Florence Hightower’s novels for children are all mysteries of one sort or another, and this is a good one. It has some elements and character descriptions that might be considered politically incorrect today, but for 1958 it was progressive and sensitive. There is one very large coincidence in the plot, but it doesn’t harm the story.
Mr. Stackpole always wanted to live in the country, and he’s moved his reluctant family to an old, run-down rural New England home to fulfill that desire. Mrs. Stackpole is always supportive, his children Tom, Elsie, and the infant twins Richard and Paul, are less enthused, and their African-American cook Angela Gittens is already thinking of quitting. The house, nicknamed Follonsbee’s Folly after the original owner, needs lots of work, more and more as they look further into it, but Mr. Stackpole remains optomistic, even though his funds are shrinking. For Tom, the best part is the large yard and the woods beyond it running along a river. Tom finds a rowboat that seems in good enough shape to use, but also finds someone camping there who feels the boat belongs to him. Joe is a drifter who’s settled for the summer in this previously abandoned section of woods, and he’s been restoring the boat. Joe and Tom become friends, and finish the boat together, thereafter using it to explore the river.
Meanwhile, strange noises are being heard at the house, and Angela and Elsie are sure it’s haunted. Elsie begins investigating, and turns up surprising information about the Follonsbee family that makes her think there’s more to the house than they’ve yet found. Meanwhile, the conniving real estate agent who sold them the house has plans for a large housing development right next to them that will destroy the woods Tom and Joe are in love with. When a massive rainstorm hits and the river begins to flood, everyone is in danger, and secrets are revealed.
An exciting read and a fine mystery. Recommended.