Thursday, March 12, 2009

Strange Matter #9: Deadly Delivery

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned ghost story, and I'm a complete sucker for anything to do with objects that move on their own, chilling apparitions, or disembodied voices. So back in the day (when I was nothing more than a book-wormy wee one), I freaked when saw the cover of DEADLY DELIVERY - a cackling, misty-blue, effervescent entity floating up out of an unlatched trunk. I was immediately drawn in, and who could blame me, a 5th grader utterly obsessed with all things that go bump in the night? Even today, when I look at this book, I still think it sports one of Strange Matter's cooler covers.

The ghostly image that I describe pretty much sums up the story (for the most part, anyways). Two siblings, Simon and Sarah White, are home alone during a freak Fairfield storm (this sounds awfully familiar...FROZEN DINNERS anyone?). There's a knock at the door and a ghastly-looking man leaves a mysterious package on the doorstep, which, upon opening, turns out to be a musty old green trunk. The kids open the trunk, and to their horror, a blue ghost escapes and begins to terrorize the house.

The story starts out strong, with a lot of cool poltergeist-style activities: all the kitchen chairs turned upside-down, smashed plates, and a lot of general disarray. Simon White likes to draw cartoons in his free time, ones in which he's getting the upper hand on his next-door-neighbor/bully, Kyle Banner. The ghost enters his drawings and brings them to life, proceeding to torture the cartoon Kyle Banner. When the baby-sitter shows up, the ghost swallows her whole and spits her out, turning her hair snow-white. This was the fun part of the story. And if the entire book had continued down this road, things would have been grand. But alas, it isn't so.

Halfway into the book, the ghost decides to turn the White's residence into a haunted castle. Now, this sounds pretty damn awesome (in theory at least) and one would think that the story would ramp up at such a point. Sadly, it doesn't. The story bogs down and the excitement is lost, and the reader is left to watching the main characters hang out in a library, trying to find out the history of their new castle home (okay, okay, this is just one particular scene, but come on!). There are some decent parts in the second half of the story, like when the kids get trapped in the torture room, in which a family was left to rot hundreds and hundreds of years ago - this is something they learn from a book they find (maybe the library scene WAS necessary, after all...). And there are hanging skeletons at one point, and the kids find that the castle Baron's deformed brother was kept chained and locked away from the world in a dark room with nothing more than a desk and a straw bed.

The storyline in DEADLY DELIVERY was much more involved than in other Strange Matter entries and could have definitely used another fifty or so pages to flesh things out. Unfortunately, a little too much time is spent on history lessons, but then again, it was necessary to tie all the loose ends together, so who knows. I think it all worked, but for some reason I felt that this Strange Matter didn't move fast enough, especially for middle-grade readers. I do however, respect how Marty Engle pulled everything together, and it shows that he knows how to craft a pretty cool story.

In the end, a middle-of-the-road entry for the series.

I give DEADLY DELIVERY a 3.5 out of 5.

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