Think about it. The reader does not know until the 2nd Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, that each entry will focus on a different school year, and it isn’t until the 2nd book of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” where we discover that each book will take place in a different setting and feature a different guardian, and, well, the list goes on... Likewise, Young Whit and the Shroud of Secrecy establishes that each book will most likely focus on one main, individual mystery as Whit deals, in the meantime, with conflicts at home and a handful of smaller story threads raised from previous books.
While the first entry in the series largely focused on a more down-to-earth, history-based, mystery involving Whit’s heritage, “Shroud of Secrecy” shows us that this series will venture into some truly strange “supernatural” directions. The first few chapters begin with Whit mulling over a conversation that took place between his father and a Professor Mangle regarding a cloth that may have healing properties. Unbeknownst to either one, however, Whit actually has possession of the cloth and, from all appearances, it has recently saved the life of his dog, McDuff, from a lethal wound. But does the cloth really have power?
The reader’s immediate answer to this question will be “No! Of course not!” After all, the inclusion of an object such as a “magical cloth” goes beyond what’s seen as typical in the world of Odyssey (interestingly, in the episode “The Jesus Cloth”, Whit himself is adamant that a cloth cannot have power). But the novel slowly persuades the reader that this cloth does indeed have some sort of power, making us quite hungry for answers. This mystery is made all the more intriguing by the novel’s enjoyably spookier tone. For instance, much of the action takes place around Halloween and Whit even has run-ins with gravesites, a haunted house, and bizarre kids, all while an unknown figure tracks Whit’s movements. The setting of the novel is the same as “Traitor’s Treasure” , but we are now viewing the town of Provenance as though a dark cloud had set over it.
Much like “Traitor’s Treasure”, fans will rejoice that the book gives us insight into Whit’s personal history, focusing on Whit’s family life at home -- especially on his many interactions with his father. Indeed, Whit’s father is heavily featured in this story and is depicted as a complicated and rather absent figure in Whit’s life who he both fears but must rely on for answers. It isn’t clear whether Whit’s father is purposefully portrayed negatively or whether the character is portrayed merely as a product of his era, i.e the typical 1920s’ cold and stern father of the day. But, regardless, Whit and Harold Whittaker’s relationship was one of the stronger -- and more interesting -- elements of this story.
Despite its many strengths, I do wish this book felt a little more “complete”. That’s perhaps the biggest flaw, here. Since the inciting incident takes place in the previous novel’s epilogue, “Traitor’s Treasure”, the book lacks a proper beginning. And by the end of the novel, little closure is provided either; hardly any secrets regarding the “healing cloth” are revealed, leaving us without a satisfying ending. (The novel’s ending also feels quickly written and lacks the description found in preceding pages). The book feels more like the enjoyable “middle” of a story, without a beginning or end, and, as a result, lacks the cohesiveness of the first book.
If given the chance, I might have recommended a small structural change. Both “Traitor’s Treasure” and “Shroud of Secrecy” seem to include epilogues that act as a teaser for the following novel’s story -- trying, it seems, to wet reader’s appetites. But, considering the length of time between each books release and the propensity for readers to forget things, the information provided in these “previews” would be better suited if it was provided within the first chapters of the story they belonged to. In other words, I wonder if the writers should abandon these cliffhangers and trust that they’ve crafted a strong enough story to make us want to go buy the next one.
At the end of the day, the biggest problem with this book stems from there simply not being enough of it. And, in my opinion, that’s a highly forgivable problem. Overall, “Shroud of Secrecy” is a journey well worth taking. Writers Dave Arnold and Phil Lollar have yet again created an exciting story that’s certainly worthy of the series it’s based on. If you haven’t boarded this train yet, do not hesitate -- go buy this book!
You can purchase "Young Whit and the Shroud of Secrecy" here