© Iva Ibbotson, illustration © Kevin Hawkes.
This is the second book I’ve read by Ibbotson, and the better of the two. The cover blurb compares it to Rowling and Diana Wynne-Jones. I’d say it’s closer to the latter, but with a style unique to Ibbotson. There’s also an interesting parallel to Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book,” in that Alex, the boy protagonist, has for his best friends and playmates a group of odd yet friendly ghosts that haunt his ancient Scottish castle home. But, if anything, I’d say both are carrying on a long tradition of friendly ghosts in children’s literature, with the Green Knowe books of L.M. Boston being a great example.
There is also an aspect of screwball comedy to Ibbotson’s work that reminds me of the Topper films a bit. Alex’s castle is crumbling, his family is broke, and when a rich Texan offers to buy the castle and relocate it to Texas as a home for himself and his daughter, the offer is too good to refuse. The only problem is that the Texan doesn’t want the ghosts, and they agree to go haunt someone else. But, before long both the ghosts and Alex are on the way to Texas, unknown to each other, and to complicate matters, a plot is being hatched to kidnap the Texan’s daughter.
The concept of Scottish ghosts in Texas is an odd one, but Ibbotson plays it well, and there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot to keep things moving. The ghosts are entertainingly melodramatic, as are the villainous kidnappers, leaving Alex and his new friend, the Texan’s daughter Helen, to play more realistic and appealing roles. In all, it’s light but good fun with just enough scariness and suspense to add flavor. Recommended.