Rest in Peace: All the Lovely Bad Ones: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn:
To all the little children--The happy ones, and sad ones.
The sober and the silent ones, the boisterous and glad ones.
The good ones--Yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.
(From James Whitcomb Riley's dedication to "Little Orphan Annie.")
Reigning mistress of the ghostly tale, Mary Downing Hahn gets the atmospherics just right in her newest novel, All the Lovely Bad Ones. A centuries-old bed-and-breakfast inn in rural Vermont, with a whispered history of poltergeists and a dark, malevolent spectre, a shadowy grove of trees which mysteriously chills even the most sceptical of disbelievers, and an overgrown burial ground with mossy stones marked only with numbers--all set the stage for the unthinking intervention of an early-teen brother and sister duo who are fascinated by the old house's past.
Corey and her brother Travis are two of the "lovely bad ones" themselves. Known for their imaginative pranks in school and at their former summer camp, from which they are suspended, the two are sent by their working mother to stay for the summer with their grandmother. Grandmother is a hardheaded businesswoman who is uninterested in her inn's haunting reputation, but Corey and Travis are delighted to read about the ghosts who have been reported since the large house served as the county's nineteenth-century poor house, the scene of many unexplained deaths by the residents there.
With a flair for the dramatic, Corey decides to costume herself as the white-clad female spectre said to haunt the grove on the inn's grounds, persuading the somewhat reluctant Travis that the re-appearance of the long quiescent ghosts will bring new business to the inn. Warming to the task, Travis helps his sister assemble a do-it-yourself haunting kit--small, bluish flashlights, white and black makeup, and a filmy, white scarf to add to Corey's long white nightgown. Corey's first performance in the grove is a success, and during the next couple of nights she repeats her act as Travis provides midnight spirit rappings, door slammings, and blue lights walking the halls.
Their performances bring several new, curious guests to the inn, including a pair of quirky "ghost busters," loaded with electronics. But unforeseen consequences begin to disturb the merry pranksters. Suddenly the restful bed-and-breakfast becomes the scene of nightly bed-shakings, lights and televisions flashing on and off, pinches and giggles in their bedrooms, and a wrecking of the dining room which sends several guests fleeing to their cars and other hotels.
Reluctantly, Corey and Travis realize that their pranks have awakened dozens of restless spirits, especially a trio of young boys, Caleb, Ira, and Seth, the "lovely bad ones" who died at the hands of Miss Ada Jaggs, manager of the poor house. Corey and Travis beg the spirits to stop their midnight mischief, but the ringleaders demand three tasks from the mortals before they can rest peacefully: the location of Miss Ada's account book, listing the names of the dead, placement of a grave marker with the names and dates of all of the dead, and the exorcism of Miss Ada's spirit itself from the tree in the grove where she hanged herself. Travis and Corey quail at the thoughts of uncovering Miss Ada's coffin, where they are sure the account book is also buried, and facing down her spirit in the dark, dangerous grove, but they are driven to try by their friendship with the three spirits, the "lovely bad ones," who had their lives cruelly taken from them in childhood.
As always, the ghost stories of Mary Downing Hahn are more than night-walking spectres and shrieking victims. As in her wonderful earlier tales, Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story, Deep and Dark and Dangerous: A Ghost Story and The Old Willis Place, to name a few, the main characters form a human bond with the restless spirits who lead them to discover long-hidden secrets and right long-forgotten wrongs. Hahn's genius lies not just in her ability to provide a cracking good ghost story, but in her skill in showing that the past is inextricably tied to the present and allowing her characters to grow and mature as they themselves come to understand this powerful theme. This tale has its genuinely scary moments, but Hahn's unifying motif gives the story substance along with its page-turning thrills and chills.