As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved to read. My parents claim that I used to escape from my crib and gather up all my books around me even before I had the ability to read them. I still have fond memories of my Mom and my Auntie Linda reading all my favorite children’s books to me over and over again. They did it right …no half assed story time…different voices for the characters, intense inflection, staying on the page long enough so my young eyes could soak up all the illustrations…you know, all that jazz that kids love.
Well, one of my all time favorite kid’s books still sits on my office bookshelf. CRABAPPLE NIGHT (by Jan Wahl, illustrated by Steven Kellogg) has a place of honor next to the more adult fare like, EDUCATION OF A FELON (by Edward Bunker), COSMIC RETRIBUTION: THE INFERNAL ART OF JOE COLEMAN, and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (by John Irving).
I was obsessed with the gritty pen and ink illustrations and the dark themes contained in this magical tome…uh, a 28 page book is pretty long for a little guy…oh, and the names of the characters are priceless…anyway…on to the book.
That’s Pickle Puss, mean ol’ Louella Fink’s cat.
The story is fairly simple:
The neighborhood kids (Emmy, Philomena, and Reginald) all hate “mean, grouchy, crabby Louella Fink.” She lives in a creepy house with her mean cat…alone.
She’s alone because her husband went missing one night. The kids have some ideas about the disappearance of Mr. Fink…and they all involve grisly murder…committed by none other than, Louella!
One sunny morning, a neighborhood Scotch terrier (Ambrose) was found poisoned to death. The kids are sure horrible Mrs. Fink was the murderer, so they decide to get revenge. They put a dead rat in her mailbox, soap skulls on her windows, and Reginald even goes so far as to dress up as the ghost of the late Scotch terrier and terrorize the old lady!
Of course, the old Fink calls the sheriff, Clem “Baboon” McWhirter and the Reverend, Percival Goldenrod, to keep those hooligan kids out of her yard. Clem sets up a stakeout, but to no avail…the kids pull off another midnight raid while “Baboon” is catnapping in his squad car. Louella’s ready with her shotgun this time and all the commotion leads to a disorientated sheriff engaging in a shootout with the frightened old woman.
This next picture was the picture for me in this book.
Look at the hole in his freakin’ arm…and the needle…and the look on “Baboon’s” face…I couldn’t look away.
After all the shooting, things pretty much go back to normal…the kids hate The Fink and The Fink hates the kids. Some more stuff happens, but I’m not going to ruin the story for you….but there’s this horrific image:
What in the Sam Hill could that be? A monster? A ghost? The real murderer of Mr. Fink and Ambrose?!
I won’t tell…but if you want to spend the night some time, maybe I’ll read CRABAPPLE NIGHT to you before we go to bed.