By Richie Tankersley Cusick.
Belinda is in a car being driven home from a party on April Fool’s Day when we first encounter her. Her best friend, Hildy, is behind the wheel and Hildy’s drunk boyfriend, Frank, is trying to grab the steering wheel to play a prank on the driver of the car behind. Events take a devastating turn when Frank’s antics cause the other car to plummet off the edge of the road, consumed in a fiery explosion. A fortnight later, Belinda is still wracked with guilt but her friends are over it. Then she gets headhunted to tutor a boy her age, Adam, who was in a terrible accident two weeks earlier… Adam is creepy and rude, but Belinda takes the job because she has to find out whether she is responsible for Adam’s horrific condition. She encounters his cold-hearted step-mother, Mrs Thorne; their reserved butler, Cobbs, who seems to know more than he is letting on; and Adam’s handsome step-brother, Noel, towards whom Belinda feels an instant attraction. But when someone starts leaving Belinda twisted messages, it is clear that they know what Belinda and her friends did on April Fool’s Day, and they are planning to serve up their own form of justice.
April Fools is a fun and absorbing read. A whodunit of sorts, but with lots of other intriguing mysteries and a great twist finale. The characters are diverse and interesting. We empathise with the moral Belinda, and pity her isolation (from her mum, who works long hours, and from her two best friends who refuse to share in her guilt, even though they are more at fault than she is). We are repelled by Adam’s personality, as well as his appearance. We are relieved when Noel turns up to provide some support and affection to the beleaguered Belinda. We are wary of Cobbs, but appreciate his kindness and his dry sense of humour.
The interesting relationships between the characters do not, however, distract from the horror of the piece. The ‘pranks’ Belinda is subjected to (a hoax phone call to the police, a package left on her doorstep, a severed doll’s head) might all seem a bit childish, but there are plenty of other scares, particularly through her interactions with Adam. When he confronts her in the kitchen with a snake coiled around his neck you feel Belinda’s fear and the tension between the characters. And when the snake makes a reappearance later on, it is a truly horrific moment. The finale, from the revelation of the twist onwards, is thrilling; anything could happen. Whilst it is not in the M.O. of a Point Horror to kill off its heroine, nevertheless we are relieved when Belinda comes through her ordeal intact. And her ‘happy ending’ nicely rounds off the story, avoiding the pitfall many Point Horrors fall into: that forced, all-too-neat resolution in the last few pages. April Fools is one of the best-written and enjoyable entries in the franchise – I’m already looking forward to reading it again.
We are thrust straight into the horror of April Fools with the accident, and that sense of fear and foreboding continues relentlessly from then on. The fact that you never feel able to completely trust any of the characters means that you are suspiciously wondering who is behind Belinda’s torment throughout the action, and are always afraid of what might happen next. This tense atmosphere is punctuated by some great, scary moments (Belinda being stalked by a car, the ‘snake’ encounters, any time she is alone with Adam) and the fabulously thrilling finale. We are even left with a sense of dread at the end, when the perpetrator sends Belinda a gift and we wonder whether they are really out of her life after all. For these reasons, and because April Fools is such an enjoyable read, it gets a top fear factor rating of…