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Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls

Review

Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls

As yet another stellar Sammy Keyes adventure begins (is it my imagination, or do these already excellent mysteries just keep getting better and better?), it's October 31st. Sammy is determined that this Halloween will be all about fun and have nothing to do with villainous deeds. And that possibly might have come to be…except she and her friends make the mistake of cutting through the graveyard on Halloween night, all disguised as zombies. They're meandering through the old portion of the cemetery, where it's very dark and the paths are not straight. Since it's taking them a while to make their way through, they begin to talk about death, but Casey and Billy lighten the mood with puns and funny stories.

Sammy and the gang stop short when they spot a beast-like creature dashing through the gravestones. The creepy figure turns and starts racing right at them, so they hide behind tombstones. When it sees the "zombies" behind the gravestones, the intruder tries to run away. Instead, he trips over Billy. Now Sammy can see that, instead of a beast with wings, it's a man wearing a poncho, and there's another man with a shovel chasing him. The man in the poncho (Sammy dubs him El Zarape in honor of his serape) drops his trick-or-treat sack and runs away. Billy, claiming he's not too proud to keep El Zarape's candy if he doesn't want it, carries the stranger's bag as they head for the nearest gate.

However, their cemetery adventures are not at an end. They see an old car driving through the graveyard. Sammy voices her fears that it's the ominous "Shovel Man," unleashing many bad (yet hilarious) jokes and puns from Casey and Billy. In order to get out of the cemetery, the group must climb over the vehicle while it's rolling through the gate. Sammy happens to see the driver's face, and he doesn't just look angry at the kids climbing over his car, he looks literally murderous.

As frightening as their encounters in the graveyard have been, it's nothing compared to Sammy's next encounter with her nemesis, Heather (aka Casey's sister)…but then, that's nothing new. Sammy is distracted from Hurricane Heather when she spies police cars parked across the street and realizes someone attacked the guy who had been loudly preaching on the corner. Sammy's friend, Officer Borsch, is on the scene; he tells Sammy that Preacher Man claims a cop beat him up. This arouses Sammy's suspicions since she knows someone who dressed up like a policeman for Halloween.

It's been quite the exciting Halloween so far, but what happens next rattles the entire group. Back at Hudson's, they are sorting through their trick-or-treat loot when Billy empties the sack the poncho-wearing stranger dropped. Out roll two skulls. At first they decide that the skulls are --- obviously! of course! --- fake. But it isn't long before Sammy discovers that they’re actually real. Coincidentally, three people have gone missing from their town within a month. Hmm.

While Sammy wrestles with secrets she must keep from people she cares about, she discovers that strangers are following her. In the meantime, she follows clues to the skull mystery through the strangest places, including a funeral parlor. Her relationship with Casey adds the perfect mellow complement to the plot --- just a tracery of romance that is quite realistic and never distracting.

Mystery lovers of all ages will devour SAMMY KEYES AND THE NIGHT OF SKULLS, as well as the previous books in the series. Sammy is likely to remind readers of Sue Grafton's sassy, plain-spoken sleuth Kinsey Millhone (who really should be Sammy's long-lost aunt; how perfect would that be?). Author Wendelin Van Draanen gives us an intriguing mystery, well-paced plot, and likable three-dimensional characters. She also doesn't flinch from provocative sub-plots with plenty of substance. Among other issues, Sammy comes face to face with her own heebie-jeebies about death, adding thought-provoking layers to a thoroughly enjoyable page-turner filled with both tricks and treats.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on October 11, 2011

Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls
(Sammy Keyes #14)
by Wendelin Van Draanen

  • Publication Date: June 12, 2012
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Yearling
  • ISBN-10: 0375854576
  • ISBN-13: 9780375854576