The Mystery of the Ghostly Riders
Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
If the nine- to eleven-year-old reader can accept the coincidence of the book’s central juvenile characters’ learning of a century-old mystery in B.C’s Okanagan Valley and then going to live near Hamilton, Ontario, in a cottage which furnishes virtually all of the clues needed to solve the mystery, then Manuel has produced a better-than-average juvenile mystery. It certainly includes all of the young-reader-enticing ingredients such as secret passageways, false bottomed drawers, and hidden messages.
While visiting with old Aunt Daisy, Tritch Fern, 12, her brother Teddy, 13, and little sister Tory, 8, are told the strange story of Flame Cranberry, who was found in 1838 as a child, was adopted by the Cranberry family, and then vanished nine years later, leaving behind her paintings which illustrated her recurring nightmares. The watercolors always contained the same elements: faceless, ghostlike figures of two women on horseback and two stars in the night sky. Having heard the mysterious story, the Fern children move temporarily to Ontario, where their father is helping Turner Stubblefield edit a family history dealing with his Loyalist ancestors in Upper Canada. However, prior to departing for Ontario, Tritch had received a letter from 13-year-old Gaylan Stubblefield, Turner’s daughter, warning Tritch that the cottage in which the Ferns were to live was haunted by the ghost of Andrew Stubblefield, who disappeared while living there in 1837.
Tritch’s apprehension increases when, upon first meeting Gaylan, Tritch is amazed by her resemblance to Aunt Daisy’s description of Flame Cranberry and when, that very same night, a faceless, female figure appears to Tritch. Later Mr. Fern, with his children’s research help, searches for material to explain Andrew Stubblefield’s disappearance so that the history can be completed. The children stumble upon information which eventually reveals that the Stubblefield brothers were divided in their loyalties during the 1837 Rebellion and that Andrew’s support of William Lyon Mackenzie forced Andrew and his little daughter to flee Upper Canada after the Rebellion’s failure.
Readers may make an early connection between Andrew Stubblefield and Flame Cranberry and suspect Andrew’s involvement in the Rebellion, but they will have to wait until the book’s conclusion to discover how Flame came to be orphaned and to learn the identity of the faceless ghost haunting Tritch. Half of the six full-page, black-and-white illustrations contribute to the mysterious atmosphere, while the remainder are merely decorative.