Monday, March 8, 2021

REVIEW: In the Hall with the Knife: A Clue Mystery (book) by Diana Peterfreund

In the Hall with the Knife is a YA contemporary mystery based on the Clue game franchise. It's the first book in a series. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.


Blackbrook Academy is an elite prep school in Maine. Its location is remote, and its students are largely rich, brilliant, and dedicated. When a snowstorm and on-campus flooding traps several remaining students, Headmaster Boddy, and Mrs. White in Tudor House, an old mansion that serves as an all-girls dorm, it initially seems like their biggest problems will be boredom and the cold temperatures. Then Orchid McKee stumbles across Headmaster Boddy, a knife buried deep in his chest.

Was it an accident? Suicide? (Obviously not, but at least one student thinks it's a possibility.) Or murder? The last option seems most likely, but if that's the case, who did it? The most comforting theory is that it was a looter, and whoever it was is long gone. Otherwise, the killer had to have been one of them. Everyone at Blackbrook Academy has something that they're hiding, and there's no telling what one of them might have done to protect their secrets.

The last time I played traditional Clue was when I was a teen, maybe pre-teen (although I did play a Golden Girls version just a handful of years ago). I've seen and enjoyed the movie, although even that was a few years ago. Basically, I have fond but not recent memories of the franchise.

That's important, because it turns out that things have changed a bit since the last time I played, and certainly since the movie was made. I recognized several of the color names in the book: Beth "Peacock" Picach, Vaughn Green, Sam "Mustard" Maestor, Finn Plum, and Scarlett Mistry. I didn't recognize several other characters, including one prominent one, Orchid McKee. It turns out that Orchid was added in 2016, and Rusty was added in 2003. Karlee Silverman and Kayla Gould were the most out-of-place, although it sounds like "Silver" has its roots in older versions of the game.

If you loved the movie and go into this expecting it to have the same sort of energy and black humor, you're probably going to be disappointed. If you like Clue in general, though, this is a fun book with lots of connections to the overall franchise - secret passages, casual mentions of items that are possible murder weapons in the game, and aspects of some of the characters' backgrounds (for example, Mustard used to go to an all-boys military school).

Since my area dealt with freezing temperatures, power outages, and burst pipes only a couple weeks ago, reading this gave me a bit of a weird feeling. Maybe it was a little too soon for me. I found myself getting annoyed at how clueless most of these teens were about the potential danger they were in, beyond the whole "maybe trapped with a murderer" aspect. Vaughn (one of the few locals) practically had to spell out how difficult and dangerous it would be to walk to town in these conditions, and why the police might not consider reports of a dead body to be as much of an emergency as, say, people trapped in their cars or in their houses without heat and/or water.

Speaking of the weather, what kind of idiot looter would brave life-threatening conditions to steal a few things from a remote boarding school? And why bother stealing from one of the inhabited buildings when they could have taken things from any of the evacuated buildings without fear of being caught? Scarlett's "Headmaster Boddy committed suicide" theory was stupid, but so, I thought, was the "murder committed by a looter" theory that everyone then clung to the hardest.

While I enjoyed gradually getting to see character relationships and secrets come into play, the way some of the secrets were handled and written about was kind of confusing. Unless I missed it, Mustard's secret was never directly referred to at all (it sounded like his dad tried to make him more manly by sending him to military school, where I'm guessing he realized he was gay and was then sent to Blackbrook instead). Vaughn's situation was downright confusing, and I'm still not sure whether even the adults knew what was going on there.

I went into this expecting it to be fairly self-contained, despite knowing that it had a sequel, so I was disappointed by how many things were left open/unresolved by the end of the book. Yes, the murderer was identified and handed over the police, but Vaughn's secret was never revealed to anyone, the thing Orchid was afraid of was never resolved, and Mustard's POV bits never went anywhere. I assume it's all fodder for future books, but since Boddy is already dead, those books will have to break out of the usual Clue "murder mystery" format, unless Peterfreund can come up with other franchise-appropriate victims. I plan to read the next book, so I guess I'll find out for myself how it all works out.

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