Vintage Scooby-Doo episodes, while fun to watch when you’re bored and there’s nothing else on TV, presented a lot of annoyances to me when I was younger. First there was that period where the episodes featured nonsensical guest stars (oh man, did anyone else see that episode where the gang solves a mystery with Batman and Robin?), and then there’s the fact that these kids always seemed to have the exact wrong response when faced with a monster or ghost or whatever – an average-sized mummy or ghost or whatever jumps out at them, and they all run screaming. For god’s sake, there are four of you and a large dog, just tackle the son of a bitch.
Also there’s the fact that whenever the mystery concerned a haunting or a weird monster, the reason behind it was almost always that someone wanted to scare people off for one of three reasons: the land/property/whatever is really valuable but can be bought for cheap if the culprit convinces everyone that the place is haunted, the place is the headquarters for some criminal operation, or there’s some kind of treasure that the culprit wants to hunt for without having to deal with meddling kids in his business. (I swear I’m going somewhere with all of this, just stay with me)
And the kids were, honestly, pretty fucking annoying. They had the stupidest quips, their plans for catching the culprit only ever worked because they failed spectacularly, and every single episode Fred would be like, “Let’s split up, gang!” and then they waste the next fifteen minutes trying to find each other in the haunted amusement park after they got separated.
My point is, if you enjoy mystery stories about hauntings and amateur detective antics but find Scooby-Doo and Co. annoying as hell, I recommend picking up Georgette Heyer’s Footsteps in the Dark as soon as possible. It’s like Heyer’s preemptive strike against Scooby-Doo and his associated nonsense – the mystery centers around a haunted house with a menacing, very physical ghost known as the Monk, our detectives are quippy (but actually clever) young people who blunder their way around the mystery but manage to be sensible about things (while still getting separated at one point, but still), and the reason behind the haunting is one of the three I listed above. Out of respect for spoilers I won’t say which one, but will say that Heyer very cleverly has her characters discuss all those reasons as the possible explanation for the haunting, so we as the readers immediately dismiss them and start trying to come up with another explanation. It’s very smart, and fooled me completely.
It must be said that I guessed the culprit about halfway through the book, as well as a couple big twists that get revealed at the end, but this didn’t even bother me. The haunted house that Heyer has created is genuinely creepy, and the Monk (as well as the other goings-on in the house) is especially scary. Also the four main characters, as I mentioned, are cute and quippy and generally delightful, trading witty banter and clever allusions with an ease that would impress Lord Peter Wimsey. There’s even a romance element to the mystery, and it was surprisingly well-done and not at all cloying, although it ends on such a ridiculous note that I can’t fully support it.
All in all, a fun and creepy haunted house story that shows those meddling kids how it’s really done. I will definitely be looking up more Heyer mysteries in the future.
Verdict: four out of five stars