Now that I’m back (I hope) to reviewing Choose Your Own Adventure books on a regular basis, there’s a huge stack of these books I have yet to get through. Some of them are no doubt awesome; some of them are perfectly meh. I think it’s safe to say that The Mystery of Echo Lodge, though springing from a decent premise with at least the potential to be a good adventure, falls squarely in “meh” territory.
The Mystery of Echo Lodge by Louise Munro Foley (illustrated by Don Hedin)
Published: February 1985
Number in the CYOA Series: 42
This is (I think) Louise Munro Foley’s third book for the CYOA series. I haven’t reviewed them all, but her first, The Lost Tribe (1983), got an A minus review for me. She’s a decent writer and has an excellent knack for making a location a vibrant part of the story, as she did in The Lost Tribe with New Zealand. In The Mystery of Echo Lodge, the locale is a sleepy winter ski lodge in the Sierras. The location is great and presents many possibilities, but the excitement needle barely moves, and I went into this book prepared to give it the maximum benefit of the doubt.
You’re a kid and you’ve been sent to work (and vacation, when possible) over winter break at Echo Lodge near Lake Tahoe. The place is run by your aunt Sadie. Ms. Foley does not disclose whether Sadie is the sister of your uncle who does research on Maori tribes in New Zealand, or perhaps your uncle Bruce who’s studying the Pyramids. It’d be fun if, just once, there was some continuity in these books. Anyway, I digress. You get to snowy Echo Lodge and meet Sadie’s henchmen (and women), and old bellman named Russell and a battle-ax house detective named Heidi who boasts she once worked for Interpol. I guess the NSA wasn’t hiring? Just as you get there a fire alarm sounds and Heidi tasks you to go round up the guests. You hear a radio playing and water running in room 223 but can’t open the door. Your first choice is whether you try to force the door, or go downstairs for a key.
This isn’t the most riveting first choice, to be sure. There’s also the fact that the tension is set in mind by a random event (the fire alarm), which doesn’t bode well for the plotting. Anyway, if you get into room 223 you’re attacked by a mysterious hawk, and you also find some mystic bones. There’s a hint later on that the hawk is an avatar–an animal in human form–related to shamanistic beliefs of the local Paiute tribe. Gee, you don’t think Echo Lodge might be built on an old Indian burial ground, do you? I’ve never seen that used in a story before! (*cough*The Shining*cough*) But yes, Ms. F. chooses to go there.
And if a strange empty room with ghostly manifestations doesn’t have you thinking of The Shining even without calling it room 237, it should. In fact, The Mystery of Echo Lodge might even be considered an homage to The Shining, if you really stretch the word homage. Snowbound locale, creepy guests, supernatural goings-on, and an Indian burial-ground origin. But it’s not quite done as well as The Shining, nor even as creatively as some of the weird conjectures surrounding the movie by its more obsessed fans, as chronicled in the documentary Room 237.
In any event, though, The Mystery of Echo Lodge never stays on topic enough to be a true supernatural thriller, as it probably could have been if The Shining angle was more consistently played. But as it is, the “mystery” of Echo Lodge has a number of permutations, only a few of which are supernatural. A fair number involve Aunt Sadie’s competitors at the Maple Leaf Inn trying to run her out of business. Because, of course, no businessman running a Sierra ski lodge would ever think of trying to buy out his competitors legally. No, trying to cause huge avalanches to bury the competing ski lodge under the side of a mountain, potentially killing dozens of innocent people, is the go-to strategy in this situation. Or poisoning their guests by slipping a mickey in the soup. That happens all the time in the hotel business, right?
With as little unified plotline as there is and as much conceptual ADD as there is in this book, I definitely had the sense that Ms. Foley had little more than a basic concept and locale–the ski lodge in the Sierras–really worked out in any detail. The plotlines feel rushed and random. There’s no unifying principle here, no specific objective to obtain. The “mystery” is not very mysterious. It’s just you going through a series of set-pieces. And the endings are pretty dull. You die in an avalanche (more than once); you freeze to death (more than once); of course you live happily ever after a few times but there’s no sense of victory or accomplishment. And the part where you stop an armed gunman in the lodge kitchen by throwing potatoes and a pepper shaker at him is just a groaner. Yes, read that again. You stop an armed gunman by throwing potatoes at him.
This is not a bad book, but there’s just not much here to commend it. It’s paint-by-numbers. A beautiful locale and the Shining ambience is mostly wasted. Shame.
Next up, I think, will be Grand Canyon Odyssey. I hope it’s better than this one.