Title: The Dark StairsHerculeah Jones #1 - The Dark STairs
Author: Betsy Byars
Pages: 130
Reading Level: 8-12
Star Rating:

Introducing Herculeah Jones, Private Eye!

The Story.

Herculeah knew something was up. She could feel it in her hair from the very first moment she saw her father, Police Detective Jones, enter the yard of Dead Oaks, the local mystery mansion. Her sense of danger deepened when she encountered the creepy, hollow-toned man who hired her mother to investigate a case for him. But with both her parents refusing to let her get involved with their cases, Herculeah decides that it’s time for her to do a spot of investigating herself! Even if it means going inside creepy Dead Oaks by herself…


I started this story fully open to finding my new favorite detective series. And I ended it thoroughly convinced that I had not found my newest favorite series!

That makes it sound as though I conceived an instant and definite distaste for the book. But that wasn’t the case – I found myself gradually puzzled by it, and finally a bit scandalized by the ultimate solution.

Herculeah Jones is a girl of Herculean strength. But she didn’t earn her name through her physical prowess – her mother watched the movie Hercules vs. the Moloch while she was in labor and decided that despite the gender of the child she would name it after Hercules. When Herculeah encounters her mother’s client, she instantly names him ‘the Moloch’ in her mind. This is how he is described.

“Herculeah could smell his breath and she stepped back. It wasn’t bad breath – the kind that can be changed by a couple of breath mints. This was two-million-year-old breath. It was as if the air had been inhaled by a Moloch two million years ago and had now been released.” [pg. 18]

Well then. Herculeah continues to nose her way into her parent’s cases, and describe the Moloch in monster-like terms. By the end of the story *SPOILERS*, she has discovered that the Moloch killed his father when he was a young boy because his father had killed his mother – but had told everyone that the Moloch is the one who killed her. I found that to be a bit heavy for a children’s book. But maybe that’s just me.

In the very last chapter, Herculeah’s best friend, Meat, manages to watch Hercules vs. the Moloch and tells her that the Moloch really is “a man in an iron cat mask. He’s supposed to be a god, and his victims are beautiful girls in short togas – virgins, they call them – and after he ruins the virgins’ faces, he says things like, ‘Now you are no longer beautiful so you no longer offend me.’” [pg. 128]


Herculuah doesn’t really pay heed to her parent’s opinions – but then, being divorced, they don’t pay attention to each other’s views. The last chapter is actually introduced with this lovely sentence.

“Herculeah’s parents were in the kitchen, having beers and an argument.” [pg. 126]

It is said that the case started on the unlucky Friday the thirteenth. It’s also mentioned that one of the signs on Herculeah’s street advertises for palm readings.

Conclusion. Not recommended. Read The Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, and The Great Brain.

Review © 2015 Laura Verret

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