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Children's Literature Reviews
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The dark stairs : a Herculeah Jones mystery
by Betsy Byars.
New York : Viking, c1994.
130 p. ; 22 cm.


The intrepid Herculeah Jones helps her mother, a private investigator, solve a puzzling and frightening case.

Best Books:

Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for PreK-Grade 6, 1997 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Books for You: An Annotated Booklist for Senior High, Thirteenth Edition, 1997 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Children's Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
High Interest-Easy Reading, 1996 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Middle And Junior High School Library Catalog, Eighth Edition, 2000 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 ; H.W. Wilson; United States

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Iowa Children's Choice Award, 1996-1997 ; Nominee; Iowa
Virginia State Young Readers' Award, 1997 ; Nominee; Elementary School Level, Grades 3-5; Virginia

Reading Measurement Programs:

Accelerated Reader" "
Interest Level Middle Grade" "
Book Level 3.9" "
Accelerated Reader Points 3" "
Accelerated Vocabulary" "

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level 6-8
Reading Level 5
Title Point Value 8
Lexile Measure 570


Stephanie Zvirin (Booklist, August 1994 (Vol. 90, No. 22))
Byars shows how delightful middle-grade mysteries can actually be. It's her quirky, wonderful characters that make the difference. Herculeah Jones didn't get her name because she was "dainty and shy." She's bossy, obstreperous, and curious to a fault, and with her father a police officer and her mother a private investigator, there's always plenty to attract her attention. Just as snoopy is her hefty, totally devoted sidekick, Meat, though he's as bumbling and meek as she is efficient and brave. Their Holmes-Watson relationship is an integral part of this refreshing whodunit, which also offers genre fans genuine suspense as well as some laugh-out-loud comedy. The first in a promised series, it finds the investigative duo enmeshed in the mystery surrounding a creepy old house and Mrs. Jones' equally creepy new client. Byars adds such zest to traditional plot conventions that readers will anxiously await the pair's next adventure. Category: Middle Readers. 1994, Viking, $13.99. Gr. 4-6.

Gisela Jernigan, Ph.D. (Children's Literature)
It was Friday the 13th, and when she looked at the spooky, deserted mansion, nicknamed Dead Oaks, Herculeah Jones' hair began to frizzle. This was a sure sign that something, probably something dangerous, was about to happen. But, with a policeman father and a private investigator mother, the prospect of danger was not something to dampen the adventurous spirit of a brave, feisty 13-year-old. Young mystery fans should enjoy her investigations, aided by her friend Matt, a burly but cautious neighbor boy. 1994, Viking, $13.99. Ages 10 to 14.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1994)
A versatile standby (1971 Newbery) brings her usual brisk aplomb to a projected series about a self-reliant early teen whose first adventure is closer in spirit, despite her name, to the Nancy Drews recalled by its jacket than to the exploits of Indiana Jones. Neither of Herculeah Jones's divorced parents -- Dad's a cop, Mom's a PI -- welcomes her participation in discovering the role played by the hulking "Moloch" in an apparent death ten years ago in the empty old mansion known as Dead Oaks. Still, the girl and her sidekick, Meat, explore the house, where someone traps Herculeah; fortunately, she's able to burst open the nailed-shut door. Finding out that the Moloch is Mrs. Jones's client, they eavesdrop on a tape of an interview between the two and learn his identity. In the end, Herculeah not only deduces what happened years ago but locates a missing body by inadvertently tumbling down a secret stairway. For sophisticated readers, it might have been more fun if Byars had chosen to parody the genre; instead, she plays it almost straight, although there are occasional touches of wit in the pert dialogue and descriptions. Meanwhile, she establishes characters with a sure touch and provides enough spooky atmosphere to bring readers back for more. A promising start for a series that could easily become a popular alternative to massmarket mysteries. 1994, Viking, $13.99. © 1994 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
Given a policeman for a father and a private investigator for a mother, could 13-year-old Herculeah Jones be anything but a sleuth? Drafting her neighbor and sometimes reluctant sidekick, Meat, she sets out to uncover the mystery of the decaying mansion known as Dead Oaks, eventually finding the body from a long-ago murder and correctly concluding that a particularly disconcerting client of her mother's is to blame. With her eye for telling detail and her penchant for strong, quirky characters, the Newbery Medalist spices her narrative with equal measures of suspense and humor (for example, Herculeah's father, with his chronically rumpled jacket and loose tie, looks ``not like a detective, but like a man who was lost''). Herculeah, as strong and dauntless as her name suggests, emerges as a distinctive and engaging heroine. The conclusion may not be altogether satisfying--Herculeah literally stumbles across the body, instead of reasoning out its location, and the pivotal figure of the murderer remains shadowy. These quibbles notwithstanding, Herculeah's adventures are sure to entertain, and hints of a sequel are heartening. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)

Roger Sutton (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November 1994 (Vol. 48, No. 3))
Following in her mother (private investigator) and father's (police detective) gumshoes, Herculeah Jones can't resist a mystery, and the creepy old house, nicknamed Dead Oaks, down on Antique Row, is presenting a host of sinister possibilities. Her father is looking into a break-in there, and her mother has a strange new client who seems to have a connection to the property as well. This is more of a semi-serious suspense novel than a procedural mystery, so while genre fans may be disappointed in the weak ending, where a killer is exposed but unaccountably not arrested, they can still enjoy Herculeah's investigative verve, her sometimes unscrupulous tactics, and the bumbling "help" of her sidekick, Meat. While the book isn't as all-out funny as some of Byars' comedies, there's enough witty digression (such as the story about the origin of Herculeah's name) to keep the prose perking along with the story. Ad--Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area. (c) Copyright 1994, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 1994, Viking, 130p, $13.99. Grades 4-7.


Mystery and detective stories.
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PZ7.B9836 Dar 1994
94014012 [Fic]
0670854875 : $13.99
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