Categories
Point Horror

April Fools

By Richie Tankersley Cusick.

Belinda is in a car being driven home from a party on April Fool’s Day when we first encounter her. Her best friend, Hildy, is behind the wheel and Hildy’s drunk boyfriend, Frank, is trying to grab the steering wheel to play a prank on the driver of the car behind. Events take a devastating turn when Frank’s antics cause the other car to plummet off the edge of the road, consumed in a fiery explosion. A fortnight later, Belinda is still wracked with guilt but her friends are over it. Then she gets headhunted to tutor a boy her age, Adam, who was in a terrible accident two weeks earlier… Adam is creepy and rude, but Belinda takes the job because she has to find out whether she is responsible for Adam’s horrific condition. She encounters his cold-hearted step-mother, Mrs Thorne; their reserved butler, Cobbs, who seems to know more than he is letting on; and Adam’s handsome step-brother, Noel, towards whom Belinda feels an instant attraction. But when someone starts leaving Belinda twisted messages, it is clear that they know what Belinda and her friends did on April Fool’s Day, and they are planning to serve up their own form of justice.

April Fools is a fun and absorbing read. A whodunit of sorts, but with lots of other intriguing mysteries and a great twist finale. The characters are diverse and interesting. We empathise with the moral Belinda, and pity her isolation (from her mum, who works long hours, and from her two best friends who refuse to share in her guilt, even though they are more at fault than she is). We are repelled by Adam’s personality, as well as his appearance. We are relieved when Noel turns up to provide some support and affection to the beleaguered Belinda. We are wary of Cobbs, but appreciate his kindness and his dry sense of humour.

The interesting relationships between the characters do not, however, distract from the horror of the piece. The ‘pranks’ Belinda is subjected to (a hoax phone call to the police, a package left on her doorstep, a severed doll’s head) might all seem a bit childish, but there are plenty of other scares, particularly through her interactions with Adam. When he confronts her in the kitchen with a snake coiled around his neck you feel Belinda’s fear and the tension between the characters. And when the snake makes a reappearance later on, it is a truly horrific moment. The finale, from the revelation of the twist onwards, is thrilling; anything could happen. Whilst it is not in the M.O. of a Point Horror to kill off its heroine, nevertheless we are relieved when Belinda comes through her ordeal intact. And her ‘happy ending’ nicely rounds off the story, avoiding the pitfall many Point Horrors fall into: that forced, all-too-neat resolution in the last few pages. April Fools is one of the best-written and enjoyable entries in the franchise – I’m already looking forward to reading it again.

9/10

Fear Factor

We are thrust straight into the horror of April Fools with the accident, and that sense of fear and foreboding continues relentlessly from then on. The fact that you never feel able to completely trust any of the characters means that you are suspiciously wondering who is behind Belinda’s torment throughout the action, and are always afraid of what might happen next. This tense atmosphere is punctuated by some great, scary moments (Belinda being stalked by a car, the ‘snake’ encounters, any time she is alone with Adam) and the fabulously thrilling finale. We are even left with a sense of dread at the end, when the perpetrator sends Belinda a gift and we wonder whether they are really out of her life after all. For these reasons, and because April Fools is such an enjoyable read, it gets a top fear factor rating of…

10/10 

Categories
Point Horror

Call Waiting

By R. L. Stine.

Karen’s relationship with her boyfriend, Ethan, means the world to her. But she thinks he might be cheating on her with Wendy Talbot, a concern she shares with her best friend, Micah. And her worst fear is confirmed when, on her next date with Ethan, he suggests they start seeing other people. During a phone conversation with Ethan later that evening, Karen accepts a Call Waiting from an unidentified person who threatens to kill her.

It would be difficult to give a more detailed synopsis than this, without giving away the ‘twist’. So, if you’re happy for an entirely unremarkable turn of events to be ‘spoiled’ for you, please read on.

If not, and if you have a spare 90 minutes you can waste reading Call Waiting, then please come back and check out the rest of my review below, if you can stand to do so!

*****SPOILERS BELOW*****

Of course, it’s Karen pretending to get the phone calls so she can keep her greasy-haired creep of a boyfriend (I am surmising his hair is greasy, but he does work at a place called ‘The Sizzler’…). This ‘twist’ is completely obvious from the first call-waiting incident, which, for a book called Call Waiting, happens a surprisingly late 60-odd pages in. Up to this point we have been introduced to an array of bland peripheral characters, who would act as potential ‘suspects’ for the creepy caller, were it not balls-achingly obvious that Karen’s doing it herself.

Her brother, Chris, is an arsehole, whose practical ‘jokes’ provide the only physical ‘scares’ of the action. And once we know that every single time he appears, he is doing a jape, there’s no horror in him, for example, falling out of a cupboard and playing dead. Her cousin, Adam, is probably the most likeable character of the piece, despite us being constantly told by the other characters that he is ‘weird’. Wait a moment, he’s weird, you say… Maybe he could be the threatening caller? Oh no, that’s right, it’s Karen. The final potential perp is Ethan’s best friend Jake, who is gangly and has a funny voice. Karen is gripped by fear when she realises that Jake doesn’t like her… until she reminds herself that she’s making it all up.

After Karen’s lie is uncovered, the plot goes from woeful to dire, as she starts getting scary phone calls for reals, facing a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation. But by this point, it is impossible to care. We just want Karen to get the medical help she so desperately needs. Thankfully, by the end she has started seeing a shrink who, after just a few sessions, has ‘fixed’ her. Who knew mental illness can be cured quicker than a sprained ankle?

Whilst we might forgive R. L. Stine’s out-dated attitude towards mental health, it’s too great an act to forgive the laughable final scene, where two girls literally fight over the lying, cheating, spineless Ethan, before he chooses one of them to ‘save’, making him – and this is the most distasteful part – the hero of the piece.

Insulting, pointless garbage.

1/10

Fear Factor

There is no horror in this Point Horror. Although R. L. Stine’s blatant sexism and lack of sympathy for the mentally ill (themes which unfortunately recur in his Point Horror books) are both terrifying, Call Waiting gets the lowest possible fear factor rating of…

1/10

Categories
Point Horror

Krazy 4 U

By A. Bates.

Someone is obsessed with Abbie and wants to harm her. First, they try to run her over. Then they smash her bedroom window and ruin all her belongings. Throw in some poorly-spelled poison pen letters and a few threatening phone calls, and it is clear that Abbie has a dangerous, potentially homicidal, stalker. Unfortunately, her father and step-mother are in Hawaii for three weeks so she and her brother, Brett, are alone in the house. Abbie cannot trust anyone – not her best friend, Taylor, nor her new love interest, Clif. Anyone could be the stalker. It could even be Joey Mowry, the boy who has been obsessed with her for years, who has photos of her all over the inside of his locker and his bedroom walls… A red herring if ever there was one, but one which raises troubling issues.

The front cover teaser says ‘She used to be dead popular’ but the action of the story does not really back this up. Abbie has one friend, Taylor, with whom she has a strained relationship. Her only attribute is an obsessive interest in health foods, and from the outset her personality is defined by everything that happens to her within the context of the story. Abbie is a one-dimensional character, who can exist only within the parameters of the story, and this makes it difficult for the reader to empathise with her.

Nevertheless, Krazy 4 U is a solid whodunit. Abbie is being targeted by an unknown stalker; there are several suspects; we want to work out who it is. And the twist, when it comes, is a genuine surprise. However, whilst the clues are there, and it does, technically, make sense, the perpetrator’s actions and motivations are not in-keeping with their personality earlier in the story, and the big ‘reveal’ sadly fails to provide a satisfying conclusion to the action.

4/10

Whilst the things that happen to Abbie are creepy, there are not enough scares for it to be considered a strong entry in the Point Horror franchise. When the perpetrator is revealed, it is a sad moment. Mainly because the character in question is so likeable (more likeable than Abbie, anyway). It also lacks believability (though when you think back through all of the things that have happened to Abbie, it does, technically, make sense). However, perhaps A. Bates is trying to teach us a life lesson. Something like… “don’t trust anyone, ever”. But she also seems to be suggesting, “it’s okay to become friends with a mentally unbalanced young man, who has stalked you previously, just because it transpires he isn’t trying to kill you, after all, at this moment in time”. Terrifyingly bad advice, A. Bates, and Krazy 4 U only musters a fear factor rating of…

3/10

Categories
Point Horror

Trick or Treat

By Richie Tankersley Cusick.

Martha’s widowed Dad has remarried and uprooted her to a new town, to live with her step-mother and odd step-brother, Conor. Even worse, their new house is a creepy mansion in the middle of nowhere, complete with secret passages and its own cemetery. And as if this all wasn’t bad enough, a couple of days after moving in, the parents abandon their children to go on honeymoon, leaving Martha to face her first day in a new school with only her aloof step-brother for emotional support. But Martha has worse troubles than her father’s terrible parenting. As soon as she and Conor are alone in the house, Martha starts getting prank phone calls, from someone calling her ‘Elizabeth’. She hears odd noises in her bedroom and can feel someone watching her from the shadows. She makes friends with a trio of cousins: Wynn and Blake, who are fellow students at the high school, and Greg, her guidance counsellor. Through these friendships she discovers the terrible secret of her new home: that it was the scene not only of the murder of Elizabeth Bedford: Wynn’s best friend/Blake’s girlfriend, but also the apparent suicide of Elizabeth’s supposed murderer and ex-boyfriend, Dennis. Martha also learns that she bears a resemblance to the dead girl, and it becomes clear that whoever murdered Elizabeth thinks she is still alive, and intends to finish what they started by killing Martha too.

Trick or Treat contains relatively few scares in its first 120 pages or so. Prank phone calls, a pair of watching eyes from the shadows, it’s all standard Point Horror fare. There is a lot of narrative exposition at the expense of any real horror. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining read, mainly because of the strength of the main characters. Martha is more interesting and likeable than most Point Horror heroines; Conor has depth and mystery; Blake is a love-interest with an edge.

The first half is more of a mystery than a horror. However, it is an atmospheric mystery, which maintains our interest as we eagerly await the outcome. Clues are scattered like breadcrumbs for us to follow to the thrilling, and scary finale. And it is worth the wait! From the ‘replay’ of Wynn discovering Elizabeth’s bloody, lifeless body, the horror begins and continues with gusto through to the shock twist-ending. Richie Tankersley Cusick presents us with several potential candidates for the murderer, and it could feasibly be any one of them. But when the perpetrator is revealed, it is a genuine, scary surprise. The finale creates an atmosphere of fear, far more effectively than the standard Point Horror. Also, unusual for the franchise, you feel invested in Martha and her friends enough that you long for them to be safe, which creates tension and increases the sense of danger. It all makes for an entertaining, satisfying read, with a thrilling final section.

8/10

Fear Factor

Much of the fear in the first three quarters of the story is channelled through Martha’s thoughts and emotions. She is scared of the new house, but also of the new situation she finds herself in. She is in a fragile state, sleeping poorly, getting bad grades, struggling to settle in. As she/we learn more about the house and what happened in it, the story takes on more ‘horror’ elements, but there is still relatively little to fear. It feels, at times, disproportionate that Martha is so scared. Nevertheless, as mentioned, the violent finale provides some excellent scares, and the revelation of the perpetrator is both shocking and terrifying. That the horror arrives a little late in the story can be easily forgiven, and Trick or Treat deserves a fear factor rating of…

8/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Boyfriend

By R. L. Stine.

Joanna is bored of her Matt Dillon-lookalike boyfriend, Dex, and wants to dump him in favour of Yale-bound, clean-cut Shep. Before she has a chance to cut him loose, Dex and Joanna get into terrible (separate) accidents and when she regains consciousness, she discovers Dex is dead. Problem solved. Joanna recuperates and starts a relationship with Shep. Everything is going well until she gets a call from Dex from beyond the grave… it turns out he is not as dead as Joanna was led to believe by their friend, Pete. But he’s not entirely alive, either. As Joanna tries to work out what is going on, Dex appears to be falling apart in front of her eyes. He is heading back to the grave, and it’s apparent he wants to take Joanna with him.

The Boyfriend has a promising first chapter, which sets the scene for an alternative, darker Point Horror entry. The main character is spoiled and selfish, with a cruel streak. She doesn’t have the usual circle of close girlfriends that Point Horror heroines usually have. In fact, her (seemingly only) friend, Mary, is shocked and even repulsed by her. Her boyfriend, Dex, is handsome but also brooding and dangerous. Anything could happen… But then, for 100 pages, nothing does. After the accidents, the plot meanders its way through Joanna’s self-pity, an uneventful date with nice-but-dull Shep, and a few boring encounters with the ‘actually not dead after all’ Dex. (This is not a spoiler; Dex is only dead for about 50 pages). There is no sense of horror, other than Dex becoming a bit green and walking with a limp. Finally, he also starts to smell a bit rotten, and The Boyfriend begins to resemble a horror story, 100 pages in.

To be fair, the zombie imagery works quite well. Dex’s green pallor, the red eyes, chunks of skin peeling away and the stench of death he’s carrying around with him are gross and well-conveyed. However, we know that ghosts and zombies aren’t in the M.O. of the Point Horror franchise, so it’s pretty obvious what’s going on. Now we’re waiting for Joanna to catch up. And she takes a really long time. R.L. Stine compensates for the obviousness of the plot resolution with a double twist. And whilst the second part of the twist is as equally guessable as the first, it is quite fun being ‘in on the joke’ while we wait for it to unravel. It also provides a showcase for Joanna’s absolute callousness, which is the most entertaining thing about The Boyfriend.

Unfortunately, the hoped-for comeuppances never happen and the conclusion of the story is unsatisfactory, to say the least. Almost every character belongs in prison, but after the finale, everyone goes their separate ways to live ‘happily ever after’. Even heartless Joanna gets a moment of redemption on the last page, after squeezing out a few tears. Very disappointing.

1/10

Fear Factor

Most Point Horrors aim to have a relatively likeable heroine, because sympathising with her makes the terrible things she is subjected to, scarier. The Boyfriend suffers from the fact that Joanna is so awful and unrelatable, it’s difficult to give a damn about what happens to her. In fact, you want her life to fall apart. But it doesn’t. Her selfishness and sociopathy make her immune to the ‘terrible’ things going on around her. She doesn’t care, so neither do we. Her boyfriend is literally decaying before her, and she just keeps going out on dates with him, whilst trying to think of a way to dump him (again). Joanna’s vile personality is too great a distraction from any horror R.L. Stine might be trying to create. As such, The Boyfriend gets a woeful fear factor rating of…

1/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Stranger

By Caroline B. Cooney.

Nicoletta’s perfect life has been unravelling for a while – ever since her parents’ bad financial choices forced the family to relocate to a smaller home, meaning she has to share a bedroom with her younger sister. When we first meet her, she is experiencing the culmination of this downward spiral – there is no longer a place for her in the madrigal choir which her whole social life revolves around. Depressed and bereft of purpose, she sees a mysterious boy in her Art Appreciation class to whom she becomes instantly attracted. She follows the stranger, who introduces himself as Jethro, to an isolated part of town where he seems to disappear into a cave. When she enters, she encounters a terrifying being which appears to be formed from the cave itself. The thing saves her from falling into the cave’s deep shaft and, although repulsed by it, she is now indebted to whatever it is. As her obsession with Jethro and the cave-monster grows, Nicoletta distances herself further from her circle of friends, her sister and Christo, a fellow chorister who she has started dating. As the mystery of Jethro’s connection to the creature unravels, Nicoletta finds herself falling in love, and, in her desperation to save him, from Christo and from his fate, she faces the prospect of being abandoned by everyone she knows.

The Stranger is essentially a fairy tale, with the love triangle between Nicoletta, Christo and Jethro resembling the story of Beauty and the Beast – if Belle was borderline psychotic in her affections and Gaston was even less likeable (Christo is really, really annoying). It is both romantic and horrific. When Jethro reveals the truth about himself to Nicoletta, it is a beautiful moment and a terrible one, because from this point on we know that the fairy tale will have no happy ending. But it is a horror story too. The intensity of Nicoletta’s love for Jethro is scary. She falls for him deeply despite his emerging true nature. The monstrous imagery Caroline B. Cooney uses to describe the creature is highly effective. She appeals to all the senses – the thing’s rank smell, the rough sandiness of its ‘skin’, its rasping voice. But she saves the monstrosity of its appearance for quite late in the story. Previously, the creature has been described in vague terms: it is like ‘granite’ or ‘rock’, it is mistaken for a bear by the hunters. Nothing too disturbing. But when it visits Nicoletta in the hospital, and she sees the thing for what it truly is, in the cold light of day, it is truly horrific.

However, whilst we are disgusted by the creature’s ‘sand warts’ and ‘stalagmitic limbs’, we can still empathise with it, through Nicoletta. Even when the hunters fall into the shaft, the creature’s questionable morality can be forgiven; because Nicoletta forgives it, so can we. It helps that most of the action takes place in a setting which itself is other-worldly. The snowy path between two icy lakes, leading to the beautiful but dangerous cave, is poetic and unreal. It causes Nicoletta to act as if there are no consequences and, from entering the cave, to dancing on the ice, to throwing herself in front of a van, her actions become increasingly erratic. We don’t know where they may lead; anything might happen. She may sacrifice herself, but there are moments when you fear that she might be preparing to sacrifice Christo, or her madrigal-replacement, Anne-Louise, in order to protect her love. This uncertainty creates suspense, almost up to the final page, making The Stranger a fascinating and tense Point Horror entry.

8/10

Fear Factor

***Spoilers***

Much of the horror in The Stranger lies in Jethro’s true appearance, and Nicoletta’s disturbing obsession with him in spite of it. The early glimpses of the creature are frustratingly vague, but pave the way for a great scene in the hospital where Nicoletta (and a nurse) see Jethro in all his horrific reality. Whilst the story could be considered more of a ‘romance’, it is a doomed one, therefore ‘tragedy’ may be a more accurate description. As it progresses towards its conclusion, we empathise with Jethro rather than fear him. Therefore, whilst there is some really effective horror imagery, for the majority of the novel we feel sad rather than scared, giving The Stranger a fear factor rating of…

6/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Lifeguard

By Richie Tankersley Cusick.

Kelsey is reluctantly spending her summer at the island home of her mother’s writer-boyfriend, Eric. When they arrive on the island they learn that Eric’s thirteen year old daughter, Beth, has been missing for three days and it is suspected she may have drowned. Her lifeguard brothers, the shy but friendly Justin, and the dark and moody Neale, both understand the dangers of the water, and they fear the worst. When Kelsey finds a note from Beth claiming someone is going to kill her, she starts an investigation which leads her to discover there have been several mysterious deaths on the island. Along with her new friend, Donna, and another lifeguard, the wealthy and chauvinistic Skip, Kelsey tries to make the best of her time on the island. But as the mystery envelopes her, she fears that she might have uncovered too much, and that Beth’s killer might make her his next victim.

The Lifeguard is an enjoyable read from start to finish. The interest mainly lies in its well-rounded characters, and the story works well as a whodunit. The mystery is engaging, and various backstories (including Kelsey’s) are skilfully teased out throughout the story. That there have been several deaths on the island before Beth’s disappearance makes The Lifeguard one of the darker entries in the Point Horror series. All the way up to the finale, you believe that any of the three lifeguards could be the killer. And knowing that the perpetrator is a lifeguard does not detract from the horror of Kelsey’s encounters with the repulsive Isaac, who torments her whilst bringing her closer to the truth. When he first appears, his description seems a little piratical to take seriously. However, as the story develops, he becomes genuinely grotesque, and you feel Kelsey’s fear when he confronts her on the beach.

The only problem, and I mention it reluctantly, is the ending. Like with Richie Tankersley Cusick’s Teacher’s Pet, she opts for the twisty ending. Not an issue in itself (who doesn’t love a good twist) but a rapid fire double-deception just before the final ‘big reveal’ is confusing and detracts from the surprise of finding out who the perpetrator is. Nevertheless, that Kelsey ends up in a genuinely life-threatening situation sets The Lifeguard  apart from tamer Point Horrors, and provides a suitably exciting finish to this superior entry in the franchise.

9/10

Fear Factor

There is a killer on the loose, possibly one who has murdered his own sister. Throw in a creepy old lighthouse; references to one of the characters being previously institutionalised in a town where other disappearances happened; and a hunting-obsessed wannabe Patrick Bateman, and you have an atmospheric, spine-tingling page-turner, which gets a fear factor rating of…

8/10

Categories
Point Horror

Halloween Night

By R. L. Stine.

Brenda has put up with a lot since her cousin, Halley, moved into her house to escape her parents’ messy divorce. She’s been relocated to a smaller bedroom; is forced to share her beloved car, and now Halley is even trying to steal her boyfriend. Her parents and friends are unsympathetic, and no one seems able to see Halley for what she really is, except for Brenda. And when Brenda is made the victim of several cruel and disturbing pranks, she is convinced her evil cousin must be stopped, once and for all. She and her friend Traci develop an elaborate plan to murder Halley at Brenda’s Halloween party – but will Brenda really go through with it, and can she even survive until then?

Halloween Night suffers from the fact that every character is eminently unlikeable. Halley may be mean and annoying in an obvious way, but Brenda is intolerant and selfish, her friends Dina and Traci are bland, the boyfriends are drips… even her parents are tiresomely naive. There is no suggestion that Brenda has ever even tried to make Halley feel welcome, and she is so consumed by her hatred for her cousin that Halley is her only topic of conversation with anyone she speaks to. Yet she repeatedly forgives her unfaithful boyfriend, Ted, who is just as much to blame for cheating on Brenda as Halley is for trying to steal him from her.

There are, however, some good visual scares from the ‘pranks’ perpetrated against Brenda. The headless bird in the pumpkin and the rotten meat in her bed are gruesomely described, effectively conveying the sense of horror. Unfortunately, it is pretty obvious from the start who is behind the pranks, meaning Halloween Night is not much of a ‘whodunit’. And whilst the twisty ending piques our interest, it drags on a bit too long to be properly scary. After the big ‘reveal’ you can’t help but sympathise with the perpetrator. Brenda and Halley might have patched things up by the end, but neither of them has been made a better person by their experiences. Knowing there exists a Halloween Night II, I would have preferred it if at least one of them had met the pointy end of a knife in this first instalment.

4/10

Fear Factor

The plot is too confusing to build any real tension, and it seems to be a story of two halves, with Halley as antagonist/Brenda as victim in the first act, and Brenda’s bizarre murder plot in the second. The way the action of the Halloween party plays out is engaging and has the makings of a good mystery, but this all comes a little too late. However, the horrible discoveries Brenda makes in her room – the headless bird; bloody writing smeared across the wall, the truly disgusting maggoty mess in her bed – are great Point Horror moments, earning Halloween Night fear factor rating of…

6/10

Categories
Point Horror

Teacher’s Pet

By Richie Tankersley Cusick.

Kate arrives at a writers’ retreat with her teacher, eager to take classes with famed horror writer, William Drewe. Her disappointment upon learning William is missing (presumed drunk) is short-lived when his classes are taken over by his younger brother, Gideon Drewe, who is not only handsome, but also enthusiastic about Kate’s writing. But the special attention Kate receives from Gideon sparks resentment in someone, who makes her the target of increasingly sinister pranks. Aided by two new friends, Denzil and Tawney, who are employees at the camp and aspiring writers, Kate tries to solve the mystery of what has happened to William Drewe, whilst identifying her tormentor.

Richie Tankersley Cusick packs a lot into the 214 pages of Teacher’s Pet. Best friendships are made overnight; Kate juggles the affections of three different men who have seemingly fallen in love with her at first sight; there are two hospitalisations and Kate is almost constantly terrified. Whilst this all makes for an exciting, page-turning read, there is an onus on the reader to concentrate more intently than your typical Point Horror demands. There are also so many red herrings that almost every character with a name is a suspect. This would usually be the making of a great whodunit. However, whilst the finale provides some great scares, the ‘big reveal’ of the perpetrator’s identity is a confusing disappointment.

Whilst Teacher’s Pet might not satisfy all fans of the whodunit, there’s a lot of scary imagery which nevertheless makes it a worthwhile entry in the Point Horror franchise. From the blood-spattered bathroom, to the mysterious Rowena in her black dress and veil and the eyes peering through Kate’s window at night… all are designed to tingle the spine – and they often succeed. The problem lies in its ambitious attempt to fit into too many genres. The romantic plotlines interfere with, rather than enhance, the story. We wonder how old Gideon Drewe is meant to be. Too old to be romantically pursuing a high school student, even if his home life is messed up. The addition of Pearce, the caretaker, as a romantic interest adds a further complication, and the ‘love triangle’ which develops seems to exist only to add exposition, rather than having any other value. It is these distractions which hold Teacher’s Pet back from being a more entertaining read.

6/10

Fear Factor

Teacher’s Pet is at its best when it behaves like a horror story rather than a mystery or teen romance. And there are plenty of spooky moments which are well-designed for horror fans. The finale, with its creepy setting and twists and turns, is particularly scary, earning Teacher’s Pet a fear factor rating of…

7/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Dead Game

By A. Bates.

Linnie, Ming and Jackson are approaching the end of their time at high school and each has at least one score to settle. To that end, Linnie suggests an alternative version of The Dead Game, a game her sister taught her, whereby they publicly humiliate an allocated ‘victim’ to show them in their true light. But when the first three ‘hits’ go horribly (and in one case, fatally) wrong, they realise that someone is taking The Dead Game literally.

The three main characters are realistic and well-rounded. It is easy to empathise with Ming, who has been knocked from her ‘top of the class’ pedestal by the ‘transfer twins’ who relocated to the school just before graduation in order to improve their grade point average. Unfortunately, the Dead Game requires enough ‘victims’ to go around the participants, and as the list of unsuspecting targets grows, the reasons for their inclusion become more tenuous and pettier. So what if a girl gets a higher grade in art class by faking artistic temperament? And if the track team is doing badly because their star runner dropped out, surely that’s the team’s fault, not his? Also, the ‘hits’ when they happen, are more like pranks. There are pages and pages of build up to the first ‘hit’, building the tension effectively. But when it turns out that the masterplan is to get ketchup and custard down the target’s shirt, you wonder how unimaginative Ming was ever top of her class. Jackson’s plan is so convoluted and bizarre it lacks all believability, detracting from the horror of the subsequent ‘accident’ as you are still trying to work out why on earth he did what he did (what, he’s never heard of a camera?!)

The final problem The Dead Game suffers from, is that it is blatantly obvious who the perpetrator is from very early on in the book, meaning the reader is deprived of the usual Point Horror fun of guessing ‘whodunnit?’ and the overlong finale lacks tension, because we already know the who, the how and, more or less, the why.

The horror of The Dead Game mainly lies in the consequences of the main characters’ actions. When their innocent game leads to serious injury in one case and death in another, they encounter agonising guilt and police scrutiny, which could derail their lives.They begin to mistrust each other and become withdrawn and fearful. They are victims of their own making. Herein lies the effectiveness of the horror and the redeeming feature of an otherwise disappointing read.

3/10

Fear Factor

Nothing physically happens to the main characters, apart from rocks being thrown through their windows. However, the fear lies in what they are doing to themselves by participating in the game. We feel for Ming when her minor, petty action spins horribly beyond her control, leaving her with the guilt-ridden aftermath. We fear for Jackson, lying to the police to cover up his role in a fatal accident. But these elements are undermined by the plot itself, which ploughs on towards the dull, dragged-out finale at the expense of exploring the more interesting personal crises the characters are going through. The Dead Game has unrealised potential, and I wish I could give it more than its dismal fear factor rating of…

2/10