Cadbury's Coffin

Doubleday ISBN 0-385-17578-7

Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout’s Victorian-flavored, bone-chilling mystery, Cadbury’s Coffin. “Don’t bury me alive!” begs Lycurgus Cadbury, a cantankerous, tight-fisted tycoon of a turn-of-the-20th century factory town in upstate New York, as he lies on his deathbed felled, apparently, by a stroke. His impending death, and his Last Will and Testament, changes the lives of many people, including his greedy nieces and the household staff of his grand mansion, especially young Josh, the innocent choreboy, and Verbena, the lovely but scheming scullery maid. The intricate scenario of his death this old curmudgeon weaves casts a dark spell over all those assembled nightly in a dastardly plot straight out of Charles Dickens in this American version of the BBC’s masterful Upstairs, Downstairs TV series. Cadbury’s Coffin was an Edgar nominee for the Mystery Writers’ of America’s Best Juvenile Book of 1982.

"Don't bury me alive!" begs Lycurgus Cadbury, the cantankerous, tight-fisted tycoon of the turn-of-the century factory town of Gilead, New York, as he lies on his deathbed felled, apparently, by a stroke. His impending death, and his Last Will and Testament, cannot but change the lives of many people. These include his closest relatives, two greedy nieces, and Montfort Morgan, a devilish grand-nephew. Then there is his penniless household staff: Josh, the innocent and virtuous choreboy; Verbena, the lovely, scheming scullery maid; a careworn housekeeper, Minnie Pumpley; a dotty houseman, Eli Stamp.

From the night of Mr. Cadbury's fall to the reading of the will, his mansion rattles with family battles, echoes with conflict between relatives and servants, and shudders with bizarre, bone-chilling surprises as the plot is thickened by attempts to see that the old man, once taken to the tomb, is really and truly dead! For the wealthy curmudgeon has devised an intricate scenario which will determine not only if he is dead, but just who is the most deserving recipient of his riches. Cadbury's Coffin is a grand entertainment in the Victorian melodramatic manner, acted out by characters both valiant and villainous, and stuffed to the margins with shivers and mystery. Humor, horror, and romance are woven into the elaborate plot of this superbly crafted and enthralling novel.

Cadbury's Coffin is the American version of the classic BBC TV series, Upstairs, Downstairs, with a strong flavoring of the master, Charles Dickens. This great little tale was a 1982 nominee for Best Mystery Juvenile Book from the Mystery Writers of America. It would make a dynamite family mystery/suspenser TV-Movie to air every Halloween what with its G-rated helping of spookiness, and has all the makings of a classic perennial for television, undoubtedly to be filmed in Canada with its turn-of-the-century settings. A must-read!

Optioned once before by writer/producer, Paul Monash, but film rights have reverted to the Swarthout estate. Teleplay available from Hoodwinks Productions (310-578-5404).


"Here's a book filled with conflict between relatives and servants with bone-chilling surprises from cover to cover." Richmond, Virginia Times Dispatch

"Convincing mystery stories for young adults, featuring young adults as protagonists, are as hard as proverbial hen's teeth to find. So the Swarthouts' new mystery, written with a dramatic Victorian flavor and laced with a subtle humor, is a welcome addition to library shelves . . . The denouement is impressive. More than a tidy wrap-up of a mystery story's odds and ends, it becomes a multi-layered statement about the ironies of life, the enigmatic nature of human relationships, and the bittersweet passage from adolescence into adulthood." Boston Globe.

"Being buried alive so concerns old Lycurgus Cadbury that his custom-built coffin is equipped with a speaking tube, a summoning bell and springs to raise the lid and elevate the body. And buried alive he is -- at his own secret request -- so he can observe his heirs scheme and squabble during the three days before his will is read. But in an ironic twist, revealed after 175 entertaining and expertly written pages of Cadbury's Coffin, the stingy tycoon dies due to natural causes. Slick caricatures of a 19th century miser, his greedy relatives and humble servants were created by Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout . . . Victorian expressions color the prose, which boasts some of the most adroit scene-setting and descriptive narration available in fiction for older children today. Suspense mounts in well-paced episodes containing both horror and humor." Barbara Pierce, Poughkeepsie, New York Journal

"Ruthless relatives, despicable deeds, ingenuous innocents, and rumors of rich rewards propel the amusing narrative, which sports a Victorian setting and style as well as the themes of love, death, and an inheritance. Part farce, part melodrama, and part mystery, the book contains conventions of all three -- but with some clever twists. Stingy, self-made millionaire Lycurgus Cadbury -- whose fate it is to die or be murdered in nearly every other chapter -- leaves his heirs pondering such dilemmas as: When is he 'thoroughly deceased?' and 'how could one murder a dead man?' . . . The plot turns on two hoaxes; one is perpetrated on the characters, and the other on the reader, who ultimately discovers that this frivolous concoction masks a real mystery and an important idea." Nancy C. Hammond, the Horn Book Magazine