another Scholastic treasure: Mystery by Moonlight by Mary C. Jane


This book has no deep inner meaning, no subtext, no symbolism and no layers whatsoever although it does at least have more of a mystery than The Hot Water Bottle Mystery…but who knows? there may be some not so little any more girl wondering “Now what was that book about strange noises on a moonlit night from a burnt out mansion that I bought from the Scholastic book fair when I was in 3rd grade?”

Gail loves writing, whether short stories or in her diary, but her twin brothers get into everything she does and then tease her about it–sometimes to her face and sometimes to their friends at school. Their parents don’t chastise the twins as firmly as Gail would like, thinking this little more than a childish fad of hers. As a result, Gail has taken to sneaking off to the decrepit old uninhabited mansion near her family’s home, as there’s an overgrown tool shed just large enough for her to make a writing desk of an old tool bench. The mansion’s owner still lives in town, in a modern home, and maintains the grounds of the property but refuses to tear down what remains of the mansion after a fire destroyed the majority of the structure…and refuses to explain why despite complaints from the neighbors.

One spooky moonlit October night, Gail and her little brothers are walking home from the movies. Gail has run ahead, and as she passes the skeleton mansion…she hears a mysterious rapping echoing out from the mansion. Needless to say she flees for the frail protection that the company of her icky little brothers can provide, and as is the way of icky little brothers they refuse to believe that any such thing happened, since the house is silent when they approach it.

This is not the only mysterious event, though the series of unsolved robberies is understandably of more concern to the adults. Gail, however, wonders if the noises she heard at the old mansion is in some way connected to the robberies, and determines to investigate, with the help of her friend Conan, who has just been fired from his job as assistant to the groundskeeper of the old mansion. They make several forays onto the property, finally planting a tape recorder just outside a window in the kitchen ell, the only portion of the building which remained more or less intact after the fire. Despite having only half an hour of tape/battery life, the two manage to record a vital clue, which leads them (after being locked into that selfsame kitchen ell after the robbers leave) to solving the mystery and clearing the name of the mysterious young man who has been spending a bit too much time peering into Morgan’s Green windows.

Like many of the books Scholastic contracted for/commandeered over the years, this isn’t a brilliant work for the ages, but it’s fun. Fifty years after its original publication, it’s more than slightly dated, though the only specific plot point I can pin them down on is the description of and illustration for the tape recorder used to catch the crucial discussion between the criminals. Said tape recorder has a tape length of about half an hour, and a battery life short enough that even such a short recording time by modern standards would drain them to the point of needing replacing, not to mention the corresponding illustration of an object the size of a young child’s backpack. It’s not quite as perplexing to a modern American audience as The Hot Water Bottle Mystery, not least because they avoid mentioning a specific community, but otherwise not bad. Still fun though, and clean enough to be suitable for kids with a reading level higher than their maturity who aren’t embarrassed to be seen reading doofy old books that their grandparents read.

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