By Diane Hoh.
When Quinn Hadley is stressed or upset, she sleepwalks. It’s a frustrating, sometimes dangerous habit and she’s aghast when her roommate Tobie reveals that it’s followed her to university. Tobie isn’t over the moon about it either. She needs a lot of sleep, and is irritated when she has to get up in the night to guide her roving roomie back to bed. Quinn attributes the return of her childhood condition to having been recently dumped, unceremoniously and without reason, by her boyfriend, Simon. It’s because of her newly single status that she stays home when Tobie and her date, Danny, along with their friends Ivy and Suzie, go to Salem University’s Spring Fling dance. But it turns out to be a blessing in disguise, when the ball is cut short by a stink bomb attack that causes a messy stampede to the exit.
It is the first in a series of attacks seemingly targeted at happy couples. One pair gets doused in red paint; another is trapped in their car whilst a maniac smashes the windows and doors around them; and Ivy and her boyfriend Tim are assaulted with a hammer. No one has any clue who is to blame – except possibly Quinn. She’s always in bed asleep when these incidents happen, but there’s evidence after each one that she might have been involved, or at least present. Scared to admit her potential culpability, she hides the evidence and sets about investigating whether her grief over the break-up with Simon has driven her to violently lash out at couples in her sleep.
The Nightwalker is a really interesting entry in the Nightmare Hall series. Whilst we can be pretty sure Quinn is innocent, there’s a shadow of doubt over the narrative which makes us less certain about where this tale is taking us, than we might usually be when reading a formulaic PH. Even if she isn’t sleep-pestering couples, all the evidence leads to her, and she’s in danger of having the finger of blame pointed at her at any moment. It works well as a whodunit too; the peripheral characters are all shady enough to be valid suspects, whilst still having distinctive roles in Quinn’s story. Things get a little daft towards the end, but the various twists and turns are straight out of a solid 90’s Hollywood thriller, and the finale is bonkers yet satisfying.
It’s Quinn’s own suspicion of herself which creates the most effective horror in The Nightwalker. A self-condemned, hammer-wielding somnambulist in muddy socks; she makes for a tragic and terrifying heroine. Even though I knew it would turn out to be someone else, I found myself genuinely hoping it wasn’t her, and that she wouldn’t get blamed. The actual perp, and their convoluted motivations, are a little too off the wall to be scary, but there’s enough peril and violence in the finale to maintain the fear effectively.