Some things aren’t worth the extra credit and, if the choice had been Pauline’s, she would have never spent winter break at Knotty Pines. More than the injustice of spending vacation in a school, it can’t be a coincidence that Pauline received an invite to the same place that made the hermit cry on Hermit Day. An annual tradition that could only exist in a place like Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes’ Hobtown, The Cursed Hermit is the second book in their graphic novel series, which doesn’t so much pick up where the The Case of the Missing Men left off but presents a new mystery that reveals more of the town’s history.
A recap at the beginning goes over what’s happened, but it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, since it’s a new mystery, you don’t really need to remember all the details. Sam and his missing father were the focus of the first book, but while the ending didn’t resolve everything, he and Dana take a backseat this time to Pauline and Brennan (who, like Dana and Sam, are members of the Hobtown Junior Detective Club).
On the other hand, the recap made me realize I had forgotten more than I realized and Bertin and Forbes don’t repeat themselves. It’s not a hardship to re-read The Case of the Missing Men and it helps. I had forgotten why Sam was in a wheelchair, for example, and it was pleasing to realize how many of the faces in the Hermit Day crowd were townsfolk we’d met before.
Both Brennan and Pauline are going to Knotty Pines but, as Pauline is constantly reminded, Dana was the one who was supposed to go, not her. Since she’s on vacation with her dad in Jamaica, the invite passes to Pauline but, before leaving, Dana gives her a pre-stamped envelope to send if anything occurs. Clearly something does because two weeks later Dana’s going to receive that envelope (Forbes makes these gestures indelible, too – Dana doesn’t just open the envelope, she rips it open with her teeth, and when Pauline doesn’t know where Brennan is pointing she bends under his arm, to get the right angle).
Like all creepy schools, Knotty Pines is isolated (after being dropped off they still have to walk a half hour to get to the school) and Pauline and Brennan are pretty much on their own. It’s a big move, shaking so much up from one book to the next. You don’t have the other club members. While chronologically it’s next in line, The Cursed Hermit doesn’t pick up exactly where The Case of the Missing Men left off but Bertin and Forbes’ faith is well-placed and ensures that, in Hobtown, there are no secondary characters. They’re all capable of taking lead.
The Cursed Hermit gives Pauline a chance to wrestle with her complicated feelings about having second sight, a gift she’s inherited from her grandmother that she’s not sure is a gift, and it’s exciting to encounter a character who doesn’t second guess herself. While Brennan isn’t convinced Knotty Pines is shady, she doesn’t need him to confirm her suspicions. She knows something isn’t right and that’s enough, and Forbes makes her visions entrancing and spooky.
If you think Riverdale’s a tough town to live in, then you haven’t visited Hobtown. The Cursed Hermit is available now from Conundrum Press.