By Diane Hoh.
When snobby, shallow Robert Q picks up a waitress at Burgers Etc. – a popular Salem University hangout – his friends think him dating a townie is a hilarious joke. Roommates Hailey and Nell look on in disgust and pity as Darlene is unsuspectingly swept off her feet by the egotistical idiot. Hailey, by going out of her way to be friendly, accidentally becomes Darlene’s confidante in all things Robert Q, though her warnings about his reputation and dodgy personality fall on deaf ears. However, it’s not long before Darlene sees for herself what a jerk he really is, when he dumps her at a party to go off with his ex, Gerrie. To make things worse, Darlene’s recently jilted boyfriend, Bo, humiliates her at the same party, by confronting her with the truth – that Robert Q is just using her – in front of them all.
Furious at everyone except Robert Q, Darlene raves about how much she still loves him, which makes her the prime suspect after Gerrie is seriously assaulted. But when Hailey and Nell’s room is trashed, Robert Q’s beloved car is torched, and his best friend Richard is killed in a hit and run, Darlene is nowhere to be seen. She’s out of town, looking after a sick grandmother. And the snow storms swirling around campus, preventing anyone driving in or out of Twin Falls, cement her alibi. With the help of Darlene’s co-worker, Finn, and his friend, Pete (both Salem students) Hailey hunts for any information that might lead to the psychopath who is tormenting them.
There are several issues with Deadly Attraction. Firstly, our heroine essentially brings all the trouble on her own head. On page one, Darlene is just a waitress who has taken Hailey’s order and Robert Q is a guy she vaguely knows and dislikes, by reputation. By the end of chapter two, she is Darlene’s new best friend and has annoyed Robert Q to the point where, when Hailey’s dorm gets trashed, even his own friends think he might have done it. Hailey involves herself in other people’s dramas and pays the price. I say, fair enough.
Another issue is the general unpleasantness of all concerned. If you want to read about arseholes getting their comeuppance, then this is the Point Horror for you. Darlene’s incredibly unhealthy attitude to men is never explored, and certainly not resolved. You can’t help but fear for her future far more than you fear for Hailey in her final showdown with the actual perp. Also, far too much story is given up to one plot point (Darlene’s mysterious, untraceable brother) and it is drawn out for so long, in such a heavy handed way, that it ceases to be a twist about eighty pages before the truth is ‘revealed’. A second twist is more skilfully crafted and takes us into the one redeeming quality of Deadly Attraction, its thrilling, perilous finale. Here, the story finally comes to life, though far too late to compensate for the dull preamble.
This is a clunky, unengaging, and sometimes confusing rare miss from Diane Hoh.
There’s a lot of violence in Deadly Attraction: physical assaults; arson; murder. We should be more concerned for our protagonist and her friends. But horror is a double-edged sword: there’s the threat, and the fear. The threat is delivered in spades, but there’s definitely something lacking in the fear. I think it’s because Hailey brings so much of the trouble on herself. Not just because of her association with Darlene, or the fact that she’s trying to solve a mystery that is none of her business. But she is also repeatedly careless – leaving her door unlocked, her bag unguarded, walking around alone at night, insisting on confronting someone she believes to be a dangerous criminal rather than letting the police handle it. It’s impossible to feel afraid for someone when you just want to see them get what’s coming to them.