Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Only Connect: Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Milo grabbed his boots and ducked outside before anyone could ask him where he was going, passing his father busy stacking firewood, and sprinted down the path and into the woods.

He found the paperback right away, wedged between the Whilforber Whirlwind and the edge of the wooden floor. He must have dropped it when the tower of luggage had come tumbling down. He was just about to head back inside when he spotted something else on the steel tracks.

It looked like a blue leather wallet, only bigger. Milo climbed down onto the rails behind the car and picked it up.

And that's how he found the first map.

The paper was old and green-tinged. It was brittle and delicate. Milo held it up so that the light from the closest lamppost shone through, and he could just make out a watermark: it looked like a wrought-iron gate, but warped and wrenched out of its original shape.

It was then that Milo realized what he was looking at.

It is the beginning of Christmas break, and Milo Pine is looking forward to spending the snowy holidays quietly with his family in their inn. Known locally as the "smuggler's inn," the Pines' Greenglass House rarely had holiday guests, smugglers or otherwise, but just as Milo settles in to enjoy his vacation, the visitors' bell rings and two unusual guests arrive in the lift from the village below. The two elderly passengers. Mrs. Hereward and Mr. Vinge, commence shouting violently at each other over their mixed-up luggage. Hardly had Mrs. Pine soothed their ruffled feathers with cups of tea than more unexpected guests arrive, two young women, the blue-haired Georgie, who informs Milo, carrying her bags upstairs, that she is a thief, and the red-haired Clem, who flies effortlessly and  soundlessly up the always creaky old stairs and describes herself as a cat burglar. Then in short order, Mrs. Carraway, a village woman hired to help with the kitchen work, arrives with a young girl, who calls herself Meddy, and yet another guest, the fusty Dr. Gowerwine.

Milo falls asleep by the fire reading The Raconteur's Commonplace Book, loaned to him by Georgie, and wakens to find Meddy looking at him curiously and holding the blue wallet.
"So you're adopted, then?" she asked. "I heard you were."

Milo is annoyed. So, he's obviously Chinese and his parents are just ordinary locals. Nice of her to point it out. But then, as she opens the wallet and studies the fragile old map inside, she comes up with an intriguing idea.... a campaign, a role-playing game of Odd Trails, to discover the meaning of the map and the true mission of the person who lost it in the snow.
"We're stuck here, right? Might as well do something fun." she said.

Reluctantly, Milo agrees. But as Meddy explains that the two of them must take on a new personas, avatars, he as Negret, the escaladeur, and Meddy as Sirin, the scholiast, Milo finds himself intrigued with his new persona as lock picker, athletic burglar. and adventurer, and agrees to play the game.

And as events unfold, it seems that their guests are not what they seem either. Milo's map is stolen first from its hiding place beneath the carpet, and then each of the guests have something taken from their rooms, each object with a connection to the old inn. And as Milo and Meddy work together to discover everyone's purpose, they discover that each one of them as well is connected in the most odd ways with Greenglass House, and not just the oceanside inn it now is. Milo learns that the inn was the one-time mansion of the notorious smuggler, Doc Holystone, whose map leads to a sort of treasure after all, not a runner's hoard, but a bequest for his daughter, who herself died in a fall the night a customs officer chased Doc Holystone over the cliff.

Unleashing the tangle of connections between everyone there and their relation to the cypher hidden in the stained glass windows of the old house leads Milo to an insight into his own heritage and of Meddy's true identity, one that will reward readers with a last surprising revelation in the story's dramatic and satisfying conclusion.

Forthcoming today, Kate Milford's Greenglass House (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2014), set within the Gothic background of an old inn with its own secrets and a strange assortment of snowbound guests, all seeking some revelation hidden in the history of the old house, is a layered, slow-developing story that unwinds the connections between each character in fascinating fashion, saving the inn's deepest secret for last.

An atmospheric mystery and tale of the past in which the old mansion itself is almost a character, part role-playing game and part family story, with overlays of smuggling lore, Milford's engrossing story will appeal to fans of supernatural history mysteries such as Mary Downing Hahn's All the Lovely Bad Ones, and The Old Willis Place, Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society and sequels,  the several books in series, written by a stable of famous authors, The 39 Clues, Pseudonymous Bosch's Secret series or Lissa Evans' Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery,  and a Very Strange Adventure.

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