OctoberRoadThe Mystery on October Road by Alison Cragin Herzig and Jane Lawrence Mali, 1991.

A strange man has moved next door to Casey.  He always wears a bandana tied across the lower part of his face, like a bandit.  His pets are the strangest dogs Casey has ever seen, huge Irish Wolfhounds.  He’s started fixing up his new house, but for some reason, he only likes to work at night.

One day Casey and her friend Cats (really, they’re both named Catherine, but they each have nicknames) go to take the man some bread that Casey’s mother baked, and they’re frightened away by one of the dogs.  Casey goes back to get the bread they left behind, and the man tells her to go away and leave him alone.

Casey and her friends (Cats and Benny, a boy Cats likes) are curious about this strange man.  They even wonder if he could be some kind of gangster, hiding out.  At her friends’ urging, they sneak into his house one day to look around.  When the man comes back unexpectedly, her friends get away in time, but Casey falls and hurts her ankle.  The man finds her in his house, and she learns the truth about him.

The man isn’t a bad guy, and Casey even becomes a friend for him.  The story ends on Halloween, when the man creates a special Halloween display for Casey of beautifully carved pumpkins.  The part that always fascinated me was the way he carved them, by peeling the skin off the pumpkin and only leaving it in places where he wanted dark lines.

Part of the story is about how appearances can be deceptive.  For part of the story, Cats isn’t really a very good friend for Casey, neglecting her feelings and the feelings of the mysterious stranger in order to impress Benny.  But later, when she realizes that Casey was right about the stranger and that she was really hurt in their little escapade, she shows that she can be a better friend, too.

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