The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn by John Bellairs
Eccentric millionaire (is there any better kind?) Alpheus T. Winterborn built a castle-like building which houses the Hoosac Public Library. It also houses a great treasure, or so the stories go. One day, young page Anthony Monday finds a gold coin hidden in the molding and begins to think there's truth to this crazy story. Unfortunately, so does Hugo Philpotts, Winterborn's greedy nephew. With the help of Miss Eells, the town librarian, Anthony races to find the treasure and save his family from financial ruin before Mr. Philpotts can get his sinister claws into the treasure.
I was inspired to pick up this book in part because I have a gaping hole in my knowledge of juvenile and middle grade
fiction, a hole that's only gotten deeper since I moved up into the adult services division at work. I was also in the mood for a good solid mystery, and who can resist a mystery in which a plucky youngster and a librarian team up? And I think I was also inspired by previous posts here in Guys Lit Wire on the Pursuit of Lost Books.
I really liked this story. I polished it off in an afternoon, and it put me in the mood for both the books I loved as a kid, like Encyclopedia Brown and The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and sent me scurrying to the library to more Bellairs books. Unfortunately, our library doesn't have the next book in the series, so I've picked up The House with the Clock in its Walls. Not all the books have the delightful Gorey illustrations, but my copy of Alpheus Winterborn has great illustrations nonetheless. I particularly like the sinister portrait of Winterborn at the beginning of the book. I would also like to share this description of Miss Eells. "[Her] voice was quiet and precise, but oddly enough she had a large vocabulary of curse words." I think I want to be Miss Eells. Also, the bit where Anthony answers phone reference questions (he's got a few more responsibilities than your average library page)? Spot on. He gets as many weird questions as I do.
If your library is anything like mine, the copies you have of Bellairs books can most kindly be described as "retro." (I had to request Winterborn from a neighboring library and got the original 1978 edition -- a silver lining for shrinking budgets? They can't weed these books?) But if you can sell the mystery, sell the Encyclopedia Brown-esque read, I promise the kiddos (and retro-reading adults) will love these stories.
And not to crowd the post, but I'm also loving Blue Balliett's mysteries. Chasing Vermeer even has a secret code! I love secret codes!