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The Curse of the Blue Figurine (1983)

John Bellairs doesn’t get nearly enough love. This is The Curse of the Blue Figurine (1983), the first of the Johnny Dixon series of supernatural mysteries. These, along with the Anthony Monday and Lewis Barnavelt novels all follow the same basic formula, for the most part. The loner-ish protagonist and their eccentric older friend (in Johnny’s case, Professor Roderick Childermass, who lives across the street) encounter some sort of object of power (in this case, the spooky ushabti) that kicks off a series of increasingly dangerous supernatural events (like the ushabti encouraging Johnny to get into fights). These events then culminate in a confrontation (Roderick takes Johnny on a trip to New Hampshire where, in the shadow of a stand-in for the Old Man of the Mountain, it become apparent that the ushabti’s voice is the ghost of a long dead priest who would like to take over Johnny’s body and live again). The majority of the books follow these beats, which might sound dull but several things make them actually great.

First, the characters are warm and charming and live in a nostalgic version of 1950s small towns. You’ll be hard pressed to not be kindly disposed to them after the first novel. Second, Bellairs’ supernatural MacGuffin’s are always drawn from the real world and always intriguing. Third, the books are damn spooky. Especially considering they’re aimed at young audiences. They’re all peppered with legitimate scares. Finally, those sweet, sweet Edward Gorey wrap-around covers and frontispieces. If things weren’t already spooky and mysterious, Gorey gets it there.

Check them all out, honestly, I read them obsessively as a kid and have re-read some of them more recently — they hold up pretty good.

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