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Book Critique - Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful (Hitchcock #2)

For review of other books or movies by Alfred Hitchcock, go here.

Stars: 4.5 / 5

Recommendation: A thoroughly entertaining set of stories that definitely give you shivers when you come across things that go bump in night, yet keeps the stories at a young reader level so they don’t get too much scared and run screaming.

Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful is the second book in the series Alfred Hitchcock created for young readers. The book was originally published in 1961. It is a collection of nine stories by famous authors that Hitchcock compiled together for young readers.

Each short story had been written by someone famous, some decades ago while some in the recent past of the time the book was published in. The  illustrations were done by Fred Banbery, the first of his works for Hitchcock. He did three more books in the series after this for Hitchcock - Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery: Eleven Spooky Stories for Young People (originally published in 1962) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery (originally published in 1962) and Hitchcock Solve-Them-Yourself  Mysteries (originally published in 1963).

I normally don’t read horror books or don’t watch a lot of horror movies either. However when I had been to a book sale last year, two of Hitchcock's books captured my eye. In fact from Hitchcock's portfolio I must have seen a handful of his movies - 1935 film The 39 Steps (Review here), 1938 film The Lady Vanishes (Review here), 1951 film Strangers on a Train (Review here), 1954 film Rear Window (Review here), 1958 film Vertigo, 1959 film North by Northwest and 1960 film Psycho. 

So when I saw those books, on a whim I bought them, and also they were coming for a very low price. Despite watching a few movies, it still took almost a whole year for me to get the courage to finally read the books. Here goes my review of the first book I purchased.

The first short story, Let's Haunt A House, was written by Manly Wade Wellman, originally published for Boy's Life Magazine for Boy Scouts of America. The original year of publishing I couldn’t find. This short story revolves around three Boy Scouts Homes "Sherlock" Hamilton, leader of the Hound Patrol, Doc Watson, Assistant Patrol Leader and Max Hinkel, a boy scout, who take it upon themselves to find out what's going on with a supposed haunted house near a scouts trail.

The second story, The Wastwych Secret, was written by Constance Savery, first published in October of 1935 as an illustrated stand-alone book. After a little google search I found that this is the only short story by Savery that is still in print. The story revolves around three children - Tawny, Nonie & Estelle - who try to stop a secret to get out about their Grandmamma. 

The third story, Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons, was written by Walter R. Brooks, first published in Story Parade in 1950. But later was published as it's own illustrated book in 1965. The plot revolves around Jimmy Crandall who tries to help his aunt by facing up to the ghost that was haunting his grandfather's house. 

The fourth story, The Mystery Of Rabbit Run, was written by Jack Bechdolt, first published in Story Parade in 1946 and 1947.  The plot revolves around three kids - John Carpenter, his sister Madge and their cousin Oliver Mead - who encounter an unexpected mysterious adventure while they are vacationing at Rabbit Run, the country place in New Hope, Pennsylvania, owned by their Aunt Judith.

The fifth story, The Forgotten Island, was written by Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth, first published as a Story Parade adventure book in 1942. The plot is set on a secluded cove on Green Pond where the Lane family - Father James, Mother Janet and kids John and Jane - build their own log cabin to spend their outings. And one of their outings the kids find another island with a deserted house, that leads them to an adventure of lifetime.

The sixth story, The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall, was written by John Kendrick Bangs, first published in 1894. It is a classic 15-minute ghost story in which the ghost, for decades, appears to the owner of the Harrowby Hall every Christmas Eve for an hour and leaves them drenched in water. Now it is upto the current descendant of the Harrowby Hall to outwit the ghost and put them all out of this misery year after year.

The seventh story, The Red-Headed League, was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in Strand Magazine as an illustrated version in August of 1891. This was also part of the book The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes that Doyle published a year later along with 11 other stories. I have seen or heard several adaptations of this story by Doyle and had thoroughly enjoyed and charmed by it. No need to give a synopsis for such a famed tale, I suppose! :P

The eighth story, The Treasure In The Cave, was written by Mark Twain, is an excerpt from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer published first in 1876. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry "Huck" Finn gather their spades and shovels and picks to go on a summer adventure to dig around and find treasure.

The ninth and the final story, The Mystery In Four-And-A-Half Street, was written by Donald and Louise Peattie, first published in 1931 and later in 1959 before it graced this book. In this, Chuck Ames a clerk at the curiosity shop, decides to quit his job, but becomes embroiled in a mystery surrounding the shop on his last day at work. 

According to the preface that Hitchcock leaves in the book, he had compiled a similar book for adults. And now he was compiling one for kids. Other than that I couldn’t find anything else about how the idea of this series was conceived or how many more books he compiled hereafter.

One thing I did notice in the book though. The illustrations of the supposedly ghostly characters in most stories looked eerily similar to Alfred Hitchcock himself. For instance, these from the third story, Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons;

Or this one in the fourth story, The Mystery Of Rabbit Run;

Or this descendant of the Harrowby Hall in the sixth story, The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall, whose face looks so similar to Hitchcock's, or the portly structure he dons when facing the ghost; 

Or the face of Dr. Watson in the seventh story, The Red-Headed League, behind these craters here.

The book was a quick read for me, hardly took more than a few hours to finish it. It is catered to young readers so I assume it would be different for them. As the title suggested, Hitchcock kept pretty close to the theme of "haunted houses" in all stories except for two.

One was The Red-Headed League tale by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I was surprised to see it in there since there was no ghostly element or a haunted house involved. I can only guess that Hitchcock couldn’t resist to add a story by one of his favorite authors.

The second one being The Treasure in the Cave by Mark Twain. This simply ended being an excerpt from the larger book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, as opposed to be a true short story by Twain himself like the other 8 stories in the book. In fact this excerpt is actually from Chapter 25 thru the end of the book. It was rather disappointing to see so much of that book in here. Would have loved to see another short story instead. 

Although one thing stopped me to think twice. I had read Adventures of Tom Sawyer a long time ago, and seen adaptations of it. But I never thought that Tom had a dark-side of his mind where he wanted to become a robber, kidnap people, kill them for ransom, and if it were women keep them forever but kidnapped in a secret location. OMG, Tom could have very well be one of those serial killers or psychopaths or sociopaths when he grows up. I wonder why Twain drifted his character towards that side in the end of the book. 

A thoroughly entertaining set of stories that definitely give you shivers when you come across things that go bump in night, yet keeps the stories at a young reader level so they don’t get too much scared and run screaming. Hitchcock's compilation is a must read for any young reader. I have to remember to suggest this to my nephew once he is old enough to read such books. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1. Plot Reveals:

a. The going rate of a diamond in 1876 is $20 per diamond, per Tom Sayer's story in the book. 

2. Sub-Plots:

a. In the first story, Let's Haunt a House, the character Holmes "Sherlock" Hamilton, uses a method used in one of the Sherlock Holmes story where he evades the bad guys by creating a misdirection. I wonder which Holmes story was the author referring to here.

3. Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. On Pg. 8, Line 6, it should be "…and a hornet's nest hung…"

b. On Pg. 112, it is clearly shown that the advertisement regarding the red-headed league was published in The Morning Chronicle on April 27, 1890. Holmes makes a point to say that it was two months ago to date the story begins. However on Pg. 119, it is shown that the Red-Headed League gets dissolved on October 9, 1890, which is four months after the date the story begins. Shouldn’t the dissolving date have been June 9 1890 instead? 

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