tried-and-true spook tactics (e.g., unexplained midnight bell chimes, phantoms passing through walls). Middle graders will likely be more impressed by the story's hair-raising climax than its uninspired narrative (""Time seemed to stop, and in the lull Patrick's thoughts became strangely detached. He calmly wondered about fainting or screaming or running"") and cookie-cutter characterizations (Patrick's dad is the new principal who pronounces, ""Breaking and entering could get you reform school, young man"" to a boy he suspects of unlocking the school door). For those new to the genre, this may offer some suspense, but mystery buffs will be disappointed. Ages 8-12. (Dec.)