Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Echo Falls Mystery Series

Down the Rabbit Hole (2005)
Book #1

By: Peter Abrahams

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery

Thirteen-year-old Ingrid Levin-Hill has a secret. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time and now there is evidence placing her at the scene of a murder. A soccer player and actress in the Echo Falls theater program, she has enough on her plate before adding on a murder mystery. Taking a page out of her favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes’s handbook, she decides to solve the mystery herself.

I was actually fairly disappointed with this novel. It has such a glowing recommendation from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, on the back of it that I thought I would enjoy it for sure. I liked it enough to finish, maybe even enough to continue with the series, but I don’t think this book is as great as other people make it out to be.

The main reason I didn’t like this book is Ingrid herself. I thought I could get behind her as we’re both pretty shy and love to read, but her logic does not cohere with my own. She allows panic to get in the way of her judgment and makes incredibly stupid errors – for example, breaking into a crime scene to remove evidence that she had been there and nearly getting caught by the murderer and the police. She lies to the people that could actually help her and reveals more than she should to someone she hardly even knows. Lastly, I found it very hard to believe that no one noticed she was missing during all of her little excursions to find clues.

The killer is predictable. I had my suspicions the first time the character was introduced. The fact that no red flags are going off in Ingrid’s head is beyond me, especially since she’s such a mystery lover. The behavior of this character had me sure of the killer’s identity long before she stumbles onto it. 

This brings us to the ending which is very anticlimactic. We never find out the killer’s side of the story, the motive behind the murder, though we can speculate what it is. When she finally comes clean with the town sheriff, there’s no conversation between the two – just a paragraph about how it went. I feel that since she spent the entire novel lying to the sheriff and avoiding him that the scene where they finally discuss everything should have played a much bigger role in the ending. I also felt like she should have come clean from the very beginning, but then there wouldn’t have been much of a story.

Overall, it’s a decent read but nothing spectacular like many people make it out to be. The heroine is frustrating and the ending lacking. The most compelling character in the story was the murder victim herself, who was only alive for maybe three pages. I kept reading because I wanted to find out what happened to her. Still, the novel was hard to put down, and I will probably continue with the series. Maybe when Ingrid isn’t fearing that she’ll be in trouble she’ll be a more likable character.


Behind the Curtain (2006)
Book #2

By: Peter Abrahams

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery

Ingrid Levin-Hill is back for another predictable Echo Falls Mystery. This time it is one that directly involves herself and her own family. Her father’s job is in jeopardy due to the recent hiring of a new Vice President of the company. Her jock brother is becoming exceedingly buff and temperamental, and she, herself, is kidnapped on the way to a school function. Although she makes a daring escape from the trunk of a moving car, she doesn’t have a scratch on her, leading to her having to prove her story. Thus begins her investigation.

I had hoped that this story would be a little better than the previous one since Ingrid was actually a victim. It wasn’t. Ingrid is still as foolish as ever, doing things that don’t make sense and just outright snooping when she shouldn’t be. She doesn’t call the police when she discovers evidence that might lead to the kidnapper, but instead touches it with her bare hands and pockets it. She doesn’t tell the nurse on duty when she sees an unauthorized person going into a restricted area at the hospital, but instead investigates it herself. Plus, she puts herself in dangerous situations, never letting anyone else know what she’s about to do, and nearly getting herself killed. This kid must have one heck of a guardian angel watching over her.

The only likable characters in this sequel are the Sheriff, his son, and Grampy. The sheriff tries to work with Ingrid, but she never gives him the entire truth – and doesn’t even bring him in on her own investigation. Joey, the sheriff’s son, adores Ingrid and is willing to defend her. Grampy is just hilarious, stubborn as anything, and willing to do what it takes to protect himself, his property, and his family.

The rest of the characters were purely annoying. Ingrid’s father is the worst. Apparently your job being in jeopardy makes it okay to treat your family like crap and act like whatever your children do isn’t good enough. Her brother is also a complete jerk, but at least the violent outburst he had with Ingrid in the first book is finally explained. Ingrid’s math teacher, Mrs. Groome, seems to hate Ingrid for no apparent reason – because Ingrid wrote in a text book and did miraculously well on a test in the last novel, I guess. It’s not really clear why this woman has such a grudge against this girl.

The overall plot was predictable. The shady characters are easy to pick out as soon as they enter the story, and I had the motive for Ingrid’s kidnapping figured out long before the big final reveal. I also knew what was going on with her brother simply by reading the description on the book flap. It also used the same elements as the first novel – with the “accidental” taking out of someone else higher up in the power chain, and the suspicious newcomer. At what level does Abrahams consider the young adult’s ability to read and solve a mystery?

 It also left me with questions, but not the open-ended kind that make you think. For instance, how does everyone in the whole town know where Ingrid’s tree house is? It serves as a major plot point in the story, but her father had built it for her and her brother when they were much younger. For someone who seems to want to know about everything, why doesn’t Ingrid pay attention in school? Her hero, Sherlock Holmes is incredibly intelligent and well-educated, but she ignores most of what her teachers are talking about – even when it pertains to something she is investigating. Lastly, how does a blindfolded girl manage to leap safely from the trunk of a moving car, hit the ground, and not be injured in the slightest? Not to mention, hit the side of the road, rather than falling into oncoming traffic?

Overall, this is another mediocre young adult mystery with an obvious ending. Ingrid is still annoying and she shouldn’t be revered for her sleuthing abilities – which consist of falling into a dangerous situation and happening to close the case.


Into the Dark (2008)
Book #3

By: Peter Abrahams

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery

Ingrid Levin-Hill gets sucked into yet another mystery when, while snow shoeing with potential boyfriend Joey Strade on Grampy’s land, she discovers the body of a murdered man. The police are convinced that Grampy is the killer and it is up to Ingrid to clear his name.

I liked this entry a little better than the last two, but not much. Ingrid was slightly less annoying as she didn’t do as many of the stupid things she has been known to do in the past. She even admits her short-comings when she is analyzing a passage from a Sherlock Holmes story and follows it up with, “Yes, that was her, missing everything that was important.” This quote struck me because that is how I always feel about Ingrid when she attempts to solve a mystery – she is missing all of the important details that the readers have picked up on from the beginning.

I find that to be one of the biggest flaws of this series – I really don’t like the fact that the reader is always ten steps ahead of Ingrid. Having read young adult novels since I was ten years old, I have found some lovely, challenging mysteries written for the age group. The Echo Falls Mysteries are none of the above. The ten-year-old me would have been further ahead of Ingrid in solving the case.

While reading these books, I feel like Abrahams is almost insulting the intelligence of his readers. He doesn’t seem to have a grasp on the reading level of preteens and teenagers – the demographic he is writing for. Kids are a lot smarter than he seems to give them credit for – and he frequently repeats things with the slightest significance over and over again. The reader got this a long time ago, why can’t Ingrid?

Another reason I feel like Abraham’s has little knowledge about the age group he’s writing for is the obviousness of the bad guys. While this one wasn’t as formulaic as the last two, the killer stood out as they always do. Also, the killer is a moron, doing something stupid that leads Ingrid right to him. He’s even less intelligent than Ingrid herself – who is no genius either, as yet again, she stumbles onto the killer’s identity and nearly gets herself killed.

Another thing that annoys me about Ingrid is that she always withholds evidence from the police – evidence that could clear someone for a crime they didn’t commit – such as her beloved grandfather. She doesn’t reveal this information because she’s afraid of betraying Grampy – but she’s saving him from spending the rest of his life in jail, and would be getting the police to look in another direction, I would think that Grampy would get over it. She is loyal to a fault and she is almost always protecting someone, whether it’s herself or a family member.

There were a few things I did like about this book. First, the case was actually interesting and brought up a lot of history for Grampy – discussing his time in World War II. We also finally learn the reason behind his many doctor’s appointments that he refuses to talk about. I didn’t like that he was so determined to keep this reason a secret from his family that he was willing to go down for a murder he did not commit. His usual charming stubbornness was taken to the extreme in this entry, leading Ingrid into danger in her attempts to clear him.

Second, she finally realizes what the readers have known from the beginning, her dog Nigel is actually very intelligent. Now maybe she won’t be a little brat about taking him for walks and constantly acting like he’s worthless. He has proved his worth time and again to the readers of the series, maybe Ingrid will finally see it too.

Third, the end of Hansel and Gretel was actually incorporated into the end of the book, so for the first time, it actually felt like the mystery and the play she was in were linked. Ingrid was also surprisingly able to think on her feet during the climax of the story – which is something she normally doesn’t do very well. It redeemed her character in my eyes a little.

Overall, this entry was better than the last, but it is still riddled with the problems that make me rate the series so low: annoying lead, obvious villains, and a very formulaic plot.


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