I never became too attached to Johnny Dixon growing up, I read all the Bellairs I could get my hands on, but despite the gorier aspects of Dixon titles im my memory he was someone just along for the ride in the books, not the main focus. The Professor was much more interesting.
Reading 'The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt' as an adult, however, I can finally understand where Johnny is coming from. The main plot involves the solution to a rich eccentric's puzzle-will and an evil presence at that man's country estate. The real story is Johnny processing the loneliness that made him friends with Professor Roderick Childermass in the first place. Johnny's father has gone missing while fighting in Korea and his grandparents had been raising him in the meantime, but now it might become a permanent situation. To get his mind off of the news, Johnny is forced to go to Boy Scout camp where he meets a friend his own age, the irritating Fergie, and together they find a few hints about the missing will - and the horror guarding its location. When his grandmother becomes ill and is in need of an expensive operation, Johnny is desperate to help - and is willing to face that horror again. By the way, when Johnny comes home and finds his grandmother ill, that was more horrifying than anything else that I can think of in Bellairs' canon.
Bellairs books were best when the mystery came secondary to the emotional plight of the characters, such as in 'The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring', and Johnny's wild adventures through time and space and zombies never connected with me personally. It looks like at least these first Dixon books were aware of a need for that connection.
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