A billion thanks to Choo who loaned me her copy of John Bellair's The House with a Clock in its Walls (1973). I hadn't read it since I was a kid and didn't even know I wanted to re-read it until I got another look at the wonderful Edward Gorey illustrations and stepped back into the town of New Zebedee, Michigan.
The book begins with ten-year-old Lewis Barnavelt riding a bus to meet his uncle and new guardian, Jonathan Barnavelt, after both of his parents were killed in a car crash. Lewis is an overweight kid who likes to read a lot and cries easily. He fits right in with his eccentric uncle and his neighbor and best friend, the elderly Florence Zimmermann. They play a lot of poker, stay up late, drink hot cocoa, and explore the large and mysterious house that Jonathan bought after the death of its previous owner, the creepy and evil wizard Isaac Izard and his wife Selenna. Everything is generally happy and fine for Lewis, but every night the house is plagued with worry over the mysterious and ominous ticking of a Doomsday clock in the walls.
Lewis soon notices enough magical occurrences around the house to learn that his uncle is a warlock, and friendly Florence is a good witch. After his unlikely friendship with local popular kid Tarby starts to sour, Lewis tries to win him back through a series of magical demonstrations that eventually lead them two of them into the local graveyard at midnight on Halloween with some scribbled notes on Necromancy. Eventually Lewis's actions bring a confrontation with the not-quite-dead-yet Izard's and their deadly clock.
This book is a fun and dark fantasy, and Lewis is the ultimate underdog. Anyone who liked Harry Potter or enjoys the work of Edward Gorey (whose illustrations are perfectly matched to Bellair's story), should check this one out.
[Also, I know I read Bellair's other two Lewis Barnavelt books (The Figure in the Shadows and The Letter, The Witch, and The Ring) when I was a kid but I had no idea that someone else continued the series in the 1990s by completing some of Bellair's unfinished manuscripts and then writing his own original books based on Bellair's characters). Has anyone read any of these?]