Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dead End, or “Booze Will Be the Death of You”

I have not blogged an original Fear Street book for some time, so when I started reading Dead End I was pretty excited. Until I read the subject matter and started having some pretty hard core déjà vu. Not the teen hit and run scenario AGAIN – I seriously just read this in Hit and Run. Not very creative, R. L., I am disappointed in you. Although, kind of funny to compare a similar Point Horror with Fear Street.

Everything begins at a party – all the seniors at Shadyside High are there, plus some guys from another school who crashed. And they brought BEER with them. Teens drinking beer equals naughty, so you know they’re going to get what they deserve. Main character Natalie is wandering around the party, thinking about poetry – yup, she’s that exciting. She talks to people here and there (and subtly introduces us to the characters): her friend Gillian and Gillian’s maybe boyfriend Carlo, her bff Randee, who she describes as ugly but a really nice girl, Todd, the caveman-like jock, and her own boyfriend Keith, who apparently likes salty food and beer (diagnosis: teenage boy).

Keith gets wasted at the party and acts like a buffoon. Points to R. L. for realism here. Natalie gets all huffy and refuses to drive home with him. Totally legit, but next time think about snagging the drunk driver’s keys before they head out. Instead, Natalie grabs a ride with Randee, who’s already driving Gillian, Carlo and Todd home. Randee drives like a spaz, and I was wondering if she’s actually secretly drunk as well. She complains she can’t see well in the fog, but her bad driving goes WAY beyond that. She careens down a dead end road and hits a car.

Of course the first thing you do after hitting a car is speed away into the fog, hoping no one saw you, which is exactly what Randee does. Natalie thought she saw someone in the car, says they need to go back to check, but Randee refuses. For really intelligent, selfless reasons. Randee is grounded, and doesn’t want to get into more trouble for being out. God I love the justification teenagers have for things – I don’t want to deal with the consequences of my actions, which is perfect justification for NOT doing the right thing, no matter who gets hurt. Like sociopaths. Todd agrees with Randee, because his dad just got a high profile job with the mayor’s office, and his fuck up might affect him. They check the bumper and find only a small scratch on it, so their determination is that everything is fine. Nothing could go wrong.

Except the person that they hit actually died in the accident – they were thrown through the windshield and half their face was ripped off. And that person was the mayor’s sister, and he will stop at nothing to discover the identity of those who did it. And the fact that they left the scene of the accident puts them all in a world of trouble they did not need. That’s right, they’re a band of hit-and-run murderers. So they make a pact that they’ll never tell anyone ever, and go about their lives as normal. You know, until guilt and suspicion rip them apart, right? This story is so overdone. Anyways, Carlo is really sensitive, and doesn’t want to live with this secret, so he wants to go to the police. Todd, being an uber-stable, mature person, threatens to kill him. That’s just how they roll in Shadyside.

Keith goes to Natalie’s house that night, which is hard for her because she promised not to tell anyone her horrible secret, but also wants to melt into his warm soulful eyes. Keith demands they talk, because he knows her secret. Natalie chokes on panic, until Keith accuses her of hooking up with Todd because she left in the same car as him. Natalie makes out with him in relief that he doesn’t know her real secret, and this satisfies him that she’s not leaving him for someone else.

So, for the weekend, Natalie, Randee, Todd, Gillian and Carlo decide a nice relaxing break from all the stress would be to go to Carlo’s uncle’s hunting lodge. Because in an atmosphere of tense suspicion , it’s best to give all the teenagers guns and sent them out alone in the woods, right? And the uncle somehow manages to get these kids hunting licenses, and hooks them up with shotguns, for some good old fashioned fun. I say wtf? Surely it can’t be that easy, can it? Natalie is actually glad that Keith couldn’t make it due to a family obligation, because it would be too hard to keep the secret from him. It’s not that fun for anyone, because Todd keeps on hinting/joking that maybe Carlo should have an accident, since he threatened to tell on them, but nobody thinks it’s funny.

It’s even less funny when a gunshot is heard in the woods, and they find Carlo lying there with his head blown off by a shotgun. Official story: he tripped and shot himself in the head. Natalie is not so quick to believe this as Todd and Randee both had shotguns with them too. Except … they could probably tell whose shotgun was used, right? And they figured it was Carlo’s, so it was either Carlo himself, or anyone, right? Never mind that, Natalie decides to suspect only Todd and Randee.

Of course, Todd is acting like an obsessed lunatic about nobody telling their little secret, so it’s pretty easy to suspect him of something. When Keith breaks into her house that night (wtf), Natalie is so traumatized by Carlo’s headless body and the whole situation, she tells him everything. Keith is the perfect understanding boyfriend, and Natalie is so happy she confessed to him. Especially when Todd and Randee start dating, and she’s certain they’re collaborating to bring her and Gillian down. Gillian finds some mouldy meat in her bag, along with the most inept threatening letter ever: You can be close to Carlo again. In the grave. This is you. Dead meat. If you talk. I’m going to dock marks from that threat for going on waaay too long. Like, do things really need to be that spelled out: Get it? You’ll be dead if you talk. Because I’ll kill you. So don’t. Whoever the murderer is, they’re an idiot.

Keith picks Natalie up from a study session, and she mocks his piece of shit car. It’s all dented, and still has the tiny spare tire on from a flat weeks ago. And the driver’s side door always sticks. Natalie is feeling pretty awful, so Keith makes out with her for awhile and tells her all will be alright.

Gillian confronts Natalie at school and tells her she’s going to the police – that Natalie doesn’t know the whole story. They are interrupted by a shifty Todd and Randee, but Natalie supports Gillian’s decision. She tells Keith that night while ice skating what Gillian intends to do, and Keith is all immediately: “Uh, I need to go do something, right now.” Natalie continues to skate alone, then heads home. She’s chased down by Todd and Randee, who insist they go see Gillian immediately, to stop her from talking. They get to Gillian’s house, to see that’s already been taken care of, as she’s sprawled at the bottom of her stairs, her head facing the wrong way. (Ick! Points for disturbing visual images!)

Natalie is certain it was Todd and Randee, so decides to go to the police the next morning. She’s stopped by Randee, who wants to go too, and to bring in her car for them to inspect. Natalie doesn’t trust Randee at all, but they go in together and confess. The police listen to their story, check out Randee’s car, then tell them they’re wasting their time because the car that killed the mayor’s sister was blue, and one of the tire tracks is smaller than the other. Like, what would cause that?

The girls get into mild trouble with the law for the hit and run stuff, then they leave, and Natalie still has not figured this one out. She’s just sooo happy to not be involved with murder. Until she sees Keith parked in her driveway in his BLUE car with dented bumper and one spare tire on. He tells her angrily to get in the car, so of course she does. (???) Natalie deserves whatever she gets.

Keith confesses everything – hitting the mayor’s sister while drunk driving the night of the party, then murdering Carlo and Gillian. He didn’t have a family obligation the weekend of the hunting trip – he had an obligation to shoot Carlo in the head! And he left Natalie at the ice rink to go murder Gillian. And now he plans to murder her. He tells her, in painstaking detail, how he’s going to speed over a cliff, jump out, and let her fall to her death. Great plan, genius. Instead, Natalie just jumps out of the car, but Keith is on the driver’s side with the door that always sticks. He falls to his death. Natalie sees a DEAD END sign and thinks how they are at the end of the horror.

Not my favorite Fear Street ever, but you can really compare the Fear Street books to Point Horror looking at this one, and Hit and Run. In Point Horror, you have some lame kids trying to pass their driver’s test, some exaggerated pranks with a corpse prop, and one non-fatal accident. Fear Street involves underage drinking, multiple murders and maggoty meat. Fear Street > Point Horror any day of the week. 18 drunk drivers out of 25.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Hand of Power, or “Give Us a Hand”

Another Fear Street Saga. I have to say, these things grow on you. At first, you’re all – seriously? Bring back R. L. Then you start thinking about them a little bit more, and it’s like: what are they going to throw at me next? This book is really fucked up, and so on. The Hand of Power surely does not disappoint in the wtf arena, no sirree. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

A ship at sea, 1624

A ship at sea, eh? Could we be a little more vague about where this story is taking place? Alina Sturdevant is in said ship in the midst of a storm, and nearly falls over the railing before being saved by her studly husband, Niels. She goes down to the cabin for safety’s sake, and thinks about the fire that will always be waiting for her ...

Hudson River Valley, 1664 – Village of Tilburg
What is this Village of Tilburg business? What about the village of Shadyside? Why have a Fier if not in Shadyside? Anyways, Margarete Fier has been kidnapped by some random nasty widow. Not a woman, or a lady, but a widow. Not sure why the necessity in focusing on her marital status. She’s been kidnapped because she has these famous visions where she sees stuff that happened in the past, and this widow’s daughter is missing, so she’s forcing Margarete to have a vision to find out what happened to her. Margarete does have a vision, and is compelled to run out into the woods, to a shallow grave under the trees, where she finds the widow’s daughter. All this time they’re surrounded by villagers carrying pitchforks and torches. Ah, villagers, you’re so cliché. Despite the fact that they MADE Margarete have a vision to find this out, they decide she must have also killed the girl because she knew where she was buried. Btw, that’s super unfair on their part. They decide to burn her on the spot as a murderer, and if not a murderer, at the very least a witch.

Margarete flees the angry villagers, and is rescued by a handsome stranger in the woods, who throws her onto the saddle of his horse and actually whispers (to the horse, presumably): Run. Run, Prince. Run like the wind.” Snort. Who wrote this? Sounds like a cheesy romance novel already. Handsome stranger takes Margarete to the patroon’s house. Um, I don’t know what a patroon is, so I’ll look it up. Patroon, heh. It’s a funny word. Dictionary.com tells me it’s “a person who held an estate in land with certain manorial privileges granted under the old Dutch governments of New York and New Jersey.” That is surprisingly historically accurate. Well done ghost writer, you did your homework. When Margarete sees the patroon’s house, she freaks out and tries to flee once again, because supposedly the patroon’s house is haunted. Surely preferable to being burnt to death, though, right?

Handsome stranger forces her inside, and makes a fire. To warm her, not to burn her. Margarete is just starting to relax when she realizes handsome stranger is less handsome than initially thought, because he has a gross shrivelled hand. She hurts his feelings by being grossed out, and finally decides he’s okay. Handsome stranger reveals he is the patroon, which isn’t a huge surprise because he lives in the patroon’s house, but Margarete is impressed. His name is Peter Sturdevant. Apparently the house isn’t haunted by ghosts, but by the mystery of what happened to Peter’s grandparents, Niels and Alina. Alina was from a Caribbean island, where Niels fell in love with on his way to the New World. She betrayed her people for him, then he murdered her, as the story goes. How’s that for gratitude? Margarete suddenly gets a vision of Alina.

An island in the West Indies, 1624
Alina and Niels are on some vague island, secretly married and pregnant with a love child, which is pretty scandalous by Fear Street standards. Niels is supposed to start a trading colony on the island, and he asks Alina to spy for him so he can conquer her people. So, not asking much, then. They are attacked and separated by some “bird of evil omen” which is like death to look upon, or something. The bird somehow sort of herds Alina to the shaman’s hut on the island. This really didn’t make sense to me, I thought this evil bird was kind of trippy. The shaman makes Alina join in a ritual where the evil bird chooses the shaman’s successor. No one’s surprised when the bird brands Alina, and Alina is pushed into the fire pit.

Hudson River Valley, 1664
Margarete comes to after the vision, and Peter is there being really kind to her. She tells him all about her visions, which I personally would keep to myself with all the “burn the witch” issues going on outside, but Peter vows to protect her forever. The villagers come a-knockin at the door, and Peter goes to deal with the mob with rational arguments. Cause that always works. No one could actually prove the accusations that she’s a witch. And then Peter makes her touch the church key, to see if it burns her, and when it doesn’t, she’s proven to be not a witch. If only the witch trials were all that simple. Peter then accuses the dead girl’s fiancé of killing her, and threatens to lock him in the icehouse. The man babbles out a confession that he did kill her, but please, not the icehouse. (??) Won’t they probably execute him now? Anyways, not my problem. The mob takes fiancé away, and Margarete faints from all the excitement.

She wakes up in Peter’s house, and makes herself pretty for him – ooh, scandalous. Peter asks her to help him find an object of his grandmother’s of great power – he thinks it will help him heal his withered hand. In thinking about this, he gets all angry and violent, then apologizes tenderly, saying that Margarete makes him forget himself, and he’s afraid she’ll make him hurt her. Um, classic abusive relationship in the making. Run, Margarete! Margarete of course immediately falls in love with him, and agrees to stay to help him look.

They confess their love to each other after a week in each other’s company, and kiss passionately. Peter goes to town to get the pastor to marry them. Despite the promise she made to him not to enter the attic without him, she immediately goes to the attic to find the object of power. Hmm, disobeying the potential abusive husband is not a good idea. Margarete finds a trunk she thinks is his grandmother’s, and in the false bottom finds a metal box. Touching it gives her another vision.

An island in the West Indies, 1624
Alina is about to have the power of the shaman passed to her. Shaman calls the spirit of the fire to pass into Alina, which is literally a man made out of fire. Alina finds she can reach into the fire without injury, and pulls a metal box out of the embers. Inside the box is a hand. The story behind the hand of power is the original shaman sacrificed her hand to the fire to get his aid in removing the white man from their land. She got her hand back but it was powerful and evil. She killed all the foreigners, then turned on her own people. The people killed her, but saved the evil hand, just in case someone might need an evil hand. Okay, are you giggling too? The hand can apparently be slipped on like a glove.

Alina puts on the hand, and initially is full of mad-rage-power and is going to kill Niels, but then he reminds her of their scandalous love child. So she turns on the shaman instead, stabbing her in the throat. The shaman curses Alina, as shaman tend to do, as she dies.

Hudson River Valley, 1664
Peter shakes Margarete awake. She tells him she found the object of power, but he should stay away from it as it is evil. Peter tells it to shove it, and is delighted to find the hand of power – a perfect hand to fit over his withered one. Wouldn’t it have been ironic if the hand of power was the same hand as him good hand? That would totally suck. Or maybe he could put the hand on the wrong side, like backwards, but better than nothing? Speculation, because things worked out just fine for Peter. He puts on the evil hand.

And predictably goes insane. It is so painful, he thinks Margarete must be trying to kill him, so she must be “punished.” I warned you about him, Margarete. She manages to get away and locks herself in the attic, which is a fool proof plan. She goes back to the box to finish the vision.

Hudson River Valley, 1624
Alina is in the home Niels built for her (the patroon’s house) with her baby boy, but her hand is still burning all the time and she wonders when the curse will kick in. Niels comes to play with the baby, throwing him around which upsets Alina. She’s so upset she runs into a pitcher of water, spilling it over the hand to her horrific pain. Wait, so she hasn’t had water touch her hand since it was put on? This woman has not washed her hand in MONTHS. She goes into a madness with pain, and turns on Niels. Her evil hand goes after him with a shard of pottery (a deadly weapon). The baby crying brings her out of it, and she tells Niels about her evil hand.

Alina says they must cut the hand from her body and throw it in the river to end the evil. Niels instead wants to use the power of the hand, and locks her in the attic, saying he’ll leave her there until she reconsiders. Alina cuts the hand off with the shard of pottery, which has got to take some dedication to the job. She’s too weak to get the hand into the nearby river, so instead she locks it in the box and hides it in the trunk. She dies from blood loss, because Niels was too late coming to her.

Hudson River Valley, 1664
Margarete comes to, and Peter is on the other side of the attic door, saying he came back to himself and is sorry, so she lets him in – fool! She tells him what happened to his grandparents. Peter takes out his hunting knife and … cuts his evil hand off! It starts crawling around, which is, just, ick. Margarete sticks it with a cane, puts it in the box and throws it in the river. Triumph! Margarete and Peter see the ghosts of Alina and Niels, reunited at last, then they kiss as they are over whelmed with happiness.

Awww … how often does true love conquer all in a Fear Street. Margarete has got to be one of the only Fiers to have a happy ending. This book was fantastically cheesy, from beginning to end. An evil HAND? Genius. It would have been better if the hand acted of its own accord, though, getting into hijinks before it was cut off. Sigh. Oh well, the cheesy love story was enough for me. 7 severed hands out of 9.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hit and Run, or “Weekend at Bernie’s: DUI”

Sorry for so long between blogs. The reason? I was stuck doing another Point Horror, and I gotta tell you. These things are a struggle to get through. 120 pages of wholesome American goodness gone wrong. It just took awhile, but I powered through.

Cassie is friends with three guys: Scott, All American perfect guy, but for the tendency to be a little girl; Winks, a self-proclaimed “jokester” who likes to torture his friends; and Eddie, a serious shy young man often the butt of the jokes. This foursome gets into all kinds of trouble around (random all-American town), but what happens when the jokes go too far?

While hanging at Scott’s, Winks comes over with a human eyeball to play with. That’s certainly what I used to do for fun while in high school. He’s borrowed it from Eddie’s cousin Jerry, who works at the morgue. I have this feeling that stealing body parts is illegal, and if it isn’t, it certainly should be. Anyways, they call Eddie over to scare him with it, and he totally falls for it, fainting. There is much laughter, although not so much from Eddie’s side of things. Once he’s recovered, they decide to go for a joy ride in Scott’s parents Volvo, though none of them have their license. Ooh, bad kids. Also, none of them are capable of standing up to Winks, who’s a bit of a bully. Eddie fusses like an old woman, which is kinda irritating. You can see why he’s picked on so much.

Once out of town, Eddie gets into the driver’s seat to practice. He’s skittish and overly careful, but really wants to pass his test, trying to ignore Winks who’s being a typical asshole. Eventually he’s had enough and stomps away, and Scott and Cassie decide that driving practice is over for the night. Cassie and Scott are like the parents of this foursome, with a bad kid and an annoying kid. After Eddie is dropped off, Cassie wonders aloud why Eddie is always picked on, and the guys just shrug, agreeing that’s just the way it is and Eddie should get used to it, since it won’t get any better.

Cassie and Scott go shopping together, and it ends with them kissing awkwardly. She doesn’t know what to do since she’s liked Scott forever, but the kissing him thing is strange. Maybe they’re just not to be?

Next time the four of them are hanging out, trying to decide what to do, it’s Eddie who suggests they go for another joy ride, since they do all need the practice. After Eddie mans up a bit this way, they all take it seriously, practicing their driving BORING! This goes on way too long. Eddie drives them home as they discuss how awesome it will be to get their licenses.

Then a man steps out in front of them on the road. Eddie slams on the brakes, but they slide right into him, quietly bumping over him. Why was dude just standing in the middle of a country road? Eddie calls to the man, then goes to him. The man is staring up at them, and no one really needs Eddie to check for a pulse and pronounce him dead – just like the doctor he one day wanted to be. Eddie freaks out, and Winks swipes the dead guy’s wallet. To see who he is, presumable. Brandt Tinkers.

Predictably, the teens decide to ignore the man they just killed, since they don’t want to face the consequences of their actions. I wonder if subsequent guilt will rip them apart and terrify them? I’m sure I’ve seen this movie before. They toss the body to the side of the road and take off.

Waiting at Eddie’s house are two policemen. Eddie had left the front door open, and they apparently just waited around to tell him that he shouldn’t do that. Seriously, is this what cops do? Have they nothing else they could possibly busy themselves with? No wonder they can’t solve any actual crimes.

No reports of hit and runs come in, and they wonder if no one has found the body yet. Scott feels this means they have no cause for concern. Cassie is uneasy, so they ask Eddie to call his cousin Jerry, the morgue-worker, to see if the body of Brandt Tinkers turned up. To their surprise, he was brought in the night he was killed. Apparently the cops are close to figuring out who committed the hit and run, and are keeping quiet in the media because of this. I think that’s giving the cops a lot of credit. Eddie wants to turn himself in, but Scott and Cassie try to convince him to wait a few days. As they are doing so, Jerry from the morgue calls up. The corpse of Brandt Tinker is missing – almost as if it got up and walked of its own accord.

Eddie is sure Winks has something to do with the missing body, but Winks pleads innocence. He’s been grounded anyways, since his mother discovered the human eyeball in his room. Cassie and Scott believe Winks, and decide not to think about it anymore. Until Cassie receives a collect call from Brandt Tinkers. Who calls collect? Corpses are totally cheap. Not surprisingly, Brandt Tinkers gives her a chilling message: You can’t run away.
Next day, Eddie tells Cassie he got the same call. Cassie’s angry about the practical joke, but Eddie thinks it’s more sinister than that. He cuts homeroom, surprising Cassie, who figures he must be more messed up than she realized in order to skip class. That night, Eddie calls her over to show her a new practical joke – a Cubs cap (presumably worn by Brandt Tinkers) with a note tucked into it: My hat is off to the driver who killed me.

Cassie decides to ignore this new joke, and goes to the movies with Winks. Not as a date, just because the other two are sick/too scared to go outside. She goes outside to wait for him, and finds him already there – in a pile in front of the neighbours, a victim of a hit and run. He’s unconscious and has internal injuries, but the doctors think he’s going to make it. The other three congregate at Eddie’s, where they find their latest stalker note from the dead man: One down, three to go. Along with a Polaroid of Brandt Tinkers corpse sitting in Scott’s Volvo, grinning at them. I just had a flash of Weekend at Bernie’s. Haha. Funny movie. Cassie has her own brain flash, and all of a sudden knows who’s behind it all.

She calls Eddie to the next day, telling him they need to go see Jerry at the morgue. They stroll in together – can people just stroll into the morgue? Again, I feel there needs to be greater protection around dead bodies. Jerry is a complete creep, and keeps on playing with the bodies. Ugh, he’s a ghoul. Cassie shows him the Polaroid, and Jerry stops kidding around. Eddie decides this is the best possible moment to get violently ill and has to go, immediately. Hmm, suspicious?
Winks wakes up that day, to much joy, but can’t have visitors just yet. Cassie is trying to concentrate on homework when she hears something outside, and goes down to find a Polaroid of Brandt Tinkers corpse, standing at her front door, with a note: You’re next. She calls Scott at home, but despite the late hour, he isn’t there. Hmm, also suspicious. Cassie seems to think so – to her this is proof he’s the stalker guy.

Despite everything going on, Cassie still has to take her driver’s test the next day. She passes easily, but is too upset to celebrate that teenage victory. Eddie calls her up and asks her to take him driving, now that she’s certified, so he can practice. They drive out in Eddie’s car, and Eddie is behaving all squirelly. He drives her far out to some deserted road. She’s explaining to him her theory that Scott ran over Winks and had been send the notes, when they blow a tire. Ever the tomboy, Cassie goes to put the spare on, despite Eddie’s desperate pleas not to. In the trunk, she finds the unfortunate Brandt Tinkers corpse. It was Eddie all along!

He says it was all a joke. He was so sick of being picked on, he just had to do it. All this pent up teenage angst sure turned Eddie into a dull boy, and his attempt to gain a sense of humour came out a little twisted. Brandt Tinkers is a corpse of a homeless guy, borrowed from the marge to teach the pranksters a little lesson. Only Cassie didn’t fall for it, so now she has to pay. He goes after her with a tire iron, then tells her to run. He gives her a sporting head start, then comes after her in the car.

Only he misses her, as Scott’s Volvo comes to the rescue by slamming into Eddie. Jerry is in with Scott, and they tackly Eddie. Originally, Jerry was in on the joke, but when he saw the Polaroids he realized things had gone way too far. Cassie questions Scott about his whereabouts the night before. His excuse? Sleepwalking. Snort – totally plausible. But when Cassie tells them the corpse is in the trunk, they are all shocked to find the corpse truly gone.

Oh well. Two weeks later, they’re all laughing about it. Except for Eddie, who is now getting treatment for being crazy. And Jerry, who has learned his lesson about practical jokes. Until they go to leave his place, and find Brandt Tinkers standing at the doors, waiting for them. Oh, corpse jokes. Do they ever get old?

Are you kidding me? This whole book is about the amusing propping up of a corpse, over the course of several weeks. This corpse is thrown around, stuffed into trunks, run over several times – how is this thing still standing? Am amazed at the lengths people went for a corpse joke. And while I would like to say that corpse jokes are not funny, I still laugh at Weekend at Bernie’s, so clearly I am a hypocrite. At least Weekend at Bernie’s had better follow through. And what ever happened to the Cassie-Scott love story? They share one awkward kiss and that’s it? Actually, I’m going to give that points for being realistic to high school. That’s about the only points this gets. 2 corpse jokes out of 19.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Face of Terror, or “Psst! You’ve Got Something On Your Face”


This Fear Street Saga begins in a gothic mansion (obvs). Thomas, the handsome sensitive artist, is slowly dying at the hands of an unknown man. Unknown man is a nutter, as he cackles over Thomas’ body. We’re not sure why or how he’s dying but he’s getting gradually weaker. His last act is to look at the locket he’s carried around with him, of his twin sister Elizabeth. If only he could save her from his murderer, but he knows that Elizabeth is the man’s obsession – he strives only to possess her by any means possible. Thomas’ last thought as he slips into the cold is that the unknown nutter is truly insane …

Shadyside, 1867

Elizabeth, the twin sister, is unaware of her brother’s plight, but she’s hardly having a better time for it. She works 12 hour days in the mill, and lives in a dreary gray boardinghouse. Poor little Elizabeth, directly out of a Dickens novel. You can bet things are about to get a lot worse. She dreams one night of her brother Thomas, that he’s in danger. It may just be that she hasn’t heard from him in months, when they used to write daily. But ever since he’s begun work as a painter for a reclusive yet brilliant wax artist who lives in an isolated gothic mansion, he’s been incommunicado. And she can’t shake the thought that something is wrong.

She tells her bestie Margaret about her fears. Margaret is a feisty former-rich Southern belle, whose family lost everything in the war, and now her only dream is to marry rich to escape the short brutal life of the proletariat. Sigh. And isn’t that just every girls’ dream. Margaret immediately sees an adventure and a chance at a rich husband, and they decide to track down Thomas. Since famed recluse-wax-artist Peter Gustavson, will be showing his wax pieces in Shadyside that week, they figure they’ll go and see if there’s any word from Thomas.

They go to the traveling wax museum, which seems like an interesting thing to have as a traveling show. I have never been to a wax museum, largely because wax figurines creep the hell out of me, but I’ve also never been convinced of their value for entertainment. I could be wrong, but there are many things I’d rather see over wax. Although, it was 1867, so maybe this was high entertainment back then. Apparently, since all the townspeople put on their Sunday best to see it. Each wax tableau is set up to depict a gruesome death throughout history: Socrates and his hemlock, Cleopatra and her snake, Joan of Arc in the fire. So, we get right away that Gustavson is a bit of a ghoul. Elizabeth gets all freaked out, somehow falls onto Marie Antoinette and ends up in the working guillotine. K, what? How did this happen? And isn’t it horribly dangerous to cart around a working guillotine for entertainment? Liz is a spaz.

Elizabeth nearly loses her head, but is rescued by Gustavson’s handsome assistant, Patrick, who saves her in the nick of time. Ooh, he’s cute, Elizabeth loses her head again – over him! She asks him about her brother, and Patrick gives her the bad news that Thomas has been missing for days now. The girls decide to catch a ride with Patrick to Cliff House, the notorious hermit’s mansion two days ride away – whether Patrick wants them to or not. But not before they receive a warning from the driver, little Jimmy. He tells them that Gustavson is a Fier, and nothing good will come from hanging around him. Little boy is ignored.

Cliff House, 1867

Cliff House is a mansion, literally carved out of the face of a cliff. Once again, R. L. ghostwriter, I am underwhelmed by your creative naming skills. Let’s aim higher next time. They are greeted at the front door by a gaunt butler … carrying a human head on a platter. After much freaking out, they realize it’s just wax. Nothing to worry about, except being isolated with a crazy artist with a sick sense of humour. Then they’re greeted by the actual housekeeper, Miss Matheson, who is so old she’s much more terrifying then the wax butler. She informs them Thomas is still missing and shows them to their rooms.

Elizabeth keeps on thinking wax figures set throughout the house are people, and talks to them until she starts screaming because it’s sporting a hatchet from the head or something. I figure you’re only allowed to do that once. Catch on, Elizabeth. They are wax. Even Margaret’s getting annoyed with her. Then Elizabeth is given a genuine reason to freak out. The room she is shown to is the perfect room, her perfect room. The room she had always described to her brother, down to the last exact detail, the sky blue walls, the canopy bed, and a bookcase full of her favourite poets. Yup, that would freak me out too. But then Elizabeth realizes that in HER perfect room, there would be a music box that played the “Blue Danube”, and since there isn’t, there obviously isn’t any cause for concern. Really? That amount of obsessiveness seems an awful lot like cause for concern.

Flash to creepy man, thinking about how Elizabeth is his perfect woman – as he’s creating a wax figure of the perfect woman, who will stay with him forever. Because she is made out of wax. These obsessive abusive relationships really never end well. There’s some crazy talk about how he needs power to complete the final step, then he closes the lid on the delicate blue music box that had been playing the “Blue Danube.” Dun dun DUN!

Next morning, Gustavson blows into breakfast, barely meeting the girls before proclaiming that Margaret will be an adequate model for him. He tells Elizabeth that Thomas will be back any day from his errand fetching pigment colours for his painting, and asks her to stay in her room in the meantime. Elizabeth, however, is not a good little girl, and goes exploring, finding all kinds of macabre scenes playing out around the mansion. Like the Disney Haunted Mansion! She finds Thomas’ room in the attic, and is despondent when she sees his sketchpad beside his bed. He would never willingly go anywhere without it, so something must be wrong. She finds a letter addressed to her, which intimates that Gustavson was a loon.

Elizabeth is determined to get out of Cliff House, and goes to find little Jimmy, the driver. She finds him in the stables, lying in his own blood as his throat was recently slit – like, body still warm recently. She runs screaming to the mansion to get Margaret, only to find her in her room, unresponsive and cold, barely able to move. Miss Matheson comes across her, and tells her she better keep her mouth shut if she wants to survive her stay at Cliff House. So Elizabeth does what she says, and goes to dinner with Gustavson. Margaret is at dinner, looking wan and delicate, and completely in love with Gustavson, fluttering over his every word. Elizabeth can’t keep up pretenses, and runs away to her room.

Patrick finds her in her room, and she throws herself damsel-style at his feet to save herself and Margaret. She tells him about finding Jimmy, and they go to check it out. Only there’s nothing there, not even a blood stain. Patrick confesses his love for Elizabeth there, which is a random place to do so, and wants to take her away to a homestead out West to start a fresh life together. Liz is down, once they figure out what happened to Thomas. She returns to the mansion, to find Margaret collapsed in a heap on her floor, and a disfigured wax woman bearing the message: Leave here, or suffer your brother’s fate.

Footsteps outside catch her attention, and Elizabeth sees Miss Matheson sneaking into the woods. Upon following her, she discovers a cottage, and obviously tries to break in. Inside, there are paintings of Elizabeth everywhere, done by her brother. And in the middle of the room is the Blue Danube music box. I’m sure Elizabeth bites a knuckle to keep from screaming as she realizes Gustavson’s obsession in her.

Not sure what to do, she flees the cottage, where her eye catches on the tall tower to one side of the house. All cliff-based gothic mansions must have a tower, only there’s no entrance to the tower from the house. So she finds an outside door, and upstairs finds her brother’s painting studio, which has been trashed. She’s just finished being horrified by that, when Gustavson comes in, effectively trapping her. Liz, being the big spaz she is, goes out the window and tries to climb down the trellis. Halfway down, she realizes that Gus will easily beat her down there, and goes for the window. Someone grabs her and pulls her in, throwing a blanket over her head and pulling her down a passageway. The blanket is removed, to reveal … the aged Miss Matheson.

They are in Gustavson’s workshop, and there is one beautiful wax figure of a woman, done over and over again, but each missing an important detail like an eye or a mouth. As she looks at Miss Matheson’s crepe-y skull, she realizes the wax figures are actually of her. Miss Matheson tells her story.

She used to be engaged to Peter Gustavson. In fact, she was only … twenty years old. Gus and Miss M grew up together, the children of wealthy landowners, who encouraged them to marry as soon as the war broke out. Gus loved Miss M, but she was reluctant, because she loved another – Patrick Granger, Gus’ best friend. They decided to run away together, to run out West and start a new life together (sounding familiar), but Gus caught them, and murdered Patrick in front of her eyes.

The guilt of murdering his best friend ate away at Gus, as he slowly lost his mind. He began to think that Patrick was still alive – in fact, that he himself was Patrick. And because he was a Fier, and they’re always kind of supernatural and talented in the dark arts, he began to look like Patrick in those moments of insanity (Yeah, right. He probably just put an eyepatch on and messed up his hair.) As his insanity grew, so did his obsession with the dark arts. He uses the spirit of people to create his lifelike pieces of wax-art. The soul is trapped within the sculpture, giving those figures extra sparkle. Miss M, who of course had to pay for her betrayal, has had her life force slowly drained from her, into the wax figures Gus makes of her, but never enough to kill her. So she lives halfway to the grave already. Thomas, with his sensitive artist eyes, discovered Gustavson/Patrick’s secret, and had to die for it. Elizabeth, as Gus’ new pet, had to get the hell out of Cliff House, now.

Interruption by Gustavson, crashing into the workshop. Miss M tells Liz to run, then stalls Gus. She runs through a passageway to a different part of the workshop, to see the wax figurine of a beautiful young girl done up as if she’s dancing at a ball – but for the despairing look on her face. The wax figuring is Margaret, and Liz soon finds Margaret’s body crumpled to the floor, her face missing. Not cut off or anything, just a blank smooth oval. Like one of those wooden figures you sketch, you know the ones? Creepy. She also finds the figure of Thomas, chopping wood at a western homestead. Patrick enters the room now, all loving and such. Liz attacks him, gouging at his face with her fingernails.

His face … comes off. His Patrick face was a wax cast. So, it wasn’t the dark arts? And how can you have a wax face on your face, and have people think it’s real. It would be like extreme botox, it’s not like you could talk or move or anything. I feel someone should have figured this out before hand. Wouldn’t it crack, or get white and flaky? Whatever, cat’s out of the bag, Liz is on to Patrick’s dirty little secret. Just then Elizabeth finds the nearly complete wax figure of herself … minus one face. Instead of letting Gus have hers, she sets her wax self on fire. Instead of melting, it bursts into flames, as does everything else in the workshop. Gus starts burning too. Miss M comes in and embraces him, and they go up in flames together. Elizabeth flees once and for all.

She narrowly escapes a fiery death, and winds up in a nearby pond. Looking to see her reflection in the water, she realizes her beautiful face has been burnt beyond recognition, and she’s horribly disfigured. In her hands she finds the wax she pulled off of Gus’ face, and goes to work making herself a new face. Out of wax. My original concerns still remain as to whether this will actually work, or whether she will look like a girl with glompy wax on her face.

For a Fear Street Saga, not bad. I need to comment on the cover, though. Tagline: “What happens when wax comes to life?” Sheer terror, that’s what. It’s almost as bad as when puppets or dolls come to life. Like a fool, I was expecting actual wax figures coming to life. I should know by now that taglines are written by people who’ve never read the book, to add more suspense and surprise to the actual book. Still, creepy artists, gothic mansions, multiple personalities, this book had a lot going for it. I’ll give it 18 wax faces out of 22.