Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book Review for The Joker and The Chest by Bruce E. Murphy

The Joker and the Chest

 The Joker and the Chest is about a teenage boy, John Marcellus. John has an irresistible compulsion to play “pranks” on handicapped people. He doesn't know why he does it except that he gets a “thrill” doing it. After his third prank his family sends him to a boarding school where he meets up with Morgan Fairway. Morgan is the headmaster's son and they become friends.

While helping to transfer everything out of an old school building into a new one, Morgan and John come across a decrepit chest in the attic of the old building. Apparently there is a mystery surrounding this chest and Mrs. Katanski, the elderly custodian of the school, knows something about it and is anxious for the boys to stay away from this chest. Could the chest contain evidence of a murder committed years ago?

Let me stop right there and say the above two paragraphs contain ingredients for a good story. Unfortunately Mr. Murphy does not develop any of these ideas nor does he tie them together. A plausible explanation is never given to why an otherwise nice, respectful boy like John impulsively plays pranks on helpless people. I might add that Murphy's use of the word “prank” is flawed. John goes beyond pranks. What he does sadistic and cruel. Slamming a child's hand in a door is not playful, neither is taking the crutches of someone with a broken leg or knocking all the books onto the floor of a girl with a broken arm. It's mean and hateful.

After an accident where John almost dies he is finally “cured” of his need to play pranks on others but his reformation of character is rather abrupt. Murphy would have done well to delve deeper in to the psyche of John. Why does he like hurting helpless people? Why is it so out of character for him to do so? These questions are not adequately answered.

Totally unrelated to this lack of character study is the “mystery” of a chest in the attic. In the end (which isn't long in coming-the whole book is fifty-eight pages) we find out...nothing. The mystery isn't solved, the story of the murder case is never told in full and we never find out why old Mrs. Katanski is so protective of the chest.
All in all a poorly developed plot with poorly developed characters. The makings are there. Maybe Mr. Murphy could go back and flesh his story out. 

I received a complimentary copy of  this book as a member of the
Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team. Visit 
to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.

If you'd like to buy this book please do so through my link.  Thanks!


Unknown said...

I appreciate you honest review.
Hope things are going well in Texas. Some day I'd like to hear you play your folk music instruments.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Thanks, Mike. Whenever you and your family are in town you'll have to let us know. Lots of folk music groups around here.

AO said...

hi Sharon! it just makes me wonder why the author riddled the story with a lot of gaps. the book's plot sounds interesting though and your honest review piqued my interest somehow.

by the way, thanks for stopping by my blog earlier and for following. returned the love too. have a great weekend! c",)

Sharon Wilfong said...

Aobibliophile: thanks for visiting back! I think the man needs to rewrite the book. It could be so much better.

Jenny Milchman said...

Wow--how interesting. The book's ingredients indeed sound promising--sadistic children can be some of the most flawed and intriguing in fiction--plus the mystery of a school, an old chest...How unfortunate that nothing got played out fully or tied together. I wonder what this says about Dorrance, which I had thought produced some great horror? Thanks for the review.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for visiting and following my blog! My daughter is such a talented musician (and her husband.) They moved to NY for him to attend the Manhattan School of Music. He graduated last year. Look forward to more visits! Donna

Sharon Wilfong said...

@Donna. Wow! The Manhattan School of music. My best wishes for their success. Thanks for visiting back.

Sharon Wilfong said...

@Jenny: Really? I didn't know Dorrance produced good horror. I've only been reviewing for them for the last 6 months. I've mostly been reviewing nonfiction. This book was listed under juvenile. Thanks for visiting!