I’ve been watching the Game Grumps since 2015, or so, and I enjoy their content quite a bit. In a way, they remind me of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but instead of riffing on films, they’re riffing on video games. Arin Hanson and Dan Avidan have a great rapport together and it’s a joy to watch their videos. Why do I bring this up? Because Ghost Hunters Adventure Club and the Secret of the Grande Chateau is the “first official novel from Game Grumps.” Yes, it seems after branching into video games, the duo are branching into the literature world. So, as a fan of Game Grumps, I knew I wanted to give this book a read. But everything about its promotion felt really… strange. It seems pretty obvious that the novel is actually authored by Arin Hanson, yet it’s credited to a Cecil H.H. Mills, a man whom Arin claims is his uncle (but is obviously just Hanson in a wig and some makeup). Everything about the book’s promotion felt like one of Game Grump’s extended bits and, as a lover of books, it made it kind of difficult to get excited for this novel as I could never tell if it was something serious or just a joke. And, having now read the novel, I’m still not sure if it’s meant to be taken seriously. If it’s supposed to just be a bit of fun that satirizes Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys books and does a bit of fun character work with Cecil H.H. Mills, it’s pretty solid. But if it’s meant to be taken even a little bit seriously, it’s a really rough read. (Mild spoilers follow).)
Ghost Hunters Adventure Club and the Secret of the Grande Chateau by Cecil H.H. Mills
Listen up, kid. My name is Dr. Cecil H.H. Mills. I’m the author of this book and many other ones that you might not have heard of. This book is about two idiot wannabe detective-types. Their names are J.J. and Valentine Watts, but I’m not sure if they’re actually brothers or not.
They make a friend; her name is Trudi de la Rosa. She’s a wannabe detective-type too, but honestly, she’s less of an idiot than the brothers.
The three of them team up to solve a mystery that takes place in a snowy chateau up in the mountains. It gets more complicated around chapter 11, but now you’ve got the main gist of it. The story’s full of intrigue and adventure and puzzles and light violence and some swear words. It’s really entertaining.
Just buy the book and start reading. You’ll understand everything about the Ghost Hunters Adventure Club very soon.
The main thought I had while reading this is “Surely it’s bad on purpose, right?” And I really do think that’s the case. Because, honestly, this book isn’t great. But it’s bad in a really enjoyable way. Everything about it feels cliche as hell, but it feels like Cecil H.H. Mills (or Arin Hanson, whom I strongly suspect actually wrote this book under a pseudonym) has his tongue firmly placed in his cheek and is having a lot of fun writing this book. And that fun definitely shows because it’s a really fun read. It moves along at a super brisk pace, the characters are enjoyable enough (though their relationships never feel fully defined and they don’t remotely sound like teenagers), and it works reasonably well as a pastiche of Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew-esque mystery novels.
The problem with Ghost Hunters Adventure Club is that it’s not a very good mystery. Sure, the setup is a great one: a mysterious and eccentric writer hires the Ghost Hunters Adventure Club to help solve some kind of a mystery at the Grande Chateau, a local hotel for rich people, but before he can even tell them what the mystery is, he’s murdered in front of their very eyes. The more the boys investigate the circumstances surround his death, the more it appears he’d called them to hotel intending for them to solve his murder. Sounds like a great setup, right?
The problem is entirely in the execution. Almost immediately, the mystery loses a lot of its interest. The book’s pacing is too fast to maintain any sense of mystery. Everything just happens so quickly that it’s hard to be invested in what’s going on because you’re immediately thrown into the next thing. There’s no time to play along with the characters because the novel doesn’t seem to want you to think about the plot too much. Then there’s the fact that the two main characters, J.J. and Valentine, are just not very good detectives. They’re idiots. Charming idiots, but idiots nonetheless. And sometimes they’re not even that charming. While that could be the starting point for some Get Smart-style shenanigans, the novel never really veers in that direction. It’s just filled with narration about how cocky the boys are and how they only manage to stumble onto the correct solutions via sheer luck or with the help of Trudi, an employee at the hotel. And speaking of the solution, I always believe that if the answer to a mystery isn’t able to be solved by the reader, then it’s not a good answer. And I feel that’s the case here. Sure, everyone’s a suspect and all that jazz, but the actual culprit is hardly in the book until the big reveal and there’s so little evidence to suggest it’s them that it really does feel like a hard swerve when they’re revealed to be the mastermind behind everything.
But here’s where it gets tricky. If we’re meant to take Ghost Hunters Adventure Club as a serious work, it’s bad. But most of the novel reads like a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of old, pulpy mystery novels. It ticks every box on the list of tropes you’d expect to find in such a story. The mystery is so questionably executed that it reads as more of a parody than an actual mystery. And even the big reveal at the end almost feels like it’s mocking something like Scooby-Doo with its big, twisty reveal (although most Scooby-Doo mysteries could actually be solved by an attentive audience member). And this idea that the book is meant to be read as knowingly bad is backed up by the prose itself. The novel features an introduction, an epilogue, and a few interludes from Cecil H.H. Mills himself where he talks about his process and how he’s writing the novel and in those sections, he greatly complains about being forced to write this YA detective novel instead of the 1,000+ page piece of serious literature that he wants to write. His self-insertion reads as an author intentionally writing a bad book to stick it to his publisher. I mean, he even inserts himself into the actual story a few times, directly interacting with the characters. That screams a knowing choice. And if the novel is meant to be viewed in that light, then it’s rather successful. It’s often funny, the parody works pretty well, and it’s a nice, brisk read.
So, at the end of the day, whether or not Ghost Hunters Adventure Club is successful depends on what the book is trying to do and how much benefit of the doubt one wants to give to its author. Given that I am familiar with Game Grumps’ content and this reads like the kind of joke they’d make, I’m inclined to view the novel favorably. It does read to me as Cecil H.H. Mills/Arin Hanson knowingly writing a bad mystery as a parody of the genre, stuffing it full of silly jokes and ridiculous moments. And, in that context, it works pretty well. I can’t say that I was bored while reading this book and it’s fairly short length ensured that the joke didn’t outstay its welcome. But if the book is meant to actually be a good detective novel, it fails. The characters don’t feel defined enough for you to care about them, the plot moves at much too fast a pace to get invested in, and the solution to the mystery isn’t one that could’ve been figured out without already knowing it. Do I recommend this book? Certainly, if you’re a fan of Game Grumps and know what you’re getting into, or if you just want a light and silly parody of the detective genre. But if you’re looking for a good mystery, then you’d be better served elsewhere.
3 out of 5 wands.