Thanks to Goodreads for the image!
I’m actually kind of pissed that the cover to this book has been updated. Thank God for Goodreads having all the cover images on hand so you guys can bask in the early-80’s awesomeness that is the cover of The Dollhouse Murders. I mean, just look at Amy’s kick ass hair and clothes. Still the creepiness of the cover is almost certainly what drew me to the book as a young teenager. (Also, I’d like to point out the mistake. The grandfather doll doesn’t move to the attic. He moves to the master bedroom. C’mon Scholastic. Get that shit right!) I’m sorry, but this newer updated cover just doesn’t do it for me, especially considering the same glaring mistakes of doll placement:
Amy Treloar is twelve (nearly thirteen) years old and she has one big problem – her eleven year old sister, Louann. Louann is mentally retarded (is that even a PC word anymore?) and she is completely Amy’s responsibility while their parents are at work. Amy has to take Louann with her everywhere she goes, and she’s actually lost friends because they didn’t want to have to hang out with Louann all the time. Amy has made a new friend, Ellen. Ellen seems nice and is sympathetic to Amy when Louann gets in trouble for picking flowers at a florist shop in the mall. But, then Ellen cancels some plans they’d had and Amy is convinced that it’s because of Louann.
When the girls get home, Amy takes out her frustration at always having to watch Louann on their mother, who is shocked that Amy could possibly feel that way. She says that Louann is Amy’s responsibility and should always love being around her sister who looks up to her so much. Amy ought to feel ashamed of herself…blah blah blah. Amy hops on her bike and rides out to the old house where her dad was raised by his Grandparents and where Amy’s Aunt Clare (her dad’s 13 years older sister) is staying since she lost her job.
Aunt Clare is sympathetic to Amy’s plight and offers to let Amy stay in the creepy old house with her for a while. Amy’s parents surprisingly agree to it, after a neighbor who watches her own special needs grandchild says she’ll take care of Louann.
Amy and Aunt Clare get along very well. They are cleaning out the attic and Amy comes across a gorgeous dollhouse. It’s a perfect miniature of the house she’s staying in. Amy is enthralled by the dollhouse, but Aunt Clare seems less than happy to have found it. According to Aunt Clare, it was a gift for her fifteenth birthday from her Grandparents. Clare had been having trouble getting along with them since she and Paul (Amy’s dad) had come to live with them after the deaths of their parents a couple years earlier. At the time, Clare was ungrateful about the gift, and seeing it brought back memories of what a brat she acted like. Amy obviously wants to play with the dollhouse, but doesn’t want to offend Clare.
Amy has Ellen over and Ellen also loves the dollhouse. They set the dolls up around the dining room table before dinner. After dinner, Amy runs up to the attic to close the dollhouse and notices that the Grandmother doll has been moved to the parlor.Creepy.
Amy asks Clare how her grandparents died, and Clare refuses to talk about it. So Amy and Ellen hit the library to look up old obituaries in the local paper. What they find is shocking. Grandma and Grandpa Treloar were murdered in the house one evening while 18-year old Clare was out with a girlfriend. Amy’s then five year old dad was found asleep in the closet of the parlor. No suspects, no clues. The murder was never solved.
Clare finds out that Amy researched this at the library and is fuming. Amy tries to explain that she was just curious. Then up in the attic, Clare discovers that the dolls have been moved to the spots of their murders. Grandma in the parlor, Grandpa in the master bedroom, the little boy in the parlor closet and the teenage girl doll stowed away in the storage box. Clare is furious that Amy would do such a thing as make a game of her Great-Grandparents’ deaths. Amy insists that she didn’t move the dolls, but naturally Clare doesn’t believe her. Amy suspects a ghost.
Things are tense for a while, then Amy and Clare make up. Clare is allowing Amy and Ellen to host a slumber party because the girls have birthdays coming up. While Amy and Clare plan for the party, Amy continues to notice strange lights and sounds coming from the dollhouse and the dolls continuing to be moved to the spots of their murder.
Party day arrives and there’s a family emergency, requiring Amy’s mom to drop Louann off at Clare’s house. Which means Amy’s big party, which was supposed to be a break from Louann, has been ruined. But all is well, as Amy’s friends are sweet to Louann and include her in the party festivities. The girls at the party adore the dollhouse. That night, Amy awakens to find Louann missing. Amy finds Louann in the attic watching the dolls move in the dollhouse and the Grandmother doll crying in the parlor.
Once again, the next day Aunt Clare finds that the dolls have been moved to the spots of their murder. Amy defends herself and this time, Clare believes her. Clare breaks down and tells Amy she’s sure that her grandparents were murdered by her finace, a twenty six year old hard drinker who the grandparents didn’t approve of. And who died in an auto accident shortly after Clare’s grandparents were murdered. Amy describes what has been going on with the dolls. Clare decides to check out the books in the parlor that the Grandmother doll keeps pointing to. They take all the books off the shelves and a note slips out of one. In the Grandmother’s handwriting from the night of the murders, it says “He killed James. He wants money. He’s going to kill me too. We’ve always been generous to Reuben – how could he do this? Please God, don’t let Paul wake up.”
Who’s Reuben? Why the gardener of course! How convenient that Clare can stop feeling guilty about her no-good fiance! Clare is happier, the dolls stop moving. Amy accepts her mixed feelings about having Louann as a sister and moves back in with her parents. Also, Clare calls Louann a “burden” to Amy, which kind of pisses Amy off.
- As a kid, I was thrilled with the ending. Not so much as an adult. To much convenience and happy times. Clare is really quick to let go of her guilt, though now maybe she should feel guilty about besmirching the name of her dead fiance.
- Is it totally wrong that I wish Clare had been the murderer? Now that would have been a good ending!
- The ghost-iness of the book is fine, not quite up to the level of Mary Downing Hahn, but about par for the course for a 1980’s kids’ ghost story. The book is more effective as a family drama though. Amy’s mixed feeling toward her sister and the battles she has with her mother come across as realistic.
- I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to pick up on the fact that Louann has Down’s Syndrome, even though it’s never specifically stated in the book. Although twice she is called brain-damaged. Down’s people aren’t brain-damaged, it’s a chromosomal thing.
- Aunt Clare must weigh 300+ pounds. Her answer to everything? Snacks! And she makes really decadent snacks. Fudge, cookies, pizzas, etc. What was it with 1980’s kid-lit and food?
- The book that Grandma’s murder note was hidden in? Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Amy’s unsure it’s a coincidence. But…um yeah. Grandma is running from her murderer. I’m sure she’s totally thinking, “OK, I’ll write this note and stick it specifically in this book because after I die, I’m totally gonna haunt the dollhouse in the attic!”
- Oh yeah, Aunt Clare gives Louann the dollhouse.