By Erik Christopher Martin
Reviewed by Pennell Paugh
May 25, 2023 (San Diego) -- The small town of Elderton is in crisis. French fries and other forms of potatoes are disappearing from kitchens. The thief seems invisible in San Diego author Erik Christopher Martin’s latest children’s book, The Case of the French Fry Phantom.
Eleven-year-old potato enthusiast Dotty Morgan appoints herself as the town’s supernatural sleuth. Here is an excerpt:
She was ready. Dotty pressed the button on her phone and went live.
“This is Dotty Morgan. It’s Sunday, October fifteenth, fifteen hundred hours; that means three o’clock. I’m staking out Mr. Tanner’s yard, investigating reoccurring instances of mysterious vandalism.
She turned the phone to show his backyard with its menagerie of lawn ornaments: ceramic deer, gnomes, metal fairies, terra cotta birdbaths, and other miscellaneous statuary, many broken or held together with blue.
“Yesterday, when I was in line behind him at the Wiggly Piglet, Mr. Tanner told the checkout clerk that someone … or something … has been vandalizing nis yard when he goes out. You can see his whole yard is surrounded by an eight-foot-tall solid wooden fence. I believe supernatural forces are at work, probably a poltergeist. Mr. Tanner just left. I’m going to investigate using this …”
She pulled a device out of her pack. To the untrained eye, it looked like an old metal alarm clock with the hours replaced by a gauge numbered zero to two thousand and added LED lights mounted onto a bicycle handle grip.
“This is the Arcanometer. I invented this to detect supernatural energies. Full disclosure, I got the idea from a video I watched on YouTube, but theirs didn’t work. Mine does. Now, let’s catch a poltergeist.”
Minutes ticked by. She saw her online audience creep up to more than thirty viewers.
She heard scraping from the far side of the fence.
“Okay, here it is. Definite activity!”
She checked the Arcanometer—nothing.
That can’t be right.
A tawny dog followed by a black one popped up from under the fence. They had dug out a small gap. Dotty had noticed, but she’d been sure this was a supernatural case and had discounted its importance.
The dogs tore around Mr. Tanner’s backyard, chasing one another through the obstacle course of lawn ornaments. The black dog turned too wide and careened into a flock of pink plastic flamingos, topping three.
Dotty sighed. A stream of laughing emojis filled the screen of her live feed. She ended her broadcast. She put the Arcanometer into her coat pocket and began to climb down …
As she plodded off, she missed seeing a ghostly figure shimmer into existence near Mr. Tanner’s garden. The apparition reached down with a pale hand and pulled up every potato plant and placed the delicious tubers into a special sack before vanishing as quickly as it appeared.”
Molly eventually uncovers a potato-fixated ghost she calls a “phantom.” But that discovery creates more questions. Where did the phantom come from? Why potatoes? And why did medallions appear in the school cafeteria the same day the phantom materialized?
Erik Christopher Martin is a San Diego-based writer and member of Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), the San Diego Writers & Editors Guild (SDWEG), and the Horror Writers Association (HWA) has released his fourth novel, The Case of the French Fry Phantom.
Martin also is the author of numerous short stories that have appeared in various anthologies and journals. He has a lifelong love affair with the written word, being a former bookstore owner (In A Bind Books), library employee, and slush reader for a horror magazine. Erik writes stories where diversity is the norm, and the focus is on adventure. Visit https://ErikChristopherMartin.com or follow him on Instagram and Twitter at #ErikCMartin.