Old Favorites: The Mystery of the Witches’ Bridge

Sounds a little redundant, doesn’t it?

Mysteries were always one of my favorite types of books to read, and mysteries that took place in a location I could recognize and had visited?  Those were the best! The Mystery of the Witches’ Bridge , by Barbee Oliver Carleton, was a mystery that took place in Massachusetts…  Or maybe Maine.  Actually, it’s not really clear exactly where the book takes place, but it’s definitely somewhere along coastal New England. There are salt marshes, ancestors accused of being witches, a longstanding feud between the Pride and the Bishop families, and the nearby towns of York and Pride’s Point.  Boston is within an afternoon drive, so it’s definitely set somewhere between Maine and Massachusetts!  (Warning: review includes spoilers)

* * *

Dan Pride has come to Pride’s Point to live with his Uncle Julian after the death of his parents in London. Everything about his new home is strange to him…from the musty old mansion to the salty sea air to Caliban, Uncle Julian’s massive unfriendly dog.

Mrs. Corey, the housekeeper, and Billy Ben, the handyman, try to help Dan understand his new home by telling him the  stories surrounding the Pride family. There’s the cursed ancestor, accused of being a witch. The Fiddler, whose violin music can be heard when something is threatening the family, and the feud with the Bishops, another local family.  All the stories do though, is make everything feel stranger to Dan.

When Dan meets another boy named Pip and his twin sister Gilly in town, he thinks things are looking up. When he hears the mysterious music floating over the marsh one night, he’s hopeful that his new friends can help him figure out what’s going on.  But then his uncle meets Pip, and Dan is in big  trouble. Pip, it turns out, is actually Philip Bishop, and suddenly Dan is forbidden from seeing him.

Can Dan convince Uncle Julian that Pip is not his enemy? Can the boys work together to solve the mystery of the violin music? Can they find the missing money that restarted the feud between the Bishops and the Prides?  Dan doesn’t know, but if he’s going to make Pride’s Point his new home, he has to try.

* * *

I used to read and re-read this book when I was a kid.  The descriptions of the tangy salt marsh, the strange lights in the fog, the mysterious mansion with violin music wafting through the night…it filled me with delicious shivers.   As he follows the clues to unravel the mystery of his new home, Dan’s struggle to become a part of this new world, and the danger he finds himself in while he’s learning who he can trust and what is important to him is  both thrilling and heartwarming.

My fifth grade teacher read the first half of this book to us after lunch. (She never finished any of the books she read, so I always took them out of the library and read them before she even got through the second installment.) As I remember, the class was enthralled, and I ended up relating the rest of the book to many of the non-readers. Even though it was written over 40 years ago (in 1967),  it doesn’t feel dated at all. It’s definitely a book that fourth, fifth and even sixth grade students will enjoy. I know I did!

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5 thoughts on “Old Favorites: The Mystery of the Witches’ Bridge

  1. I read this book when I was about 12years old and really liked it, I am 32 years old now. I have the amazon Kindle and would love it if it were available for the kindle for my children to read or to have it be on audio books to be read to my kids. I just know they would love it.

    • Luckily, many libraries do still own books like The Mystery of the Witches Bridge, and other old favorites.

      I wish that Kindle (and Barnes and Noble and Sony) executives would figure out that they could have a big market in offering out-of-print books…especially children’s books. Everyone want to re-read their childhood favorites, and many of them are no longer in print. Many libraries do still have older books available, but they’re not always in very durable shape. Others can be found at online used bookstores, but the most popular are sometimes very expensive. I hope that eventually, someone figures out how to offer them!

  2. I corresponded often with Ms. Carleton, who passed away a few years ago. This was one of my favorites from childhood as well, and we are working on a screenplay to produce it (with Ms. Carleton’s and her family’s consent).

    (You might consider noting your review has spoilers.)

    Stay tuned.

    • It’s always wonderful to hear that someone corresponded with an author. While I was a prolific reader as a child, I never thought to write a letter to an author. I wish I had. (As an adult, I have, and it’s always been a lovely experience.)

      Seriously? I would love to see The Witches Bridge as a movie!

      Sorry about the spoilers. I’ll make a note.

  3. Hey, I am the one who connected Ted Savas with the Carletons! You may laugh when you hear how I became involved with them. “Mystery of the Witches’ Bridge” has been my lifelong favorite book since ordering it from Scholastic in the Fourth Grade. (I keep a list of every book I ever read and am just two short of 1,300 now, and 45 years and all of those books later it’s still my favorite!) Junior year in high school I attended a boarding school. A girl I considered a complete idiot and utterly disliked proclaimed that was HER favorite book and could even quote certain passages! I was so indignant and incensed I fired off a red hot fan letter to Mrs. Carleton in care of Scholastic Books. She wrote a warm and gracious reply. We stayed in touch, enjoyed three personal visits, and she sent me Christmas greetings every year for as long as she was able. It was really funny when I told her of a childhood nightmare, that someone had torn the cover off my copy of MotWB, and replaced it with a silly cartoonish cover. My mother was trying to console me that the book was otherwise undamaged and the story the same. Years later had to laugh when a reprint came out with an entirely different cover! Same great book. Recently I made a couple of attempts to give a copy to a child and both times it ended up back in the local thrift store. Had to wonder if it was because the child’s name is Bella and that name has sinister connotations in the book!

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