Goodreads: In the Hall with the Knife
Series: Clue Mystery #1
Source: Publisher Giveaway
Published: October 8, 2019
A murderer could be around every corner in this thrilling YA trilogy based on the board game CLUE!
When a storm strikes at Blackbrook Academy, an elite prep school nestled in the woods of Maine, a motley crew of students—including Beth “Peacock” Picach, Orchid McKee, Vaughn Green, Sam “Mustard” Maestor, Finn Plum, and Scarlet Mistry—are left stranded on campus with their headmaster. Hours later, his body is found in the conservatory and it’s very clear his death was no accident. With this group of students who are all hiding something, nothing is as it seems, and everyone has a motive for murder. Fans of the CLUE board game and cult classic film will delight in Diana Peterfreund’s modern reimagining of the brand, its characters, and the dark, magnificent old mansion with secrets hidden within its walls.
A YA mystery inspired by the CLUE board game sounds like fun, but ultimately In the Hall with the Knife was bland and predictable, and I will not be continuing with the series.
The CLUE connection is itself tenuous, and it feels as if Peterfreund is trying to force allusions rather than having them naturally occur in the book. First, many of the character names are a stretch. Some are actually the character’s names while others are nicknames, but even the characters themselves think it’s a bit ridiculous. Peacock and Mustard, in particularly, get ribbed on for having absurd names. Peterfreund then tries to give her characters some of the personality traits of the original board game characters, but it all comes across as a faint flavoring rather than a convincing adaptation. “Plum,” for instance, is one of the top students at the school, and Mustard just transferred from a military school. Overall, however, I think Peterfreund could have just told this story without making it a “CLUE story,” so it didn’t really work for me as something inspired by the board game.
The characterizations are also incredibly flat. That’s not entirely unusual for a mystery, where often the plot is more the point than any sort of in-depth character study or development. However, Peacock is so flat that she comes across as some sort of tennis machine who thinks only about tennis, her diet, and her exercise schedule. Even when someone dies and she becomes one of the suspects, her thoughts are on tennis and training for tennis. Peterfreund tries to give her slightly more dimension by the end of the story, but by then it’s too late.
The other characters are only marginally better– and unfortunately it’s actually a flaw that so many of them have chapters from their own POV. I get that the author is probably trying to mirror the board game, where it’s all the players trying to find the culprit, so she didn’t want to have a single narrator or master detective, but it kills some of the suspense when there are so many characters writing from their own POV to the effect of, “OMG, I am so scared there is a murderer here! Who is it?? What should I do???” It makes the reader feel as if, well, those characters certainly are NOT the murderer! Even worse is that most don’t really have great “plausible motivations.” Am I really supposed to believe someone killed the headmaster over something like not getting an A on a test? Actually killed him? I think not.
In the end, the mystery was easy for me to solve, and I was bored most of the book. I wouldn’t recommend it, and I will be on the lookout for better YA mysteries to read.