NICHOLAS WILDE – Death Knell. Henry Holt & Co., hardcover, 1991. Published previously in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1990.

   The two protagonists in this fairly good locked room mystery are a pair of 14-year-old boys, good friends who, in spite of some very spooky conditions, decide to solve a murder of an old man in a securely sealed church crypt on a cold snowy night in rural England. Could it have been suicide? The only keys to the murder scene are lying next to the body, and the only door is blocked by a massively huge stone that has been moved from its place in the center of the crypt.

   As the author of this tale, Nicholas Wilde depends greatly on atmosphere: there is an old legend that the old abandoned church is haunted, its bell rings at various times with no one around, and most of the in-person investigation has to be done in the dark and/or bad weather. It helps that the two investigators are young boys: they have to talk to each other constantly to keep their courage up, adding to the sense of dread they have to overcome.

   The solution to the mystery is extremely cleverly done, and as usual, it takes several pages for the boys to explain how they figured it out. If I were the editor, though, I’d have asked the author for clearer explanations of what was going on during several crucial passages. It is not at all clear at times as to what is happening. I think Wilde was trying to finesse his way through those spots, and relying far too much on the boys’ somewhat panicky point of view of the events as they happened.

   The problem here with that approach is that he really didn’t have to. The plot is solid enough that he didn’t have to be so mysterious. Wilde could have been as clear as day in describing the scenes in question, and the story would have been just as mystifying. Maybe even more so.