April 18, 2017
SVT Super Chiller #8, The Secret of the Magic Pen: Ghostwriter
Summary: You’d think that after so many summers, the twins would have found a number of ways to entertain themselves, but no, they’re already bored. Fortunately, their parents don’t want to have to put up with them, so they’re being sent to Camp Faraway for two weeks. Come on, Ned and Alice, shell out for the whole summer! Imagine how quiet the house will be! Elizabeth has decided that this is the summer she’ll write a novel, and she thinks that Faraway, which offers writing classes, will be the perfect setting. Someone needs to talk to Liz about her writing process, though, since she wants to write a mystery but has no actual plot in mind and no idea what she’s doing.
Other than Mandy Miller, the twins don’t know anyone at camp. Of course, since they’re such wonderful people, they immediately make friends. Jessica hits it off with a girl named Miranda, who’ also an actress, and Liz connects with Starr, who is obsessed with Shakespeare and gets on my nerves within two pages of her introduction. There’s also an annoying girl named Priscilla who I think is supposed to be a southern belle, but she’s a southern belle as written by a ghostwriter who doesn’t know anyone about southern belles. I guess she’s the antagonist of the book, but she’s not very good at it.
The camp owner, Gunnie (…what is that even a nickname for?), tells everyone that some famous people were campers there as kids. One is Roland Barge, who gained fame writing thrillers before he disappeared. Also, there were murders on the property decades ago. Raise your hand if you would send your daughter to camp at a place where people were once murdered. Now go sit in the corner and think about your parenting decisions, you monsters.
The girls’ awesome counselor, Heather, takes them to Hangman’s Cave for a little expedition. Yes, sign me right up for a trip to Hangman’s Cave on the property of Camp Murder. Elizabeth finds a glowing pen stuck near the wall and decides to use it to write her book. I’m sure one pen – which is very old, so the ink has probably dried up – is all she’ll need for an entire manuscript. She figures she’ll get some inspiration from the research she does while writing an article about Barge.
While Jessica gets into her acting classes (and dreads having to go up against Priscilla in an audition for a play called The Royal Switch), Elizabeth starts working on her article. Only she finds herself writing a story, unclear on where the idea or words came from. Her handwriting even looks different. The story is about a servant named Amelia Champlain who works at a manor 70 years ago. She wants to be a writer, but a fellow servant named Richard Bittle thinks she should keep that to herself, since servants aren’t allowed to have dreams or aspirations. Amelia writes a story, but after she has Richard read it, she sees the title page in the fireplace. She figures the wind blew the whole manuscript into the fire. There goes Amelia’s dream!
Jessica gets her script for The Royal Switch, but when she gets up from the table where she’s reading, it disappears. She finds the title page in the fireplace, just like Amelia did in Elizabeth’s story. This combined with Elizabeth’s story that came out of nowhere make Liz think something eerie is going on. Jessica thinks she’s nuts for believing there could be something supernatural going on with the pen. Strange, since Liz is usually the skeptic, while Jess once thought she was psychic and could predict earthquakes.
Elizabeth does more research on Barge, learning that his earlier novels were well-liked, but his last one was a critical disaster. Meanwhile, Jessica lands the lead in the play, of course. Priscilla gives a horrible audition and then basically disappears from the story. Even with the dumbness of the main plot (I mean, a supernatural pen?), it’s still more interesting than Priscilla, the weakest “villain” this series has ever produced.
Liz’s article gets pushed aside when more of the story comes to her. Richard asks Amelia to meet him on the lake, but when she goes out in a boat, it sinks and she almost drowns. The fisherman who saves her tells her that someone stabbed holes in the boat to make it sink. In the present, Jessica goes out on the lake in a boat and also almost drowns. Elizabeth saves her and freaks out about Jess’s life paralleling Amelia’s.
Gunnie provides some information on Barge, whose real name was…drumroll…Richard Bittle. He was in love with a servant named Amelia, who disappeared one day, leaving behind a note saying she’d run off with another man. Elizabeth finds this suspicious, though not as suspicious as the fact that she’s been writing about things that actually happened. For once in her life, Elizabeth makes a smart decision: She tells Jess they need to call their parents and get the frick away from Camp Murder. Jessica refuses, because she needs to have her big stage debut. The show must go on, even if your life is in danger.
Elizabeth backs down and goes back to her article on Barge. She reads his first novel, Death of a Hangman, which takes place in Hangman’s Cave and involves a murderer being killed by the ghosts of his victims. She continues writing her story, which features Richard luring Amelia to Hangman’s Cave and strangling her. Scared that Jessica will face the same fate, Elizabeth grabs Gunnie and takes her to the cave, where they find Jess about to be strangled by…a ghost, I guess.
Elizabeth writes the rest of the story on the wall of the cave, and it’s now clear that Amelia has been telling her story through the pen and Liz. Richard strangled Amelia and drowned her in a pool in the cave so he could steal all the books she somehow had time to write. The one she had him read wasn’t burned after all; Richard just got rid of the title page to fool her. They find the rest of Amelia’s manuscripts under the stables, along with Richard’s last novel. He wrote that one himself because he had no more of Amelia’s to publish under his own name.
Gunnie and the twins then find Richard’s journal, in which he confesses his crimes. He regrets murdering the woman he loved just so he could get a little fame. Everyone wondered where he disappeared to after his disastrous last novel was published, but the journal gives the explanation: He killed himself. How cheery in a book for preteens.
Elizabeth writes a big article about Barge, which gets published both in the camp newspaper and in a local paper. Everyone thinks it’s quality work and Liz has a great career ahead of her. Jessica also gets rave reviews for the play. I’m so sure a paper is reviewing a camp performance. Liz’s story being published outside of the camp paper at least makes sense, since Barge was a famous writer. But I wonder if she included the part about the magic pen channeling a woman who’s been dead for 70 years.
Thoughts: “There’s nothing else to do this summer. I might as well accomplish something.” That’s probably not as funny as I thought it was.
Jessica’s “always dreamed about going away to camp,” so I guess The Big Camp Secret never happened.
The Unicorns have really screwed with Jessica. When Miranda gives her a compliment after an acting exercise, Jess is “a little surprised. Whenever she competed with Lila or the other Unicorns, they never admitted that she’d done a good job. Is it because Miranda’s super confident?” Oh, sweetie, no. It’s because she’s a nice person, unlike your so-called friends.
Miranda calls Jessica’s purple walking shorts “dramatic.” Okay, Miranda.
Starr: “‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ That’s from Hamlet.” Me: “Shut up, Starr. That’s from me.”