When I was young, I always got this book confused with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which I finally got around to reading a year or two ago. As it turns out, they have roughly nothing in common.
At the end of The House with a Clock in Its Walls, 10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt mentions that he’s made a new friend, a tomboy called Rose Rita Pottinger. I haven’t been able to get my hands on the second book in the trilogy, The Figure in the Shadows, but by the beginning of The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, Lewis and Rose Rita are best friends. Lewis, now 12, is spending the summer at boy scout camp, and 13-year-old Rose Rita is feeling depressed and a little angry at her friend for leaving her in the lurch. Luckily, one of her favourite people, Mrs. Florence Zimmerman, has a plan to cheer her up.
Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmerman set off on a car trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, stopping on the way to settle some of Mrs. Zimmerman’s family affairs. It seems a rather peculiar cousin of hers has died, leaving her his farm, as well as a ring he believes may be magic. When the two arrive at the farmhouse, they find the place has been ransacked, the locked desk drawer containing the ring has been forced open, and the ring is gone. It’s a sinister start to their vacation, but they resolve to have fun anyway and try to forget the incident.
Soon, worse things happen; things that aren’t so easy to brush aside. Mrs. Zimmerman finds evidence that suggests she had a deadly enemy—a suspicion confirmed by a sudden, unexplained attack of pain. She recovers, but it isn’t long before worse happens: Mrs. Zimmerman disappears! Left alone in a place she doesn’t know, Rose Rita has to find out what happened to her friend, and save her.
I like Rose Rita, and some of her problems were a nice change of pace from the ones usually faced by Bellairs heroes.
Mrs. Zimmerman is a fun character. I liked her in the first book, and I liked her here, too. She reminds me a little of one of my aunts, in that she’s in her sixties and her favourite colour is purple, and she wears a lot of purple clothes and has a lot of purple things in her house. Unlike Mrs. Zimmerman, my aunt does not do magic or smoke cigars. At least, not in front of me.