I snatched this up after The Book Smugglers alerted me to the fact that it was like a cross between Nancy Drew and Scooby-Doo. Texas Gothic sounded perfect for Friday night reading, in between helping guests at the historic building where I work as a history docent. While I love the serious and thoughtful portrayals of real-life issues that YA authors provide, sometimes, I just want to read about colorful characters bumbling around and getting knocked on the head.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying that either Amy Goodnight, or her sister Phin, are incompetent -- they're very competent in their own areas of specialization. Phin is an amateur paranormal scientist; Amy, who's the featured protagonist, is learning that her area of specialization is holding things together. But they're also very realistic college-age characters, rushing from one thing to another, thinking ahead, but not quite thinking of everything.
Nancy Drew and Scooby-Doo are entertaining in part because they're ensemble works, full of characters who each have their own foibles, and Clement-Moore excels at creating a similar ensemble here, made up of the Goodnight family, their neighbors, and a group of archaeology grad students. Everyone is briefly and concisely sketched out; they're distinctive enough that there's no chance of mixing them up; and their quirks are what advance the plot. It's very smooth.
My one criticism is that it was far too easy to tell exactly who one of the eventual villains would be, and the other one was only half-surprising: I knew that s/he would be a member of a particular group, and s/he was. That said, I would be utterly delighted to see more novels featuring the other members of the Goodnight family, or in which we learn more about Amy, as she develops her understanding of what it means to be the one that holds it all together.
Oh, and +10 for the reference to The Mystery of Udolpho.
Read if: you like wisecracks about Nancy Drew, you enjoy books that want to alternate between suspenseful and wacky, and you like reading about hijinks more than disturbing suspense.
Avoid if: you're looking for creep-factor more than fun, you want a really challenging mystery, or if you're looking for a story that digs deeply into magic, rather than just a pair of kids solving mysteries who happen to be magical.