By D. E. Athkins.
In the wealthy coastal town of Point Harbor, a group of teens get ready for an exclusive Halloween party being hosted by their catty, influential classmate, Cyndi Moray, at a disused local cemetery. In the first chapter, we are introduced to the ten young people who comprise the cast of The Cemetery. We follow them to the party, where they engage in typical teen Halloween activities: playing music, dancing, drinking beer, participating in a séance and telling ghost stories. A game of hide and seek ensues, during which Cyndi’s ex-boyfriend, the equally rich and obnoxious ‘Wills’, gets murdered – his body ripped to shreds – and is discovered by current girlfriend, Lara, and the mysterious, new-to-town Jones. The only person not in the vicinity of the victim is Charity Webster, Char, who quickly becomes the blandly pleasant heroine of the piece, and whose romantic interest, Jones, told her to make a run for it just before the game began. Suspicious, much…?
The shaken teens report the grisly incident to the police, at which point Cyndi finds herself the prime suspect (the crime scene, her party; the victim, her ex) and sets about trying to prove her innocence by identifying the murderer. Char also investigates by trawling through the newspaper archive at the library, where she bumps into Jones immediately before someone plants an old whaler’s journal in her bag which describes a creature which rips its victims to pieces… The survivors of the party try to get on with their lives, but there is a sense of doom hanging over them, like they’re lobsters in a tank. Lara, doped up with prescription drugs, tells Cyndi she knows who the killer is but cannot be induced in her near-catatonic state to say anything further. Cyndi’s brother, Dorian and his misfit girlfriend, Georgie, revisit the scene of the crime to find clues. Super-rich but insecure Jane falls off the radar for a while, before pairing up with Cyndi’s bad-boy boyfriend, Dade to turn detective. Peripheral characters Foy and Rick pop up occasionally, to little purpose.
Georgie, despite her death having been confirmed to us when Dade and Jane overhear her father being given the bad news at the hospital, turns up as Dorian is examining a bloody hook attached to his car. When Dorian realises that what is speaking to him in his garage is not Georgie, but rather her (and Wills’s) killer, the thing becomes an ‘it’, confirming that they are not being terrorised by a person, but by a supernatural being. An explosion brings the surviving teens together at Jane’s house, where Char realises that the entity mentioned in the old whaler’s diary, which caused ships to sink and haunted Cemetery Point (the town’s previous name) years ago, is back, awakened from its temporary resting place in the cemetery. This is where the finale takes place, and it is Char who must fight for her own life and soul in a vivid confrontation with the evil, shape-shifting being that has been terrorising her and her friends.
Apart from thirty-odd pages in the middle, where the excess of characters and a brief attempt to masquerade as a whodunit slow the pace and try the patience, The Cemetery is a compelling, unique and often scary entry in the Point Horror franchise. Despite the extensive dramatis personae, Athkins skilfully introduces us to them in such a way that we are soon able to distinguish one from another, though some are gifted with more interesting and realistic personalities than others. A sub-plot involving Cyndi and Dorian’s sibling rivalry adds variety, and whilst its conclusion is anti-climactic, it helps build suspense for the finale by stretching out the action. The vagueness of the last chapter in addressing what has been tormenting them, and where Jones fits into the mystery, marks another digression from the standard PH habit of neatly and succinctly tying up all loose ends (albeit often in a frustratingly contrived way) in the last couple of pages. While it might frustrate some, it enables a more imaginative reader to fill in the blanks and create their own explanations. The many good points of The Cemetery more than compensate for a trying few pages in the middle, and combine to produce a very entertaining and satisfying read.
The first section, in the cemetery on Halloween night, unfolds with creeping suspense, culminating in a grisly murder the likes of which we rarely find in a Point Horror. Early clues that something is amiss become significant during the finale, which combines gory imagery and an atmosphere of pain, grief and loneliness, to vivid and terrifying effect. The unfolding of the final confrontation has an indistinctness which requires some participation on the reader’s part, but this effort is rewarded with a thoroughly tingled spine and a haunting sense of unease. One of the scariest entries in the franchise, The Cemetery merits a fear factor rating of…