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Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls Library Binding – October 11, 2011

8 customer reviews
Book 14 of 18 in the Sammy Keyes Series

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About the Author

WENDELIN VAN DRAANEN was a teacher for many years before turning to writing full-time. Her first Sammy Keyes mystery, Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award. She lives in Central California with her husband and two sons.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Hudson Graham may be seventy-three, but he's the coolest old guy you'd ever want to meet. I mean, how many "seniors" will offer up their house to a bunch of teenagers to use as their Halloween headquarters? Most old people zip up their homes, shut off their lights, and hide in a back room until Halloween is over. They don't even hand out candy, let alone lend out stuff to help you transform into scar-faced zombies.

Dressing up as a zombie was new for me. I usually go as the Marsh Monster, with ratty green hair and marshy-looking clothes, but this year Casey and Billy were going trick-or-treating with Marissa and Holly and me, and they wanted to use super creepy makeup and blood capsules and fake scars and stuff, so just painting myself green seemed pretty lame in comparison. And after I jumped on the scar-faced zombie wagon, Marissa and Holly got on board, too.

Our friend Dot didn't want anything to do with our little death brigade. She said she was going to "reprise" her bumblebee costume from last year and take her little sisters around their neighborhood instead, but I think she just didn't want to risk another Halloween like last year.

Anyway, Holly, Marissa, Billy, Casey, and I all met at Hudson's house and had a blast painting and spraying and plastering scars onto each other. It got uuuuuugly! And even uglier when we put in our fake rotten teeth!

"You look hideous, darling!" Billy says to Marissa in a Count Dracula accent.

"And you're revolting!" Marissa says back with a laugh.

Then Hudson comes in with some old, worn flannels and a pair of scissors. "Seems you could use some tatters to go with those faces."

"Are you serious?" Casey asks him.

"Rip away," he says with a laugh.

So we put on the shirts, then we tear and tatter and, you know, destroy them, which really does a lot to complete our zombie look.

"Very gruesome," Hudson says as he lets us out. "You look like you're straight from the grave."

Billy hunches over like Quasimodo as we go down the porch steps, then makes a horrifying sound in his throat and says, "Let's go, my pretties!"

So off we go, racing from house to house, collecting candy in our pillowcases, and it didn't take long for Billy to really start hamming it up.

"Aaaaah," he'd gurgle when someone answered the door. "I think I'm . . . dyyyyyyyyying!" Then he'd grab his throat and stagger around, finally collapsing onto the porch. "Caaaaaaandy!" he'd gasp, holding up his sack. "Save me!"

The person who answered the door would always laugh, then give all of us two or three pieces instead of just one.

"You're the master at this," Casey tells him after about the sixth performance.

"And you, my pretty, are my slave!"

Casey laughs, "Dude, there's no way I'm your pretty."

"My pretty ugly, then!" Billy rasps. "But still my slave."

So we're all laughing and chasing after Billy as he scurries back onto the sidewalk, but we quit laughing quick when we find ourselves doing a domino-style bump-up into a cop.

It's pretty shadowy right there, so it takes a second for me to realize that it's not a real cop--it's just a guy in costume. And then it hits me that this fake cop is none other than Danny Urbanski.

Now, let's just say that Danny Urbanski doesn't need to dress up for Halloween. Anyone with two eyes can see that he's a snake. Trouble is, Marissa's two eyes don't focus where Danny's concerned. She's had a crush on him forever, and even though she knows he's a slithering sneak, she still can't seem to shake him.

"Dude!" Billy says to him. "A cop?"

Danny laughs. "Best way to stay out of trouble, man." He checks us all over. "You, on the other hand, are dead meat!" Then he laughs really hard at his own joke.

I hate the way Danny laughs. It's one of those forced, kind of hacking laughs that sounds like a lawn mower that won't start.

Ha-ha-ha. Ha-ha-ha.

Like he needs a new spark plug.

Anyway, Danny and Casey used to be really good friends, but not anymore. And I think Danny knows that Holly and I aren't exactly his biggest fans, so it was kinda awkward standing there in the middle of the sidewalk. Especially since Marissa was mortified to be looking so drop-dead ugly.

"Hide me!" she whimpers, then slouches behind me and Holly.

But Danny knows that Marissa and I are usually together, so he sort of leans around and says, "Marissa?"

Marissa spits her nasty yellow teeth into her hand and smiles at him. But all those white teeth flashing through warts and scars and peeling skin looks weird.

Like, extra creepy.

Danny laughs again. "Hey, beautiful. Wanna be my ghoulfriend?"

Now, he says this all, you know, suave-like, but there's also a hint of sarcasm to it and it's hard to tell--is he making fun of her? Or is he actually saying, You want to hang out with me tonight?

Or maybe this is his snarky way of apologizing for sucking face with that nasty Heather Acosta and flirting with every hot girl who walks by.

With Danny you just can't tell.

Anyway, Marissa obviously doesn't know what to say because she just stares until Casey comes to the rescue, asking him, "So who you hangin' with tonight?"

"I'm meeting up with Nick and some of the guys at the haunted house on Feere Street." Then he kinda throws a smirk at the rest of us and says to Casey, "I can't believe you're trick-or-treating, man."

What's totally implied in this is, I can't believe you're hanging out with these babies. See, even though we went to the same junior high, Danny and Casey are both freshmen in high school now. Billy would be, too, only he got held back a year, so he's stuck in eighth grade with us.

And I'm sure Casey's at least a little embarrassed by Danny's comment, but he doesn't show it. Instead he moves past Danny saying, "Hey, if I'm ever too cool for free candy, I really will be a walking dead man."

Danny lets out another one of his stupid fake laughs, then says, "Whatever, man. I'm heading over to the haunted house," and he takes a few steps before calling over his shoulder, "There'll be people from high school there."

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 770L (What's this?)
  • Series: Sammy Keyes
  • Library Binding: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375961089
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375961083
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,136,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By bookcrazed on October 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Wendelin Van Draanen's spunky Sammy Keyes character returns in a humorous, suspenseful tale featuring the irascible, lovable sleuth and her cast of faithful friends and foes, a haunted graveyard, suspicious gravediggers, spooky embalmers, and ruthless undertakers.

The story entertains its readers with quirky, relatable characters the reader cares about; quick-paced plot; witty language, and believable dialogue. The author deals with death and the beliefs and traditions of different cultures toward it in a sensitive, informative manner.

Van Draanen has served up another winner with this latest ghoulish adventure in her Sammy Keyes series.
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Format: Hardcover
As yet another stellar Sammy Keyes adventure begins (is it my imagination, or do these already excellent mysteries just keep getting better and better?), it's October 31st. Sammy is determined that this Halloween will be all about fun and have nothing to do with villainous deeds. And that possibly might have come to be...except she and her friends make the mistake of cutting through the graveyard on Halloween night, all disguised as zombies. They're meandering through the old portion of the cemetery, where it's very dark and the paths are not straight. Since it's taking them a while to make their way through, they begin to talk about death, but Casey and Billy lighten the mood with puns and funny stories.

Sammy and the gang stop short when they spot a beast-like creature dashing through the gravestones. The creepy figure turns and starts racing right at them, so they hide behind tombstones. When it sees the "zombies" behind the gravestones, the intruder tries to run away. Instead, he trips over Billy. Now Sammy can see that, instead of a beast with wings, it's a man wearing a poncho, and there's another man with a shovel chasing him. The man in the poncho (Sammy dubs him El Zarape in honor of his serape) drops his trick-or-treat sack and runs away. Billy, claiming he's not too proud to keep El Zarape's candy if he doesn't want it, carries the stranger's bag as they head for the nearest gate.

However, their cemetery adventures are not at an end. They see an old car driving through the graveyard. Sammy voices her fears that it's the ominous "Shovel Man," unleashing many bad (yet hilarious) jokes and puns from Casey and Billy. In order to get out of the cemetery, the group must climb over the vehicle while it's rolling through the gate.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Snow leopard on January 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
One of the best books I have read! Perfect for ages 8 to about 15. A definite must read. I love the Sammy Keyes series!
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By Scoobydew58 on February 6, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Only Sammy Keyes would discover a reason to picnic in the graveyard! She keeps sergeant Bosch on his toes while solving the latest mystery.
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