When Professor Childermass' brother Perry dies, he leaves the Prof ten million dollars and his landed estate in Maine. The catch, of course, is that he must spend the summer at the remote country estate with no paid help. Naturally, the Prof is up to the task, but invites Johnny and Fergie to join him. The letter informing the professor of his brother's death comes with a riddle that comes back to haunt the professor. It speaks of pallid dwarves, dead eyes, and hairy stars. What does it mean?
This book is the usual absurd Gothic nonsense I love from Bellairs. The estate is not only large it is filled with "worthless" statuary and books imported from Europe, features a personalized tomb and statue by the front door and a 300ft memorial column - that you can climb up - for General Herkimer of the American Revolutionary War. There's also an observatory, among other things. I wish Bellairs had spent more (read: any) time describing what the boys discover in the house instead of glossing over it. I felt the lack, though child-me filled the mansion with all the Victorian trappings I longed to find in my '80s ranch. Stone Arabia and Lake Umbagog join General Herkimer as real references moved into Bellairs' world, along, of course with some recently stolen ivory chessmen from the British Museum.
Need I go into the plot? A nefarious person plans on ending life on Earth as we know it with the use of ancient, dark magic and ineffectually tries to scare the Prof and the boys from the estate so he has a clear path. He might as well have employed an unnecessarily slow dipping mechanism when he lures the gang out onto the lake. I did love the detail that Professor Roderick Random Childermass and his brothers Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker and Ferdinand Count Fathom were all named after heroes of Tobias Smollett's novels by their literary parents.
'Chessmen of Doom' makes up for its plot - stretched over a year to little purpose - with such details.
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