Rosie Carpenter has a lot to worry about. Her father has moved away to work in a better job, but her mother refuses to leave the family home. Her piano recital is coming up, and she is stuck on one particularly tricky section of her piece, The Dance of the Dinosaurs, a problem which she attributes to the fact that she only has nine fingers. On top of these problems, she is also convinced a prowler has been visiting her house. Once she heard the door slam, and another time, she actually saw someone run into the night! More than anything, Rosie just wants things to go back to normal, but she’s convinced that will never happen unless her dad comes home.
The Midnight Mystery by Betty Ren Wright is an Apple paperback published in 1991. The story was originally published in 1989, under the title Rosie and the Dance of the Dinosaurs. While the original title sounded perhaps too juvenile for its intended audience of ages 9 to 12, the 1991 title is even worse because it barely describes what the book is actually about. Almost nothing in the story takes place at midnight, and the mystery is really only one element of Rosie’s life that figures into the plot. I’m not sure what else I would have called the book, given its many disparate storylines, but I think Scholastic could have done a better, or at least more accurate, job of it.
What really got my attention as I was reading the story was how passive and weak Rosie’s mother seemed. The story seems to buy into an antiquated notion that without a man in her life, a woman is completely defenseless. I thought it was strange that Rosie’s mother couldn’t cope with even the smallest problems, like a bat or a mouse getting into the house, and I thought it was equally annoying that she refused to move to Milwaukee with her husband when he got a new job. It is true that Rosie also found these things annoying, but she also seemed to accept them as normal behavior for a woman whose husband is away, and that didn’t feel authentic to me.
The story builds up a fair amount of suspense, but I was disappointed when the prowler’s identity was finally revealed. The big revelation isn’t exciting enough for all the build-up the reader is given. The resolution of the piano recital story line is much more satisfying, and though I didn’t necessarily buy it, I appreciated the effort to shine a ray of hope on the family situation as well. I think the story simply took on too much to be able to tie everything up in a satisfying conclusion.
Betty Ren Wright is 85 years old now, and her most recently published book - Princess for a Week - is already 6 years old. Though I can’t specifically remember reading any of her books as a kid, I do remember her name as an author some of my teachers might have recommended. Her best-known book seems to be The Dollhouse Murders, which actually sounds pretty good to me now, even if I wouldn’t have touched it with a ten-foot pole as a kid. Unfortunately, while many of her titles sound like good, scary horror stories, The Midnight Mystery is about as tame as it could be, and it would be likely to disappoint avid mystery readers and horror fans.
I purchased The Midnight Mystery from my local used book store.