Monday, April 25, 2011

Shirley U. Jest! Till Death Do Us Bark by Kate Klise

There once was a rich man who said,
While lying on his deathbed:
"I'm really too ill'
To write a new will."
So he wrote some verses instead.

When multi-millionaire Noah Breth breathes his last, he leaves behind quite a mystery--a mystery which soon involves the whole town of Ghastly, including the residents of 43 Old Cemetery Road.

Seymour Hope, the hopeful adopted son of mystery writer Ignatius B. Grumply and his spectral co-author and everyone's favorite ghost writer, Olive C. Spence, has always wanted a dog. When a large, shaggy wolfhound named Secret adopts him, Seymour takes him home, neglecting to mention to Olive and Ignatius that the dog recently was the beloved companion of the recently deceased town millionaire, Noah Breth. Noah's offspring, the greedy Kitty Breth and brother Kanine Breth, only want to get their hands on their father's money, and Seymour hopes that neither would give a dime of it for the now ownerless dog, since they come to town purely to harry lawyer Rita O'Bitt into giving each of them all of the estate.

And then strange things begin to happen around Ghastly. M. Balm, town librarian, finds a rare wheat penny worth thousands at the back of a bookshelf; Then town restauranteur Shirley U. Jest discovers an even more valuable 1872 two-cent piece in her counter tip jar, and the proprietor of Ghastly Grocers, Kay Daver, finds an even rarer yet half-dime worth $25,000 in the green beans. Now that's a lot of long green!

Meanwhile, back at Spence Mansion, things aren't going well. Secret's all-night barking keeps everyone in town awake. Ignatius, beset by loss of sleep and a sudden-onset of cat allergies, is not a fan of Seymour's hound, and Olive, fearing the dog has driven her missing cat Shadow away, is no fan of Secret either. Seymour is wracked with guilt for lying about the dog's former owner, and decides that he is a bad son and must run away.

Meanwhile, Kitty and Kanine Breth are spreading nasty rumors about each other all over town. Everyone else is looking for valuable coins, and when they're not, they remember to help Sheriff Mike Ondolences search for Seymour, too. Olive feels so badly about Seymour's flight that she writes Ignatius a farewell letter and does a ghostly vanishing act. But in her postscript she mentions that she's leaving a funny gold coin dated 1796 found in front of the house on the dining room table for Ignatius, hoping that they will happily ever after without her.

Things are even stranger than usual in Ghastly, and only Rita O'Bitt has the information that will explain all of these ghastly goings on, the will of the late Noah Breth. And when the ghost of Noah summons Seymour and Secret, still barking, to sit in on the reading of the will, the dear deceased shares the wisdom of his 95 years of life and his one week of his ghostdom:

You make a SMALL CHANGE. It's a grand arrangement that you have there when you're living.

Now start all over when you have to. Make a second draft. Or even a third. Embrace the chance you have to do things over again while you're still alive.

At last everyone gets what Noah Breth was up to when he sold all his property and converted it all into "small change," those aptly chosen rare coins which showed up in chosen places around Ghastly. Now there's just the final and fifth coin to find and those small changes in the lives of Ignatius, Seymour, and the battling Breth scions to be made to make their lives, if not their bank accounts, much richer.

In her Kate Klise series, aptly titled Till Death Do Us Bark: 43 Old Cemetery Road: Book 3, (Harcourt, 2011, forthcoming in May) author Kate Klise and illustrator M.Sarah Klise share the honors in another delightful epistolary novel, leaving no graveyard pun unturned along the way.

With a several interwoven mysteries, even that of Grumply's sudden cat allergies even as the cat Shadow is nowhere to be found, there is plenty to keep the reader turning pages. The text, told totally in letters between the principals and news stories about the coin-cidences about town written by Cliff Hanger, editor of the Ghastly Times, make good use of design and fonts to move the mystery along, but a great deal of the fun is in the black-and-white drawings and the funny funereal wordplay along the way. Previous titles in this series are Over My Dead Body: 43 Old Cemetery Road: Book 2 and Dying to Meet You: 43 Old Cemetery Road: Book One, This is a series that elementary readers will definitely, er, dig.

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