The Secret of the Strange Staircase
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by Gay Toltl Kinman
Category: Children's Fiction/Mystery/Crime
Description: Alison Leigh Powers, 11, and best friend, Mitty, look for a secret hiding place in an old mansion. They learn the history of the house from the builder's granddaughter, who is now ninety-two years old. She tells them that her grandfather's first wife mysteriously disappeared. Alison and Mitty find old letters in a trunk, and do research in the mansion's library with the help of Alison's mother, who works there as a librarian and book conservator. When they piece together what really happened to the first wife, they discover more than they ever expected--or wanted--to know!
eBook Publisher: Amber Quill Press, 2002
eBookwise Release Date: April 2005
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [54 KB]
Reading time: 34-48 min.
"4 Stars...This delightful narrative character has wit and courage and determination. Alison and her friend and their adventures, along with the varied cast of characters in the story are sure to please many younger readers."--Judy Gill, Scribes World
"4.5 Stars!...Gay Toltl Kinman has managed to create two very believable characters who are strong enough to stand out in your memory for a long time. She has written a number of books starring Alison Leigh Powers and some of these are briefly mentioned in the book. Although she doesn't talk about much about the backgrounds of the characters, she doesn't need to because she has injected enough individuality into both of them that they can stand up on their own. This is a short book, but one that once I'd picked up I couldn't put it down again, until I had finished it. In fact, I read the whole book in one sitting. With its fast flow and tight plot line it keeps you interested and with the characters until the last moment, where you end up wondering what the next mystery will be. This is a brilliant middle reader book, although it wouldn't surprise me to find younger children happily reading it as well as the adults."--Timeless Tales Reviews
Secret Hiding Places
"Look at this," Mitty said. She showed me the picture in the new book her father had just given her, Secret Hiding Places in the Great Halls of England. "The son of the owner of the mansion had his bedroom at the top of the stairs. See how the staircase curves around?"
"Mmmm," I said through a mouthful of popcorn. It was just after school and I was starving. We always made popcorn as soon as we got to her house. Then we took it up to her room. It was May and school was almost over. I was dreaming about that more than I was listening to Mitty. Goodbye sixth grade. Hello summer vacation.
"The son's room is over the curved part and there's a little room below it. A secret room between the floor of his room and the ceiling of the room under it. We were there!" Mitty's eyes were wide with enthusiasm. "We actually saw everything in this picture!"
The word "secret" pinged in my brain. I love mysteries. That's why I'm such a great sleuth.
"The floorboards have spaces between them so that when the candles are lit the people up above can see everything in the room below."
"That's kind of weird, isn't it?" I picked popcorn off Mitty's bedspread. She was excited showing me all the places she'd been in her travels.
"What do you mean?" Mitty said.
"I wouldn't want somebody watching from up above while I put on my nightgown."
"Oh, Alison Leigh Powers." That's what she says when she thinks I say or do something outrageous. Or stupid. Or both. "The people in the room above aren't watching you put on your nightgown. Besides, you wear PJs. And you wouldn't be in the room below anyhow. You'd be in the room above, watching. You'd be an aristocrat."
"You're talking about hundreds of years ago. I thought everybody wore nightgowns then. Even the men. And they wore those little Santa hats on top of their heads. Only theirs were white." I crammed another handful of popcorn in my mouth. I got the feeling I'd said the wrong thing. Again.
Her blue eyes stared at me like I was from the planet Venus, and she tilted her head so that her straight blond hair was longer on one side. I've got short brown curly hair which she wants. Just the curly part. She still wants to keep hers blond. I wear glasses, and she wants them, too. Mitty thinks it will make her look smarter. She's older than me by one month. She's July and I'm August. Sometimes she pretends she's lots older. She's traveled a lot more than me. Not hard to do since I haven't even been out of Mirasol much in my whole life. She's always pointing out pictures in books and movies of places that she's been. Like the great halls of England.
"Do you want me to tell you about this or not?" Her blue eyes were getting darker. Not a good sign.
Mitty spent our entire fourth grade living in Germany with her parents. Her father went on a sabbatical from the university. I sure missed her and hoped she never did that again. But I had to forgive her because she had such a great time and sent a lot of emails and pictures. And she was still telling me about the things she saw. Not bragging, just trying to share what she'd learned with me. That's Mitty.
Now it was hiding places for priests in England. The book reminded her of everything.
"Have some popcorn." I pushed the bowl toward her. She hadn't had any yet. I sure didn't want Mitty mad at me, so I wiped my buttery hands on a linen napkin and paid attention.
"The family assembled in the room–"
"I thought you said the son…"
The look she gave me made me throw another handful of popcorn into my mouth.
"The family assembled and knelt down. In the room below was a priest. He lit candles and said Mass. So the family heard and saw Mass."
"Why didn't they just go to Church like we do at St. Mary's?"
"You weren't listening! It was the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Everyone was supposed to be Protestant, not Catholic. There weren't supposed to be any priests. So the rich people who were Catholics hid the priests. All the big houses had hiding places for them. Like it shows in this book. See?" She pointed to another picture, then suddenly, she gasped.
"What?" I jumped, dumping the rest of the popcorn on the floor.
"The stairs at Mr. Smith's house looks just like that."
I took my glasses off and got close to the picture. Now that I wasn't starving, I could listen a little better. "It does sort of. Let's go and see. Maybe there's a secret room there."
Copyright © 2002 by Gay Toltl Kinman