October 24, 2017

SVT #109, Don’t Go in the Basement: The Principal of the Matter

Posted in books tagged , , at 5:10 pm by Jenn

Yeah, they never actually went in the basement, but nice try, cover artist

Summary: As periodically happens in this series, the twins want money. Elizabeth wants an Amanda Howard computer game, and Jessica wants a $75 blouse. For $75, that blouse better also paint my garage and cook me dinner. (In this scenario, in which I can afford a $75 blouse, I also have a house with a garage that needs painting.) The girls know their parents won’t give them a raise in their allowance, so they’ll need to find a way to earn money. Their past experiences with babysitting and dog-walking don’t sound appealing, but they figure house-sitting might be both easy and lucrative.

Wakefield and Wakefield post fliers advertising their new “company,” but no one seems to need their services. They’re losing hope when their principal, Mr. Clark, tells Elizabeth that he has to leave town for a little while and needs the twins to feed his fish and collect his mail while he’s gone. He’s nervous about leaving Jessica in charge of such important tasks, but I think with Liz around, he can rest easy. Mr. Clark is in a rush to leave town and doesn’t have many options anyway. He gives Liz a key to the house and a few instructions, including the order not to go in the basement.

When the twins go over to take care of the house the first time, a neighbor tells them that Mrs. Clark has been gone for three weeks. Then, when the girls are looking for a net to rescue the fish after they accidentally break the fishbowl, they find a knife with some blood on it. They try to convince themselves that it’s a fishing knife, and the blood isn’t human. But then they find a few drops of blood on the floor and some hair in a door hinge right near the basement. Jessica’s conclusion: Mrs. Clark was murdered.

The next day, Elizabeth learns from Mr. Clark’s secretary that he didn’t leave a number where he could be reached. No one knows where he went or when he’ll be back. The secretary later tells Maria Slater that Mrs. Clark hasn’t been to her job in three weeks, ever since Mr. Clark called to say that she would be taking a leave of absence. The twins encounter the Clarks’ paperboy, who tells them he heard yelling the last time he was at the house, just about three weeks ago.

Jessica thinks her murder theory is just gathering more and more evidence. She snoops through the Clarks’ things, surprised to see that Mr. Clark’s side of the closet is empty, while all of his wife’s clothes are still there. She suspects that he doesn’t plan to come back from wherever he is. Then a guy named Hank calls to announce that he’s coming over later in the week to do some work Mr. Clark needed done in the basement.

Jessica’s more convinced than ever that Mr. Clark killed his wife, and the proof is in the basement. She tells all her friends her suspicions, and word gets around school. However, Jess can’t find a basement key, so she can’t go down and confirm her theory. Elizabeth tells her to leave it alone and stop spreading rumors, but she can’t help thinking that Jess might be right. She goes to Maria’s house in the middle of the night and convinces her to go to the Clarks’ house with her to see if Jessica’s right.

The girls check out the whole house, finding a room where sheets have been placed over the furniture. For some reason, they think this is an indication that no one’s coming back to the house. They’re spooked when they realize someone else is in the house with them, but it turns out to be Jessica and Mandy Miller, who are there on the same mission to find clues about the possible murder. They learn from an answering-machine message that Mr. Clark is in China, so if he did kill his wife and flee the country, he went pretty far away.

With no other way to get into the basement, the girls agree that they need to take the door off its hinges. Since it’s dark out and they don’t want to turn on any lights, they decide they’ll need to come back during the daytime. Elizabeth has convinced herself that they may find Mrs. Clark’s body in the basement. If she was killed three weeks ago, I’m guessing they would be able to tell there was a rotting corpse in the basement without even having to go down there, but okay.

At school the next day, Jessica invites the Unicorns to come to the Clarks’ for a door-removal party. The other girls are too freaked out to want to be a part of the investigation. It’s just the twins, Maria, and Mandy back at the house when Harry shows up. He has a key to the basement but tells the girls not to follow him down. They wait around while he does something for a few hours, then leaves with a large metal box, telling them t won’t be safe to go downstairs for 24 hours.

The girls follow Harry to see what he does with what they think is Mrs. Clark’s body. It’s about here that I realize this is really twisted for a book aimed at preteens. Harry goes to a hazardous-waste dump, then calls out the girls for stalking him. They worry that he’s going to hurt them, so they split up and run away. They head to the police station and report a murder.

The police accompany the girls back to the house, where they’re surprised to see that Mr. Clark has come home. They’re even more surprised to see Mrs. Clark there, alive and well. She also has a little girl with her. The girls pretend that they called the police because they thought Harry was robbing the house. The Clarks are a little confused but not that worried. They’re probably jetlagged and distracted anyway, since they just got back from China with the little girl they were there adopting.

The story: The Clarks have been trying to adopt for years, and they finally heard about an organization that could help them get a slightly older child from China. When they called to say there was a child available, Mrs. Clark had to fly over immediately. She was there for three weeks before the adoption became a sure thing and she summoned Mr. Clark to join her. They decided not to tell anyone what was going on in case the adoption fell through, like one they hoped for a few years ago.

As for the basement and other weird stuff in the house, there’s lead paint downstairs, and Mr. Clark hired Harry to remove it. Mr. Clark’s clothes were missing from the closet because he and his wife are moving to a different bedroom to give their new daughter their old room. The blood on the knife was from a fish, and the blood on the floor was Mrs. Clark’s, but only because she accidentally cut herself with a pair of scissors. Her hair got caught in the door frame when she excitedly ran to tell Mr. Clark about the phone call from China (which I guess was the yelling the paperboy heard).

Jessica thinks the girls are in the clear for their crazy theory, but Elizabeth reminds her that everyone at school still thinks Mr. Clark killed his wife. They manage to distract everyone from mentioning the accusations, then divert everyone’s attention entirely by coming up with the idea to throw a shower/welcome to America party for little Janelle. So at least something nice comes out of it what could have been a disastrous situation. I assume Mr. Clark never finds out that so many of his students – including logical Elizabeth Wakefield – were willing to believe that he’s capable of murder.

Thoughts: Someone please teach these girls about Occam’s Razor.

Mandy at the police station, accusing Mr. Clark of murder: “We have proof.” Unseen narrator Ron Howard: “They did not have proof.”

Since the girls only tell the Clarks that they thought they’d been robbed, it’s pretty nice of the police not to mention that they came out to investigate a possible murder.

Lila: “I like kids! As long as they keep their dirty fingers off me.” Amen to that.

So the lesson here is, if you have to admit to your friends that you were wrong about something, just distract them with a party.

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1 Comment »

  1. anon said,

    This is defintely the point that I stood really reading SVT and just bought them out of habit. I never read this one though!


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