In the Hall with the Knife by Diana Peterfreund

Review by Shanleigh Klassen

Amulet Books, Hachette Book Group, October 2019

298 pages, hardcover, $22.99 CAD, 978-1-41973-834-0

Ages 14+, Grades 10-12

Young Adult, Mystery, Horror/Thriller

“Well, there’s no one here.” [Said Finn.]

“Did you check behind the curtains?” [Scarlet] pointed at the long velvet curtains framing the window at the far end of the room. They hung perfectly still in thick, deep, cranberry folds. “That’s where they always hide in the movies.”

“Well, that’s pretty cliched, then.” But Finn rattled the curtains, just to be sure. No murderers fell out.

In this fun, entirely teenage, reimagining of Clue, Diana Peterfreund channels the campy energy of both the legendary board game and the beloved 1980s cult classic film.

On a dark, cold, stormy night at the prestigious Blackbrook Academy in Maine, a mismatched group of stranded students band together in classic whodunnit style when their headmaster is mysteriously murdered. Among them are Scarlet Mistry, the rising social media queen; Phineas “Finn” Plum, Blackbrook’s resident science prodigy; Orchid Mckee, the invisible wallflower; Beth “Peacock” Picach, the tennis star; Vaughn Green, the scholarship student; and Sam “Mustard” Meastor, the military academy transfer student. Each has their own secrets, and with a murderer on the loose, everyone is a suspect.

When reading a novel based on a Hasbro board game, more than a little grain of salt needs to be taken. As a fan of the film, I was entirely on board with a high school alternate universe retelling, seemingly inspired by the same popular fanfiction trope. Peterfreund’s own love for the game and movie is palpable as she delightfully weaves in references from each with surprising ease. In fact, her enthusiasm is such that when the mystery is solved (in classic Clue fashion, by naming the suspect, room, and weapon), I felt as delighted reading it as I’m sure she was when writing it.

But really, the only reason for a Clue-inspired YA novel to exist is to reimagine those colourful figures of our collective detective-game-playing childhoods into actualized personas. Therein lies Peterfreund’s ultimate hurdle: living up to some very high expectations. Between the rotating panel of six different POV narrators, the first 100 pages are almost entirely dedicated to establishing each of them with a distinct voice, motive, and agenda for the ensuing drama. While in the end I appreciated Peterfreund’s dedication, making the choice to award each character their own third person perspective made the first half of the story a bit of a struggle. Especially because you already knew a murder was going to take place. Getting to the point in the narrative where the mystery begins turns into an exercise in patience.   

Overall, In the Hall with the Knife is an amusing teen romp, perfect for the cool, rainy days ahead. And with more than enough mysteries left to unravel, I’m not entirely opposed to picking up the inevitable sequel next year.

Shanleigh Klassen hails from the frozen metropolis of Winnipeg, MB, pursuing an M.A. in Children’s Literature at UBC. She is a bookseller at heart and a scholar in practice. Shanleigh loves anything with a fairy tale spin, some dark magic for flavour, and an anti-hero at the centre, but she’s not picky.

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