A new head rises from the eyeball-strewn swamps of children’s horror, in the form of Montrealer P.J. Bracegirdle (his real name, or so he maintains). Librarians who turned a cold shoulder to Goosebumps and its ilk can embrace Bracegirdle’s trilogy in good conscience. It’s horror with a literary pedigree: an Edgar Allen Poe epigraph welcomes the reader in.
Bracegirdle’s delightful heroine, Joy Wells, is a spirited young social misfit who loves books and old things. Her parents have bought a house in semi-decrepit Spooking instead of in up-and-coming Darlington, but Joy loves the rundown town, prowling its cemetery and gloomy avenues, scaring herself witless. Usually she takes along her pet bullfrog and her brother Byron, a nice little boy in the painful stages of first love. As the book begins, Darlington’s boosters are plotting to build a themed waterpark on top of Spooking Bog. They’re unscrupulous about bulldozing anything standing in progress’s way, including the home of an elderly biologist and his wife.
As the first title in the new trilogy, Fiendish Deeds is obviously a setup for its sequels and accordingly leaves many threads untied. Meanwhile, it covers wide thematic terrain, tackling topics such as bullying, environmental crime, and murder, all while the body parts float to the surface of Spooking Bog. Bracegirdle mixes horror with realistic touches: most emanations from the dark side are from the sleazier recesses of the human soul. The language (which includes such words as “asphyxiating” and “pathological”) will stretch younger readers’ skills but is unlikely to defeat them. The ethereal cover by Nicoletta Ceccoli is a lovely finishing touch, gratifyingly true to the text.