Book Review: In the Hall With the Knife: A Clue Mystery by Diana Peterfreund
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In the Hall with the Knife
Hardcover | Kindle
A Clue Mystery: Book 1
Written by Diana Peterfreund
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Release date: October 8, 2019

A storm is raging both outside and in Maine’s elite Blackbrook Academy. The outside storm is threatening to cut off the island-bound Academy from the mainland stranding what few students were not already evacuated. The one inside is much worse. Among the remaining nine students and one staff member could be a cold-blooded murderer, one who just killed Headmaster Boddy… with a knife… in the hall…

Sound a lot like the classic game of Clue? That’s because it is. In the Hall with the Knife is the start of a brand new book series for young adults based on the board game. We have a lot of the classic characters here — although their titles may be different because they’re boarding school aged and not the adults to which we’re accustomed — such as Peacock, Green, Mustard, Plum, Scarlet, White, and Boddy (the original victim). But for those of us still playing our old childhood copies of the board game who may not be accustomed to recent developments, what you must realize is that Mrs. White is no longer a playable character in the game. She was retired in 2016 and replaced with Dr. Orchid McKee. While Mrs. White is still in this book, she’s a background character playing the role of house mom in Tudor House where a vast majority of this story is set. Orchid is part of the book as well as a student who, like all the rest, has motive.

Admittedly, I was really excited to read this book. I always loved this game, despite being terrible at it. And I do mean terrible. Plus, the original 1985 film starring Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Leslie Ann Warren, and so many others is a classic. I can never get enough of that film. So, yes, I was all in for a book series.

It’s a solid read, if I’m being totally honest. Plus it’s pretty quick. I dug the idea of setting it in a boarding school and de-aging a lot of the characters from the adult versions we know and love.

But “love” is the catch here.

I do love the classic versions of the characters. However, I do not have that same affiliation with their younger selves. As with any book, the story continually unfolds and you learn a little more about each character and their potential motives in killing Headmaster Boddy. But what you learn doesn’t make you come to like the characters all that much. They’re not particularly sympathetic and you don’t wind up rooting for any of them. Well, at least I didn’t. The closest I came to empathy was with Orchid and I think that’s just because she’s new to the game and never played a part in my love of it or the film.

Part of this disdain could also stem from an overabundance of young adult literature these days in which the focus has been on toughening up the image of teenage and YA protagonists by giving them more adult situations to work their way through. It does get old, though.

I think when I saw this book on the review list, I was hoping for more of a fun romp through a board game setting that would trigger nostalgic feelings like the movie always does. Instead, I got The O.C. or Riverdale set in private school. Perhaps that’s your thing. It just wasn’t necessarily mine.

I am curious how a book series will play out. I don’t think it would be possible to carry through this storyline anymore so I’m imagining an anthology series along the lines of American Horror Story where you have the same crew (cast members in AHS; characters in Clue), but in totally different environments and at a variety of ages. The stories will all stand alone so you can pick up at any book and not worry about missing out on references from previous stories. I’d even dig a series of short stories focusing on character’s backgrounds free of the murder scenarios. That could be fun.

From the publisher:

When a storm strikes at Blackbrook Academy, an elite prep school nestled in the woods of Maine, a motley crew of students””including Beth “Peacock” Picach, Orchid McKee, Vaughn Green, Sam “Mustard” Maestor, Finn Plum, and Scarlet Mistry””are left stranded on campus with their headmaster. Hours later, his body is found in the conservatory and it’s very clear his death was no accident. With this group of students who are all hiding something, nothing is as it seems, and everyone has a motive for murder. Fans of the CLUE board game and cult classic film will delight in Diana Peterfreund’s modern reimagining of the brand, its characters, and the dark, magnificent old mansion with secrets hidden within its walls.

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