Culture & Conversation


It’s that time of year again. The time where we escape the falling snow, lock ourselves in a warm house, and curl up with a good book. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some chilling horrors. P.J. Bracegirdle’s Sinister Scenes can put you in a terrified mood along with some mystery and a bit of humour no matter what the time of year.

Sinister Scenes follows a young heroine, Joy Wells, and her mysterious archenemy, Mr. Phipps, as they get ready for the first film to be shot in the town of Spooking. After the mysterious disappearance of the star of the film, Joy takes her place. But it’s not long before she uncovers a massive mystery surrounding her favorite author. And then when rock legend Teddy Danger steps into the picture, things start to go in creepy and twisted directions. So it’s up to Joy to save the day.

The story begins very slowly as we are introduced to Joy Wells and her rather complicated family life, as well as her dreams and feelings. At the same time, there is another story going on concerning the pitiful life of Mr. Phipps. These two stories share the beginning of the book, going back and forth every second chapter, leaving the reader confused as to how each story is significant. Finally the two stories intersect and we start to go somewhere. But the progress is very slow. It is not until the last bit of the book that things heat up, and even the climax is not the great heart-stopping one the reader would expect from a mystery novel. To put it bluntly, the climax leaves the reader disappointed.

Another nuisance is the constant references that Bracegirdle makes to Sinister Scenes’ predecessor book, Unearthly Asylum, leaving the reader extremely confused. For example, the relationship between Joy and Mr. Phipps is centered on the fact that something happened between them in Unearthly Asylum. Although some events are vaguely hinted at in the book, other relationships between many characters are something of a mystery if you haven’t read the first two books. It might be a good idea for readers of this series to begin at the beginning to prevent any confusion. But it would have been even better if Bracegirdle had given a brief summary of the events instead of leaving the reader completely in the dark.

Sinister Scenes has many strong points. Bracegirdle’s characters are amazingly imagined, with personalities so tangible they become a fixation for any reader. Joy Wells leads them all with an endearing sense of humor and a mature take on reality that made me chuckle often. Mr. Phipps comes in second, transforming from a greasy and pitiful guitar salesman to an unexpectedly admirable hero, showing Bracegirdle’s ability to manage fantastic character transformations.

The plot of the story is nothing short of original. Joy’s various friends and acquaintances fit into the plot perfectly and there are a wonderful variety of mysteries that shake up the book: Penny Farthing’s disappearance; Mr. Phipps’ curse; the Witch of Weredale; Teddy Danger’s mysterious behavior; and E.A. Peugeot’s disappearance. The Tarot Card scene is a must-read, full of suspense and mystery. And last but not least is the immense amount of humour. Bracegirdle manages to actually make me laugh with the very funny character of Madame Portia and the comical exchanges between Joy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wells. From a humour standpoint, this book will never leave you disappointed.

For any reader to get the most out of Sinister Scenes, I would suggest starting at book one, Fiendish Deeds, to get a better understanding of the characters and the storyline. Nevertheless, Sinister Scenes does not fail to fill hearts with terror with every page turn, or make us laugh during ever chapter. Overall, a stupendous book with remarkable writing style by Bracegirdle that will not fail to make young readers rave for years.

I am Luca Brown and I’m 14 years old. I am an avid reader from Montreal, Quebec, and I am a student at St. Thomas High School in Pointe-Claire. My interests include environmental issues, politics and TV comedy shows such as Modern Family, 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live.

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