The jacket and frontispiece, brilliantly designed frontispiece by Edward Gorey, appropriately establish the atmosphere and tone of this juvenile thriller. A solitary child in pajamas is beckoned toward a desolate landscape by a sinister elderly man in a cape. This boy, Johnny Dixon, is an orphan living in an old house with grandparents. He makes friends with a professor known for his chocolate cake and chess game. Because the child starts speaking of night encounter with a demonic priest, the professor sends him to an inept, comic psychiatrist. Though the first half of the narrative lends itself to the plausible psychological explanation Dr. Melkonian suggests, Johnny is not really suffering hallucinations brought on by grief at the loss of his parents. This reader is not to be betrayed, but is treated in the end to a full-scale manifestation of the supernatural. The lore of ancient Egypt, the poetic luminosity of Roman Catholicism, and the jargon of contemporary psycho-therapy blend in this tale set in the 1950s, a decade given such a golden glow that the story becomes a quaint period piece. There is a major earthquake and a scary journey through a dark wilderness, before an unquiet evil spirit is finally put out of business. Though the publishers recommend the book for grades five and above, it may be read, like Bellairs' earlier tales, with equal pleasure by an adult. In fact, it is an excellent volume for a child and adult to share, especially on a grim, stormy evening.
Allene Stuart Phy
Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review
No. 19, November, 1983, pp. 46-7.