The Yellow House Mystery is the first REAL mystery in the Boxcar Children series. If you don't count the mystery of why these kids love being homeless more than anything else.
The first few chapters focus on Cousin Joe, who has reconnected with his old high school flame, Alice. The two of them work together on Surprise Island. It's not long before they marry each other and go on a honeymoon...to Surprise Island. That's right. Their honeymoon was at their work. Isn't Grandfather a millionaire? Couldn't he have paid for a REAL honeymoon?
With all this focus on Surprise Island, the Boxcar Children remember the abandoned yellow house on the property. Grandfather tells them the house's story.
Forty years ago, a man named Bill McGregor lived there. He was in charge of the family's horses. One day, Bill sold two racehorses and disappeared with all the money. Nobody has seen him since. The police searched the house multiple times, but they found no evidence whatsoever.
Maybe the police were drunk, because the Boxcar Children easily find evidence inside the yellow house. It's a secret letter, hidden behind a brick in the chimney. The letter is from Bill's brother, and it says the money is hidden in Bill's other house. I'm guessing that Bill probably knows his own address, but just in case he doesn't, the letter says the house is on Bear Trail, in Maine.
So our heroes are off to Bear Trail! That's a state park for canoers, and by huge coincidence, Joe worked as a guide there, when he was a teenager. If our heroes were smart, they'd go directly to the area with houses and solve the mystery right away. Nope! They decide to go the long way around, which means they have to take a five day canoe trip.
And that's the main thrust of this book. It's 100 pages of camping, which doesn't have anything to do with the mystery. It's just the kids travelling through the woods.
They have a series of short adventures, like packing for the trip, meeting a guide on the trail, and visiting a logging camp. The most interesting episode is visiting a cyclops cave, I mean, uh...a sudden storm which causes them to lose their food and build emergency shelter.
In the end, they arrive at the area with the houses. The book puts a lot of emphasis on an old hermit, who is the same age as Bill. *epic foreshadowing* After two days, our heroes realize that the hotel they're staying in is the house they're looking for. They search all over, and Benny finds the money hidden under the stairs.
Benny also finds Bill! He's the old hermit, naturally. Bill explains that everything is his brother's fault. His brother took the money for gambling purposes. When Bill couldn't find the missing money, he decided to run away forever and become a hermit.
And by "run away forever", I mean "he moved about half a mile down the block". Amazingly, that was far enough to confuse his brother's creditors.
The Boxcar Children convince Bill to rejoin society, and Bill is overjoyed to hear that the wife he abandoned is still alive. He gets cleaned up and goes right back to his old life of working for Grandfather.
Knowing Grandfather, he's going to charge Bill 40 years worth of interest on the unpaid money.
This book is okay. The main problem is that it doesn't know if it wants to be a mystery, or a camping trip. And so both storylines get hurt. Camping fans will be disappointed, because you have to wait five chapters before the adventures begin, and mystery fans will be disappointed, because the mystery gets ignored for a hundred pages.
The camping trip is pretty much in line with the two previous books, with one major difference. Instead of the Boxcar Children being independent and living by themselves, now they rely on Joe to do everything for them. It's not as interesting to see the Boxcar Children have adults guide them through camping. These kids have lived in the wilderness for at least half a year, right? They can figure it out on their own!
The mystery was my favorite part! At least, the first half of exploring the house was interesting. The second half of the mystery was less interesting. It was kind of obvious that the old hermit was Bill, since there are literally no other options, and I wasn't amused when Benny found the money by complete accident.
Overall, I'd say this is a transition book, one that changes the Boxcar Children from an independent kid series to a mystery series. It's not bad, but it's definitely not as good as the two previous books. I'm going to give it the average score. I give Boxcar Children #3, The Yellow House Mystery, a 5 out of 10.