I was a kid in the 80s, so naturally I loved those Choose Your Own Adventure books. This was a series of young adult books, put out by Bantam, which were interactive–they were written in second person, and “you,” the reader, could navigate your own way through the story via the choices given at the bottoms of the pages. This sort of interactive fiction is well known now, but in the 1970s, when the books first appeared, it was groundbreaking. The original CYOA series ran from 1979 to 1998, and has recently been picked up for a reprinting.

I have a collection of original CYOA books–no reprints–which I’ve been assembling for years. Even though I’m in my 40s, I still love to read the books. They’re as much fun as they were when I was a kid. So, I thought that as a continuing feature on this blog I’d review some of these books, which probably haven’t been reviewed in a while. The first one up is one of my all-time favorites. The picture at the top of the blog is a photo of my original copy from the early 80s.

The Mystery of Chimney Rock by Edward Packard

Published: 1979

The Mystery of Chimney Rock, one of the very first efforts (it’s #5 in the series) by CYOA founder Edward Packard, has one of the simplest plots in the whole series. “You” are vacationing in Connecticut–almost all the CYOA books take place while “you” are on summer vacation, visiting relatives–and your cousins Michael and Jane dare you to go inside Chimney Rock, a creepy, boarded-up old house on the hill which is (naturally) assumed to be haunted.

Pretty straightforward, right? The first choice is, of course, whether or not you agree. While choosing to go in yourself leads to a longer and more involved plot, you can choose to stay behind, in which case your cousin Jane goes where you fear to tread. Then, of course, you have to rescue her.

For such a simplistic plot, Chimney Rock is surprisingly engaging. The “mystery” of the title proves to have a couple of different layers. Most involve Mrs. Bigley, a wicked spinster who is unnaturally obsessed with her cat. Although clearly sanitized for a pre-teen audience, the roamings around Chimney Rock remind me a lot of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting, to which this book might be considered an homage.

Some of the highlights I enjoyed in the book were:

  • Jane’s Eleanor Lance-like freakout when she goes into the house, which feels like it’s drawn from Shirley Jackson. “I feel as if the bars are still there!” (p. 12)
  • A gruesome end that awaits you if you make the mistake of eating Mrs. Bigley’s cheese and crackers. “Run, eat, hide!” (p. 37)
  • A Borges-ian ending involving a broken porcelain cat, which is the only ending in the series (I think) that says “There Is No End.” (p. 60)
  • “The policeman pauses in the entryway near the back door and glances around. He opens a cupboard door as if to inspect it. He stands transfixed, staring into the cupboard. For a moment he opens his mouth, as if to scream, but no sound emerges. Then he staggers backward, turns and runs from the house.” (p. 64)
  • “A few hours later, two policemen find your body. They look at each other, and shake their heads. Speaking at the same time, they say the same thing–‘It’s the curse of Chimney Rock.'” (p. 108)
  • “AaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahachTHUNK!” (p. 119)

There are some hokey moments, including one ending that is right out of Scooby Doo (jewels hidden in the basement? Come on! That’s as bad as Bobby Ewing in the shower!) But on the whole, Mystery of Chimney Rock is surprisingly well done for a standard-issue haunted house plot.

This book also marks the first appearance of lawyer Gilliam Prem, who pops up again in various other books in the series.

Grade: A

I’ll be doing some more reviews of CYOA books. There are over 150 of them, so I don’t think I’ll run out in this lifetime!