Summary: Jess is eager to start college – until she arrives at her off-campus dorm. She can see why everyone calls it Nightmare Hall. Especially when she learns the dark secrets hidden within the house. A girl named Giselle hanged herself there. In Jess’s room. But was it really suicide? Or was Giselle murdered? Echoing through the house, Jess can still hear the sound of Giselle’s last scream….
Tagline: There isn’t one! The early Nightmare Hall books had one of those covers with a window, and you could open the front to see the bigger picture behind the window. Groovy! In the intervening 24 years, however, the window frames have broken off my copies! [Wing: The window covers remain some of my favorite covers of any book. It’s such a simple idea, and yet it charms me to no end. Only one of my cover windows broke, I think, but I’m always afraid the others will too.]
Notes: I will now refer to the bad guy as “Muffin Man” because of The Mall. Could still be either male or female, however. And heads up – I still remembered going into this who the killer was. [Wing: I don’t! This is awesome.]
I have very fond memories of this series. I actually still remember reading this first entry, for the first time, back in 1993, at home on the weekend with the basketball on TV in the backgroud. Diane Hoh is also my favourite Point Horror author, so there are a lot of ticks in the plus box for this one. Strangely, it was one of only a few books actually set at Nightingale Hall – the rest just took place at Salem University. There were 29 books in all. Although all were credited to Hoh, she only wrote 22 of them – which is still a mighty effort!
[Wing: This was not my first Nightmare Hall, which means by the time I came back to it, I was shocked that it was actually set at Nightingale Hall. Most of the other books only reference it.]
The prologue has Nightingale Hall housemother Isobel Coates discovering the dead body of Giselle McKendrick hanging from the brass light fixture in her bedroom. This is taking place in June (1993, most likely) and there is a rare, early intense heat wave for that month. Giselle’s five housemates all moved out because of the tragedy.
We move to September (1993?) as Jessica Vogt (navy blue eyes, glossy black hair, 5”6) arrives at the town of Twin Falls, whose main street is Pennsylvania Avenue. She hops off the bus a block from Nightingale Hall, her new off-campus residence. It is three stories tall, made of bricks, with a metal fire escape on the left-hand side, from the ground up to the third story. [Wing: I remember how weird it seemed to be that they had off-campus dorms. Off-campus residences, sure, but a dorm? Now I know it happens, especially when there’s not just one main campus but lots of smaller pieces spread out, but at the time, weird.]
At this point, Jess meets Ian Banion (taller than 5”6, shoulder-length, straight, dark hair pulled back in a ponytail). He comments that Nightingale Hall looks like Tara after the civil war, referring of course to Gone With The Wind. Jess says she recognises the reference, as it is her favourite book. We learn they have both chosen Nightingale Hall because it was cheap.
They soon meet Jon Shea (wheat-coloured hair, deep tan, brown eyes). Jess pegs him as rich and entitled and wonders what he’s doing in cheap accommodation. He comments he chose the place because the rules would be easier to break, confirming her suspicions. He’s the one who delivers the “Nightmare Hall” moniker and thus gives us the name of our series! The rest of the chapter is spent quickly establishing our cast of characters. These are broken down as follows:
Linda Carlyle – tall and broad-shouldered, tanned. Short, yellow hair with a greenish tinge. She’s a swimmer.
Cath Devon – tiny. Looks tense and anxious. Pale, with a mass of dark, curly hair. Dressed in a sweater, despite the heat.
Milo Keith – very tall and very thin. Long hair that needs combing and trimming. A tangled beard. His eyes are a brilliant blue.
Trucker Swopes – he’s the handyman, not a student. Short and stocky with thick, black curly hair. Well-muscled. Sunburnt.
Do you have a trope for bizarre names? [Wing: Nope, but apparently we’re going to need one. Thanks, TRUCKER SWOPES.] Diane Hoh was certainly always a winner at them, though perhaps a close second to what Caroline B. Cooney came up with. We learn, amongst the introductions, that Jess is the monitor, a job she agreed to for a break in tuition, which means she has the key. She unlocks the door, and Jess realises she’s scared to enter. She does so anyway. Jess thinks Nightingale Hall is spacious, but dark and gloomy. Jess comments that they’ll need to convince the housemother to let more natural light in, or they’ll get all pale and shriveled like dying plants. This leads to Ian telling her that he couldn’t imagine her pale and shriveled, prompting a smile. He tells her she has a nice smile. Hmmm, I smell romance blooming. They check out the kitchen, which has windows overlooking the back slope, which leads to a wooded area and a stream. [Wing: Shouldn’t the housemother be there to let them inside the first time?]
Jess heads to her room which, unlike the ground floor, is bright and sunny. She’s excited to have a room all of her own, as back home she had to share with her sisters. One thing I really like about the Nightmare Hall books is that it involves teenagers on a college campus , living on their own for the first time. It conveniently removes the absent-parents trope. By the very nature of their current existence, they’re forced to fend for themselves, whether they’re at a normal university, or a sinister fictional one like Salem.
When she steps into her room, she is shocked by an icy chill that she finds she can’t replicate anywhere else. The air from outside the windows is mild and the air in the hallway is warm. It’s only her room that has that wave of very cold air. Since it’s so warm outside, I certainly wouldn’t have minded, but I love winter, rain and the cold, so perhaps I’m wired different. Jess eventually concludes that the building’s chimney must run behind the wall behind her wardrobe, and icy air from the basement is escaping through loose chimney bricks.
I like Jess at this stage. Instead of immediately shrieking “ghost!”, like what you would get in a lot of Point Horror, she uses logical thinking to justify something strange happening. Although I already know this book has supernatural elements (rare for Hoh), I appreciate how Hoh tries to ground it all within a real-life scenario and have her characters approach the unknown with explanations that make sense. Jess’s solution to the icy chill is to wear sweaters. Considering that a door banging against a wall is enough to send some Point Horror heroines into fits of hysterics, this is refreshing.
Jess goes to check on her dorm mates and suggests a party on the porch that evening so they can all get to know each other. She learns Jon has a thing for Cath and Linda has a thing for Milo. Jess thinks Milo is either painfully shy or seriously anti-social – or both – based on the way he went straight back to reading his book after they were all introduced. After getting approval from Mrs Coates, who seems sad when reminiscing about the previous tenants, she orders pizza for the event. During the party, Jess learns Linda is at Salem on a swimming scholarship and Ian is there on a baseball scholarship.
Milo lights up when Ian mentions he’s at Nightingale Hall for the fishing. Milo writes his best poetry while on a riverbank, fishing. He smiles warmly at Ian. Maybe Milo isn’t into Linda because he’s into Ian? That would be interesting, but I highly doubt this book will go there. [Wing: I wish!] Ian sours the mood of the party when he mentions the dorm’s haunted past. He learnt from the pizza delivery guy that a girl called Giselle killed herself there. In Jess’s room. [Wing: That is one useful pizza delivery guy! Brings food, brings really specific gossip.]
They briefly discuss what would drive a pretty, popular girl to kill herself. I appreciate that the word “crazy” isn’t thrown about. [Wing: Me too, obviously. Thanks, Hoh!] Instead, there are surprisingly astute observations such as the pressure of living up to expectations, or suffering depression. Nothing deep, but more thoughtful than the norm in this genre, especially the early 90s. Linda expresses that she doesn’t understand how someone could “give up” like that and, although somewhat insensitive, it is a legitimate (i.e. believable) reaction that people have. Jon is crass about the whole thing, wondering if she was pretty. Milo posits that maybe the place is haunted, because people who kill themselves have restless spirits and can never find peace. I’d suggest that finding peace is exactly the motive that drives someone to take that action, but teens can be insensitive shits, can’t they? At the mention of the word “suicide”, a window above them slams shut, startling them all.
The whole conversation is a party killer, so they clean up and head inside. Mrs Coates is standing at the top of the staircase when she inquires about the party being over. All of a sudden, she is tumbling down the stairs, coming to a stop about five steps down. The kids call an ambulance. None of them can find anything that Mrs Coates might have slipped on. Mrs Coates insists that they call her friend Madeline Carthew, so that she can keep an eye on them if she has to remain in hospital.
Jess tries Madeline’s number, but there is no answer. Ian doesn’t see why they can’t fend for themselves. [Wing: Fairly good point, Ian. They are at university. They’re living on their own. I’ve never understood the idea of housemothers in dorms.] [Dade: In Australia, on-campus living isn’t as common. It’s mainly for international students. When I went to university, I caught public transport to get there. But you’re right; considering that university is all about taking responsibility for your learning, it should also include responsibility for your own day-to-day life – which, to their credit, these kids do.] Jon wants Mrs Coates around because she was supposed to cook him home-cooked meals. Yep, he’s a rich, entitled jerk. Only Cath doesn’t seem too keen. Trucker returns home to inform them that Mrs Coates has a dislocated hip. They easily convince him to come on board with them not having Madeline move in to supervise them. He says it should be easy to convince her to stay away, as “she hates everyone under the age of fifty,” which made me laugh.
The wind outside starts shrieking, causing a shutter to bang against the wall. It freaks Cath out, who thinks it’s no wonder Giselle committed suicide if she had wind howling at her for nine months straight. The use of the word “suicide” causes all of the lights to go out. I’m not adding a counter for a cliffhanger chapter ending, because I think they’re being used quite effectively. It’s good set-up for the fact that something odd happens whenever the word “suicide” is mentioned. [Wing: I love when the cliffhanger chapter ending is used effectively! Even Stine can manage it sometimes.]
Trucker tells them not to panic and that the rest of the lights all work and he’ll fix it. We learn that he lives in a apartment over the garage out the back. Jess goes to her room and is disappointed the icy chill is still there. She goes to bed, and ruminates about how Milo said the building was haunted. She thinks maybe he has lots of morbid and macabre thoughts and reads Stephen King. Sigh. Because all horror fans are sad and creepy, right?
Red Herrings: 1 point
She goes to sleep and is woken up later by what she thinks is a scream. However, the next morning, none of the others appear to have heard anything.
Jess heads off to registration and chats with a girl who wants to discuss the details of Nightingale Hall’s history, clearly wanting to shock Jess. She manages to escape and joins a line that Ian, Jon and Cath are in. This is when Ian reveals that he found out that Giselle’s death was ruled an “apparent” suicide. This leads Jess to believe that there must still be unanswered questions surrounding her death.
Jess buys her textbooks secondhand, but it is still very expensive. Jon reveals that because Nightingale Hall is off campus, he’s allowed to have his car. The others aren’t terribly fussed, figuring he would be using it for dates rather than carting them around. Jon continues to establish his douchery via his “my major is parties, sports and women” statement. Jess goes back to the dorm, where she gets in contact with Madeline Carthew, who agrees to look in on them from time to time, but not move in. Jess is thrilled. She goes to her room to look through her textbooks, where she discovers that her English Lit book previously belonged to Giselle.
After dinner, they go into town to explore. They run into Trucker, who Jess asks to join them. Cath snobbily dismisses him as the handyman. Trucker reveals he’s signed up for night courses. Jess realises that without his cap, Trucker is very good-looking. Ian urges Jess to come into a photo booth with him. When they get the photos back, they are shocked that there is a girl with pale hair, a pretty face and very sad expression in the photos with them.
Ian brushes it off as double exposure (the girl was in there before them), and she doesn’t argue with him, but doesn’t think a girl who looks that sad would be in town taking photos by herself. They head back to the dorm, where they forage for food. The cellar door swings open by itself and Jess feels the same frigid air that she feels in her room. Trucker says he’ll get the door fixed. He mentions when he works down there he uses the cellar doors, not the one leading in from the kitchen. He’s referring to cellar doors that are old-fashioned wooden panels slanted into the ground above stone steps leading into the cellar.
The week passes quickly and everybody is soon swamped with work. Jess notices that Cath doesn’t appear to be coping well, always shutting herself in her room to study, even when the others still find time to socialise. On Sunday evening, Cath mentions an important Lit paper due the next day. Later on, she runs to Jess’s room, freaked out because her paper has gone missing. She accuses Milo of stealing it, as he has the same paper due and hasn’t even done an outline. She races to his room and starts tearing it apart, convinced he has it.
I’m not sure what the Muffin Man hopes to achieve by stealing a Lit paper, but it’s kind of tedious, and the chapter achieves little, except to seemingly develop a red herring in Milo – Jess notes he didn’t look just angry at Cath’s accusation, there was something in his expression that scared her. It’s also mentioned that Linda, Jon and Ian were at the university for orientation in June, when it was stifling hot.
Red Herrings: +1 (2 points)
The next day, a very tired-looking Cath triumphantly reveals she rewrote her paper and tells Milo he better not try handing in the one he stole. She heads off and a guy turns up on the doorstep. It is Avery McKendrick, Giselle’s brother. He’s here to pick up her trunk, which is in the cellar. He reveals he and his father are convinced that Giselle did not commit suicide. To everybody’s surprise, he recognises Milo and chats to him like an old friend. He reveals Milo practically lived at their house when he was a kid. Milo and Giselle walked home together every day until high school. Milo and Trucker help Avery retrieve the trunk from the cellar.
Jess demands to know why Milo kept it a secret that he knew Giselle, especially after Ian revealed that she had killed herself in Jess’s room. Milo says he doesn’t owe them an explanation, but reveals that they drifted apart in high school because she was a big deal and he wasn’t. Even when I was 13, I thought Hoh was laying on the Milo-as-red-herring thing a bit thick.
Red Herrings: +1 (3 points)
Jess goes to classes, and when she returns to Nightingale Hall, she finds a trail of muddy footprints on the first floor. What’s weird is that they begin in the middle of the hall, some distance from where the hallway itself actually begins. Guess where they lead? That’s right – Jess’s room! But once in her room, the footprints are gone. It’s as if a person in mud-covered shoes dropped from the sky, walked to her room and then got snatched skyward again. Linda arrives and Jess shows her the footprints, but Linda doesn’t see anything sinister about it, thinking Jess is making something major out of something minor. Linda dashes off again, Jess cleans up – noting that the footprints seem to be fading and disappearing – and has a nap. She wakes up, her attention drawn to the wall opposite the foot of her bed. She can clearly see the shadow of a body swinging back and forth from the light fixture. [Wing: Jesus, this is a gorgeous, terrifying image.]
She screams, which brings Ian, Milo and Linda to her room. She tells them about the shadow, and also the scream she heard on the first night she was there. They are pretty sceptical, and Jess forces herself to admit it must have been a dream. Even though that must have been very frightening for Jess, I love how she tries to rationalise her experience and go for the most logical, non-supernatural explanation. That’s what most normal people do! Even for a short 90s teen horror quickie, these characters are believably drawn.
Jess goes to a party that evening in the hope it will take her mind off things, and finds she does enjoy herself, meeting lots of new people. She starts chatting with a girl called Beth, and the topic of Giselle McKenrick inevitably comes up. Beth was in a class with her, and her last memory of Giselle was seeing her fighting with someone on campus, the day before she died. The other person was yanking on her hair and grabbing her arm. Beth couldn’t even tell the gender, but could see they were wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, and had long, dark hair. She remembers thinking it wasn’t anybody she knew, as she’d never seen them on campus before.
I beat you because I love you: 1 point
Ugh. This feels like another Milo red herring.
Red Herrings: +10. It’s getting too obvious now, and annoying. (13 points)
Jess and Ian head home. She drops hints about wanting him to ask her to the Fall Ball, but he doesn’t bite. She goes up to her room annoyed, but there’s a knock on the door. It’s Ian, saying her forgot something, and kisses her. Aww. The next day, Jess arrives home after classes and starts studying. She is interrupted by a scream. It’s Linda, who reveals her swimsuit has been slashed to ribbons. She doesn’t have a spare and is frantic that she’ll miss her meet. When Cath, Milo and Trucker arrive on the scene, it soon descends into an argument in which Linda accuses Cath of being the culprit to get even with her for backing up Milo when Cath accused him of stealing her essay. Cath counters that Linda slashed it herself so she could accuse Cath because she accused Milo.
This is just convoluted and silly. Cath declares she never left her room, and Trucker backs it up. However, Linda says Cath could have climbed down the fire escape and done it. Cath declares her window has been glued shut and she can’t open it. But when they all go to Cath’s room, Trucker opens the window easily. Just like with the essay, I’m not clear why the Muffin Man is playing these mind games with the students. From what I can gather, he/she wants to hide the fact that Giselle’s death wasn’t a suicide. Isn’t all this skullduggery going to make the students – particularly Jess – paranoid and more likely to believe there was something sinister about Nightingale Hale before they even got there? Oh well, at least it’s not another situation where we have big, fat red arrows pointing at Milo saying “Prime Suspect!”
Jess doesn’t believe that Cath tore up Linda’s swimming suit. She thinks a stranger is accessing their rooms via the fire escape along the side of the building, which is a genuinely creepy thought. This seems to be confirmed the next day when Jess arrives home from a Fall Ball planning committee (and lamenting that Ian hasn’t asked her yet), and goes to her room to change into a t-shirt (it is now closer to fall and another late heatwave has struck). She opens the bottom drawer, but finds her long-sleeved sweaters on top instead of her t-shirts, which shouldn’t be the case. So she starts digging around, coming into contact with something warm, smooth…and moving. When she pulls her arm out, it is covered with fat, pink, moist, wriggling worms.
She finds this gross and swats them all away. She doesn’t like slithery crawly creatures. She removes all the garments and sees the bottom of the drawer is covered in a giant wriggling mass of worms. She screams, because apparently that is more frightening than actually having them crawling across your skin. Whatever. Trucker and Ian remove the drawer to hose it down. Ian removes a handful of papers that had slid underneath the chest before replacing the drawer. Another obvious red herring is dropped when it is mentioned that Ian, Trucker and Milo all like to fish and are used to handling worms to put bait on hooks.
Red Herrings: +1 (At least Ian and Trucker and included along with Milo) (14 points)
Ian takes her to a Chinese restaurant to keep her mind off the incident. [Wing: Here’s hoping she’s never seen The Lost Boys, or this will do the opposite of taking her mind off surprise!worms.] When they return home, they share another kiss. The next night after dinner, Linda reveals to Jess that she is going to the library with Milo and wants to know what she should wear. She says she knows she’s being a bit dippy about Milo, but she never dated in high school. Guys didn’t want to date a tall girl jock. Her parents were so proud of their athlete daughter that she felt ashamed for wanting to do trivial stuff like date boys. That was a nice, simple bit of character development for Linda. Jess points out that Linda shouldn’t have worried. Giselle was very popular in high school, and she still wasn’t happy. Linda agrees, mentioning the word suicide. Uh oh. The mirror behind her shatters outwards into a thousand pieces.
The rest of the students rush to see what has happened. It’s concluded something must have been accidentally thrown through the open window, although they can’t find a rock or baseball. At this point, Jess pieces together the fact that something sinister happens whenever someone says “suicide”.
I have to wonder, however. If Giselle is seeking for these kids to uncover the truth behind her death, nearly killing them by exploding a mirror isn’t exactly the most productive way to go about it.
They go to a movie, then out for pizza. Cath sees Jon with a pretty girl, and starts flirting with Trucker. When they get home, Jess is too unsettled to sleep, so she goes through the papers on her desk. She finds a photograph she doesn’t recognise. She remembers Ian pulling out some papers when he took away the wormy drawer. The photo is of a pretty girl, and a black slash has been drawn across her face. It’s Giselle, of course. Yawn. We’re kind of re-treading familiar ground, now.
Jess realises it’s the same girl in the photos she took with Ian. She looks through the rest of the papers Ian uncovered, and finds a letter.
Dear Giselle, your time has run out. You’ve stalled long enough. You haven’t answered any of my phone calls or letters. So I’m coming there and you’d better be ready to leave with me. I’m not taking no for an answer. Your forever love.
At breakfast the next morning, Jess shows the others the letter and photo. She says she thinks there are more letters and is going to look for them. Ian seems annoyed, essentially asking her – what’s the point? And it’s a good argument. Leave it alone, Jess! But if she did that, there wouldn’t be a book. Chapter ends with Cath lamenting the fact Giselle took her own life, and the cellar door flies open and slams against the wall.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 point Enough already! Hoh has established this, and now it’s no longer necessary.
Next chapter, same day, Jess heads home. She wonders if anybody else would be looking for more letters. She wonders if maybe those pranks were just smokescreens to cover up the fact that somebody had been in their rooms, looking for those letters. Ah! Nice one. I was beginning to think the Muffin Man was just doing it for shits and giggles. She chats with Ian in the kitchen, who seems annoyed she’s still hanging on to the photo and letter. The dorm-mates, not wanting to be alone, build a fire and hang out. Linda makes a grab for Milo’s poetry notebook, wondering if he ever finishes anything he writes. As she does, out falls a bunch of papers…including Cath’s essay.
Red Herrings: +50 (64 points)
Milo says he didn’t take it and doesn’t know how it got there. Because it’s so f***ing obvious he’s being set up, I believe him. He leaves, and Linda follows. Mood spoiled, the rest disperse, except for Ian. He finally asks Jess to the Fall Ball. She hesitates, noting that the person who confronted Giselle the day before she died had long, dark hair, just like Ian, but she decides she trusts him and accepts.
Red Herrings: +1 (65 points) Though I do like that Jess trusts her own judgement about this.
The next night, the rest of Nightingale Hall goes to a frat party. Jess stays behind so she can look for more letters. She finds nothing in her own room. She notices a light outside, at which point the electricity goes out. Thinking that Tucker might be working on something in the cellar and had to turn the power off, she heads down to the kitchen. She doesn’t plan going into the cellar, but opens the door and calls for Tucker. Someone shoves her in the back, and she tumbles down the cellar stairs. She hears the cellar door’s metal latch click into place.
When Jess comes to, she is aware of a hissing sound and strange smell. Gas! Remembering the outside cellar doors, she heads to them, but finds them locked as well. She figures now she needs to turn off the gas. She finds a metal pipe at the base of the furnace where the hissing is coming from – but the valve has been removed. She grabs the side of the boiler to pull herself up and touches something soft. Something that feels like old wool is hanging from a nail above her head. Tugging on it, a scrap of cloth comes free, which she uses to cover her nose.
To cut a long description short, she finds a wheel attached to the wall, turning it to shut off the gas. She sees a window high up on the front wall. Using a heavy trunk and a chair to stand on, she bashes out the glass and wooden panes with her shoe and climbs to safety. Or so she thinks. Lying prone on her stomach, breathing in fresh air, she realises someone is standing over her. No counter here. It’s a good way to end a tense chapter involving Jess fighting to survive, get so close to freedom, only to encounter a physical killer.
The killer pins her to the ground. He knows she was looking for the letters. I think at this point it’s clear the killer is male. He’s already found the letters in the trunk and hidden them. But Jess knows too much. Jess searches for a weapon, and finds a shard of glass. The killer wraps a rope around her neck. Jess slashes backwards with the glass shard. The rope loosens. Car headlights then distract the Muffin Man, but it’s just a vehicle turning around. Nonetheless, the killer takes off. Jess loses consciousness.
She’s woken by the others returning from the frat party. They get her into the house, where she tells them what happened. Ian suggests searching the cellar for clues, at which point Jess pulls out the bit of fabric she tore off something. It’s a small maroon square of fabric, like a piece from a baseball jacket. Jess realises she’s seen one just like it in Milo’s room. Can that be right? The only time Jess was in Milo’s room that’s ever been mentioned is when she went in there after Cath, who’d accused him of stealing her essay. I’ve rechecked and there was no mention of a jacket, unless it’s mentioned elsewhere. Nonetheless:
Red Herrings: +100 (165 points)
It’s revealed then that Milo didn’t go to the party with the rest of them, and still isn’t home. He had to go “somewhere”. She asks Trucker about when they were in the cellar getting the trunk for Avery. He reveals he was sent upstairs for a soda by Milo at one point, leaving Milo alone with the trunk. Jess heads to Milo’s room and starts searching, where she finds the remaining letters.
Red Herrings: +100 (265 points)
The letters get angrier and angrier. It’s actually quite an effective glimpse into what was an abusive relationship and Jess concludes that the person who wrote the letters killed Giselle and made it look like a suicide. Jess lists reasons for Milo’s guilt: he lied about knowing Giselle, he went into the cellar with Trucker to get the trunk, and he knew that Jess would be alone, and only someone from Nightingale Hall would know that.
Which makes it clear to me that Trucker is actually the killer.
Milo shows up while they are discussing him, and hears his name. He’s wearing a maroon baseball jacket, with a large, three-cornered tear on the left shoulder.
Red Herrings: +1,735 (2,000 points)
The next chapter is basically all just set-up for Milo being the killer. He says he hasn’t been able to find his jacket for ages, but found it tonight at the library. He was working downstairs, and when he went upstairs it was draped over his chair. Linda says she dropped by the library but never saw him there. Libraries can be big, with lots of shelves and places to get lost in, Linda. Jess accuses him of being the killer – Giselle’s forever love, whereas Milo shoots back he wasn’t even Giselle’s forever friend. Seeing that they all agree with Jess, he decides to move out. Jess want to go to the police, but Milo tells them they have nothing. He’s right. His name isn’t on the letters, there are thousands of jackets like his, and anyone could have gone through the trunk. After he’s gone, during the week they find a typewriter, and when they type something out, it matches the typewriter that made the letters, despite Linda saying Milo couldn’t use a typewriter.
Red Herrings: +8,000 (10,000 points)
That week is also the Fall Ball, and Jess goes with Ian. They see Cath finally dancing with Jon. Trucker arrives, decked out in a suit and Linda marvels how he looks just like Tom Selleck and has all the girls staring at him. Hahaha. Hoh’s age is showing here. In 1993, Selleck wasn’t exactly a teen heartthrob. He was 48! That’s not to say he wasn’t handsome, but still. [Wing: Random Wing fact: When I was but a wee!Wing, like toddler-age, I was enthralled with Magnum, P.I. Good grief, baby!Wing.] [Dade: If only there were a Tom Selleck lookalike (in his Magnum, P.I. days) in 1997 to 1999, when I was at university!] After the ball, Ian and Jess decide to spend some time together instead of going out to eat with the others. While Ian goes inside to get a jacket for Jess, she sees a car pull up. It turns out to be Daisy Lindgren, who is returning a jacket that Milo loaned her. She reveals she was at the library with Milo on Friday night, and relates Milo’s surprise at finding his jacket and annoyance at the tear. They were there until midnight, when the library closed.
Jess realises that Milo was wrongly accused. Well, duh. She then hears her name being called from behind the house. Thinking it’s Ian, she heads down the slope to the stream. She follows the faint glow of a flashlight through the trees. In the creek, she finds a waterlogged photo. It’s of Giselle, with another black slash across her face. She turns to find Trucker is the one holding the flashlight. He says he saw Milo leaving the picture behind and calling for Jess. Jess knows that isn’t the case. When Trucker reaches for the photo, his shirt gapes open to reveal a slash in his throat. Most likely left there last Friday when Jess stabbed her attacker with a shard of glass.
Realising Jess has figured out the truth, Trucker reveals Ian is tied up inside. He reveals how he met Giselle when her car had broken down. With a sick mother and absent father, she was upset and struggling to cope. So Trucker took her home, got her car fixed and a relationship started. He never left her side, except to go to work. He could see that her old friends didn’t understand her. This is a brief but chilling insight into an abusive relationship. I imagine Trucker kept Giselle isolated and away from her friends.
At this point, Trucker reveals he has a piece of wire ready to strangle Jess with, so she keeps him talking. He killed Giselle because she didn’t want to leave college and marry him. He felt university and Nightingale Hall had changed her. Jess thinks that going to university was in Giselle’s plans all along and her first step in regaining her independence and escaping Trucker’s stifling possessiveness. This is quite sad. This is exactly the sort of reason abusive boyfriends hurt or kill their partners. Giselle took the measures to escape an abusive relationship, but it just wasn’t enough. An all-too-common story, one that still happens now.
Trucker strangled Giselle, made it look like a suicide, but knew he had to get hold of those letters lest anyone get suspicious. He got a job at the university. When he realised Milo knew Giselle, he had the perfect patsy.
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1 point – nobody else applied for the handyman position? And if it was so easy to get the job, why couldn’t he do his search in the break between the previous students leaving and the new ones moving in? And what would he have done without a patsy?
Trucker comes at Jess with the wire, ready to strangle her too. However, before he can get to her, the waterlogged photograph of Giselle rips free from a rock in the creek, flies through the air and plasters itself across Trucker’s face, blinding him and cutting off his airways. In fact, it ends up suffocating him. He falls back, hits his head on a rock, and is killed. Jess sees that the girl in the photo is now smiling. If it was this easy for Giselle to stop Trucker or get vengeance, why didn’t she do it a heck of a lot sooner? Obviously, we wouldn’t have a book, but it’s still an anti-climactic way to end the Final Girl confrontation. [Wing: I agree. I love that Giselle got her revenge, but this is not how to handle it.]
One thing bothers me: who was the person with long, dark hair who accosted Giselle the day before she died? Trucker is described as having thick, curly hair and looking like Tom Selleck. Obviously just a slapdash way to throw extra suspicion on Milo (and Ian). Cheap and lazy, Hoh! At least the other red herrings could be explained away.
Red Herrings: +10,000 (20,000 points)
The others arrive then, including Milo. Jess apologises for accusing him. Milo reveals he was suspicious of Trucker after the trunk incident, so in the past week he went home to investigate. He talked to Giselle’s father, describing Tucker, and Giselle’s father confirmed it sounded like Brandon, a boyfriend he felt was far too controlling, but was too pre-occupied with his dying wife, and is now blaming himself for not paying more attention. Jess says the only person who should be blamed is Trucker. Milo says he came home, found Ian and untied him – and here they all are. They go back to Nightingale Hall, where Milo remarks the house has found justice. They go inside.
[Wing: Wait, wait, wait. Is Brandon his real name? So he named himself Trucker? HE NAMED HIMSELF TRUCKER?! Because that is absolutely a name that will blend in. *head desk*]
[Dade: Haha! I hadn’t thought of that! But by the same logic you could posit that Brandon was the pseudonym. It’s mentioned that he’s enrolled at Salem University night classes under the name Trucker, and he would have required ID to do so, I assume.]
[Wing: Dear god, I hope Brandon is is the pseudonym.]
Of course, I remember who the killer was back from when I first read this, but this was an opportunity to look at the whole thing with a more critical eye, having known everything that happens in advance. It still holds up quite well! It’s a typically confident, well-plotted offering from Hoh. She has a clear, concise way of establishing scene and atmosphere. The dialogue flows smoothly and is occasionally humourous. You can’t accuse the characters of having any real depth, but Jess is an appealing heroine, and it’s refreshing to have kids who think with clear heads, not jumping immediately to supernatural conclusions. The pacing is really on-point, although the supernatural, Giselle-related shocks get a bit repetitive, and that climax fell somewhat flat.
It’s main drawback is the heavy laying with a trowel of setting up Milo as a red herring. If it had been spread across a few extra characters it would have been okay (as is the norm for the genre), but it’s just all Milo, all the time, so we know it isn’t him. The red herring with the person that Beth saw harassing Giselle makes zero sense in retrospect.
One thing I want to give credit to this book for is the issue of abusive relationships. It doesn’t come right out and say it, but Giselle was clearly in an abusive relationship. I worked in restraining orders for a couple of years and learned a lot about the behaviours of abusive partners from the victim support workers. Hoh gives a scary, accurate portrait of that, and makes it clear that the behaviour is not right, and you don’t treat a girlfriend the way Giselle’s “forever love” did.
[Wing: I agree. The book stands up really well, minus that ending and some repetition, and I really loved how well Hoh dealt with both suicide and the abusive relationship. Impressive, Hoh.]
[Dade: Bring on “The Roommate”!]
Red Herrings: 20,000 points.
I beat you because I love you: 1 point – Although there were more references to abusive relationships, I didn’t give them a counter. Hoh makes a clear point that it’s not a good thing to treat your partner badly, so I felt the trope was effectively averted. All the writers of Point Horror could take a pointer from Hoh in this respect. Also, this was related to the red herring that made no sense in retrospect, so it ultimately didn’t need to be there.
My, that’s awfully convenient: 1 point
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 point