The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs is the second in the Lewis Barnavelt series of novels. It was first published in 1975. It has thirteen chapters and totals 155 pages. The artwork in this novel is by Mercer Mayer. This is the second Barnavelt novel I’ve read, and the fifth novel by John Bellairs.
I just do not like Lewis Barnavelt like I love Johnny Dixon. Nevertheless, all of John Bellairs’ novels are to be savored and enjoyed. I do not whip through these, although they are all around 160 pages each. I like to read them when the house is quiet and I am about to fall asleep and I can remember being a small person. One of the best things about Bellairs is his ability to write an atmosphere and environment. His settings in these novels are perfect. He writes so that a young reader or an older one can be drawn into the setting and can feel the sinister environment. One feels the chill in the air, the sound of a creaky old house, the dim lighting of an empty town street at night, etc. Sure, all authors are supposed to be able to do this – but I find that only some are actually able to do this.
Still, Lewis Barnavelt. He’s this chubby wimp…. He’s relatively smart and conscientious, but he is overweight and unable to defend himself. He has a friend in this book – Rose Rita. Rose Rita is a tough little girl who is smart, sassy, and for whatever reason is fond of Lewis. She’s really the better character. I almost feel guilty for liking her more than the main character.
So, the atmosphere is great. Rose Rita is very cool. However, the key points of the story – particularly the resolution – let me down. I’m sorry to say that I just don’t think the resolution is the best we could have been given. It does not really match so well with the story. A ghost story? A ghost in a well? How does this equate with the figure in the shadows? And for heaven’s sake, why all the discussion of the history of the amulet? Basically, this was not the neatest tied-up resolution ever. It bugs me a bit. But then, in reality, I do not really read John Bellairs for the actual mystery.
Lewis is really self-aware and he actually seems to understand personal interactions/relationships better than one would expect of someone his age. In chapter three he actually is crying and cussing: “God-dam dirty rotten no-good god-dam dirty….” I was surprised at the language? And also really thrilled and rueful at it. In chapter one, I want to pound Woody Mingo into the sidewalk for Lewis. Like I said: Bellairs is good at atmosphere and characters, but not so much the mystery qua mystery. I like this book. You may love it. I just think Johnny Dixon is a lot cooler.