By Peter Lerangis.
Kirsten Wilkes is a hopeless driver; every Driver’s Ed lesson ends with Mr Busk yelling at her. There’s no way she’ll pass his class. If she still lived in Manhattan, it wouldn’t be an issue. But her family has just moved to Long Island, and a car is apparently a must-have for the suburban teenager. Still, moving to Port Lincoln has had its upsides. She’s made decent new friends in Maria and her boyfriend Virgil. And she’s caught the eye of the school’s resident bad-boy, Rob Maxson. Despite Maria’s warning that Rob is a sleaze who turned their once-pleasant classmate, Gwen, into a snippy bitch, Kirsten agrees to go on a date with him.
It starts well; Rob gives her a driving lesson and is so sweet and patient that she consents to a movie, then dinner, and finally they end up at the local park – the favourite make-out point of the town’s hormonal teens. But the perfect date ends horribly, with an acrimonious parting of the ways, followed by tragedy. And Port Lincoln is no stranger to tragedy. The house Kirsten and her family have moved into was previously owned by the Trangs, whose nephew, Nguyen, committed suicide by driving a stolen car into a ravine. Nguyen – Gwen’s ex-boyfriend; Nguyen – who had a rendezvous with Rob and Virgil the night he died…
When weird things start happening around Kirsten, especially when she’s alone in the house, she decides to clear up the shady circumstances surrounding Nguyen’s death, and the more she discovers, the more she realises that his supposed suicide is somehow connected with her own personal tragedy.
Driver’s Dead is a compelling mystery, that hooks us with a perplexing, violent prologue and then hurtles us forward in time, to ferret out the truth alongside heroine, Kirsten, who knows only slightly less than we do. At least we are equipped from the get-go with the knowledge that Rob Maxson is bad news. And yet, he’s so charming on their date that even we are lulled into a sense of false security, making the subsequent action all the more shocking. The whole way through, Driver’s Dead dangles clues and for every question it answers, it throws up two more. Alas, as it approaches the finish line, the story-telling starts to waver, and the answers we’ve waited for with anticipation are resolved a little too predictably. The finale is action-packed, but they are actions without consequence, and we’re left with a lot of hanging threads after the last page. Still, whilst Driver’s Dead promises more than it delivers, what we are offered up is, for the most part, prime Point Horror.
Driver’s Dead is a mystery, but one which aspires to be so much more than your typical PH whodunit. By having two surprising acts of violence early in the narrative, we are left with the pervading sense that no character is safe. It makes for a tense narrative, where anything could happen. There is also a supernatural element to the story, though this is used with varying degrees of success. Whilst it occasionally strays towards silly, when it works, it’s chilling. The finale fully embraces the fantastical, abandoning horror for more of a Twilight Zone inspired surrealness; a choice which might divide readers. For me, promising scare potential is frustratingly frittered away in a sequence of daft moments. Nevertheless, Driver’s Dead gets credit for being a unique, and enjoyably darker, entry in the PH franchise.