By Carol Ellis.
Melanie Jacobs has just moved to Clifton, Massachusetts and she needs a summer job and some new friends. It looks like both are on the cards when she is offered work as a reader to Lisa Randolph, a girl her own age who was recently left paralysed and mute when she fell from the cliff next to her mansion. The creepy house, and its stern housekeeper – Georgia Hudson – are almost enough to put Melanie off. But she needs the cash, and she senses Lisa desperately needs the company, so she accepts. Besides, there’s the added bonus of Jeff, the estate’s sexy gardener, who’s also new in town. Melanie starts reading Jane Eyre from its midpoint, where Lisa left off before her fall. When Lisa takes to lifting her hand at certain points in the narrative, Melanie wonders whether she’s trying to use the book to signal something; a secret about the circumstances surrounding her accident, perhaps. She confides her suspicion in Lisa’s boyfriend, Garrett, and friends, Kim and Neil, but they’re sceptical. Jeff, on the other hand, believes her immediately, and seems very interested in what Lisa has to ‘say’.
But someone clearly isn’t happy about Melanie trying to communicate with Lisa. First, she’s left a series of threatening messages, warning her to back off. And then someone tries to run her over. Melanie is terrified, and no closer to working out Lisa’s secret, or how Peter – a missing backpacker who disappeared around the time of her accident – might be involved. But as she starts to piece together the clues, Melanie comes to realise that Lisa’s fall was no accident; that she is still in danger from her attacker, and that the perpetrator is quite willing to take Melanie down too, to finish the job.
The Body offers up an interesting mystery that keeps the reader guessing. Okay, so the twist is predictable, and the finale lacks tension, but it’s still fun to see the girls join forces and turn the tables on their tormentor. In fact, Melanie and Lisa’s growing friendship and affinity for each other is genuinely sweet, and makes The Body a pleasure to read – even if it is somewhat lacking in the horror stakes. And the Jane Eyre quotes, woven through the narrative as ‘clues’, are a lovely and unique touch.
Whilst Melanie is subjected to some classic Point Horror pranks – threatening messages, crank phone calls – this entry offers an alternative approach to providing its scares. The horror is subtle, and takes a backseat to the mystery, but it’s still there. It’s only once you know the whole story that you can really appreciate the fear and frustration Lisa must have constantly been feeling. The problem is, by this point, the danger has been resolved; the threat neutralised. This is one entry which could really do with an epilogue – a suggestion that the danger’s not quite over yet. Carrie’s hand erupting from the soil; Michael Myers vanishing from the backyard; Jason leaping out of Crystal Lake… anything that would enable me to bestow upon this entry – for which I have a lot of affection – a higher fear factor rating than…