Recap #6: Class Trip by Bebe Faas Rice by

17 February 2013
Class Trip by Bebe Faas Rice

Class Trip by Bebe Faas Rice

Title: Class Trip by Bebe Faas Rice

Summary:

There were seven of us when we started out. Someone – I think it was James – said that seven was a magic number. That magicians – real magicians like Merlin, the wizard, not the ones who pull rabbits out of hats – had always believed it was a powerful number. One that protected from harm.

Hah. Some magic.

But then, we didn’t stay seven long. One by one the group grew smaller. And finally there were only two of us left.

Two is not a magical number. When one of the two is a murderer.

In loving memory of Miss Anne C. Wilson, principal of Garfield Elementary School, Ottumnwa, Iowa, who always told me I would be a writer of books someday.

Tagline: Alone with a friend – or a killer?

Note: I will use “Bad Guy” throughout my reviews to refer to the anonymous killer/prankster/whatever. Doesn’t mean it’s a guy. Also doesn’t mean it’s ever successful at killing/pranking/whatevering.

Memories: I have never read this one before, which is actually really weird. I am a completest, and I have read (and enjoyed) Class Trip II numerous times. Yet, despite Class Trip II clearly being a sequel to something, I never, ever went in search of the original. The fact that I read the sequel before tracking down the original is strange enough, but the fact that I never even tried to find the first book, never even thought about it, that is really, really weird. (I don’t know who I am anymore!) Dramatic hyphenation and choppy sentences aside, I love the premise of this book already (And Then There Were None is one of my favorite Agatha Christie books), and since I did enjoy Class Trip II, I’m hoping this lives up to my expectations.

(Note from the future: NOPE.)

Let’s do this!

***

Oh. My. God. (Like my dramatic use of punctuation and choppy sentences? I have been inspired.) Chapter One opens at the “end” of the story. It even tells us that we’re “in the end…” and I find it rare that a story can do this and then keep the tension up the entire time, so already my hopes are flagging. Add to that the special dramatic first person point of view in this chapter to keep us from knowing who is the survivor and who is the killer and this unknown narrator’s use of “wrong … dead wrong” and my expectations have crashed and burned.

Basically, besides trying to maintain the secrecy of last person alive and killer, this chapter sets up that six of the magical seven are popular teens, and the seventh, our narrator, is the newcomer who desperately wanted to be a part of the inner circle. These seven are on a trip to Shadow Island, which, I have to say, sounds awesome. I would so be down for a trip to a place called Shadow Island.

(Oh god, wait, is this entire book Bad Guy POV? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. How did this happen to me?

[Dove: I warned you. I must be the evil twin for making you do this.]

In the middle of introducing the characters and laying out the setting, we get this:

I was in the group now. Lucky me. Are you proud of me now, Michael? I’m doing it only for you. You always used to say that living well was the best revenge. I miss you, Michael.

NO NO NO NO NO.)

However, this is a great place for a roll call!

Angie: Narrator. She’s a junior, and a self-proclaimed science nerd who went through a big make-over to join the popular group. A make-over that involved switching glasses to contacts and therefore makes me think it was one of this movie “make-overs” where the already hot girl is described as ugly until she lets down her hair and takes off her glasses. Ugh. Also, apparently, she used to be “chubby” and has now trimmed down, but Melanie still makes fat jokes and eating binge jokes. I hate you, Melanie.

Christabel Collins: The queen of Oakbridge High, she’s described as the queen, the leader, the golden-haired goddess who rules the best, most exclusive clique at school. She’s also dramatic and the first thing she does is complain about their accomdations. She’s a junior, like the narrator.

(The narrative does give us this gem, though: Every high school must have its reigning beauty, just as every wolf pack needs a leader.

You know what that means. Werewolves!)

Melanie Downes: She hangs on Christabel’s coattails, as if “some of Christabel’s glitter would rub off on her if she stood close enough.” (“Do I dazzle you?” Are these Twilight vampires?) She also pushes the narrator aside in her eagerness to follow Christabel in an unsubtle statement of how she treats people. Melanie is the person who brings a full bag of make-up on a week-long trip into the woods. This gives us an awesome mention of her beloved frosted blue eye shadow. (AWESOME.) She’s the gorgeous brunette to Christabel’s stunning blond. She has a hate-on for Angie, and Angie doesn’t know why. Angie suggests that maybe it’s because her family is wealthy, unlike Melanie’s, or because a science nerd managed to crack the in group.

Tracy Fisher: The jock of the group, she eats “like Jaws, the great white shark” but never gains an ounce, and her body is artistically arranged. (Sort of sounds like Angie has a crush on Tracy, to be honest.) She’s one of the more likeable members of the group, and is pretty, athletic, and headed to Stanford after she graduates, on a swimming scholarship.

Ron Johnson: The most popular boy at Oakbridge High, he’s over six feet tall and ruggedly handsome, captain of the football team, president of the student government, involved in other clubs, and crazy about Christabel, who is his girlfriend. He’s a senior.

James Sherwood: He has trouble with his nerves, they say, and gossip about the fact that he had to go to a hospital for pills and treatments for his depression and now he’s pretty much okay. I do not like where this story is going. Fuck you for mocking him, Melanie. I hope you die first, and violently. Anyway, James is on the trip to make up extra academic credits from the time he missed at school. He was nice to Angie back when she was the “campus nobody” and she likes him for it. He’s good-looking, but not the same way Chip and Ron are (big and bold). He’s slender and wiry, with a narrow waist and broad shoulders, and a thin, finely boned, sensitive face.

Chip Marshal: The dumb jock of the group, he’s athletic and popular and Melanie’s boyfriend.

Michael Giddings: Though already dead, he’s turning out to be a pretty driving character of the story. He was Angie’s first, best, only friend. And right before he died, they discovered they loved each other.

Mr. Holmberg: Mr. Holmberg is head of the science department at Oakbridge High, and every spring break he takes a small group of students on a camp out to a remote island in order to study the flora and fauna. Anyone who goes gets extra science credits. He’s an outdoorsy, barrel-chested man.

Mrs. Holmberg: She has weird, old-fashioned ways that are often the joke of Oakbridge High, but Angie thinks she’s pretty nice. She’s frail, thin, and little, and teaches home ec. She gives lectures on her ideas of right living, avoid alcohol, don’t drink tea and coffee, don’t eat fatty, sugary things. (That sounds miserable, to be honest. Alcohol and tea, in particular, are must haves in my life.) For their “Happy Hour” the Holmbergs have high-fiber bran wafers and artificially sweetened cocoa instead. That doesn’t actually sound bad (well, not so much the artificially sweetened, but that’s sort of a thing, I know).

Christabel, Melanie, Tracy, and James are on the trip for the grades, and Christabel and Tracy begged Angie to come with them to help them. Ron and Chip are on the trip to be near their girlfriends and to have fun outdoors (canoeing down the river, hiking around the woods, hanging out at the dark, cliff-rimmed lake in a western corner of Vermont). I have to admit, this trip sounds pretty awesome. I want to go. Except for the whole dying thing.

In particular, I love this description:

“Shadow Island is situated directly in the center of the lake,” Mr. Holmberg had informed us. “It is so named because the high cliffs that surround the lake cast shadows – beginning in the early afternoon – over the island.”

A senior girl, Cindy Morris, who’d been on the trip the year before, told us, “The island’s pretty bleak. Spooky, even. There’s an old abandoned cabin there that you’ll be staying in. It used to be a hunting lodge, but that was ages ago. You’ll be roughing it, all right. Believe me, you’ll earn every credit Mr. Holmberg gives you!”

As their last dinner before they head into the wilderness, the teens get pizza. While waiting on their food, they end up talking about Michael, because there’s another kid in the restaurant who reminds them of him, and someone mentions that Michael had a crush on Christabel. Angie stays outwardly calm, but clenches her hands into fists under the table, reminding herself she was the one he loved, he just admired Christabel’s looks. Like everyone does. (Even you, Angie?)

Melanie is pretty horrible, of course, picking on Angie for her previous incarnation as a proper little bookworm who was the friend and defender of every geek and creepazoid at Oakbridge. Angie defends Michael immediately, of course, calling him smart, and Melanie, all smug and superior, cracks that he sure was smart, smart enough to drive off a cliff while drunk. That is not really what I was expecting from his death, to be honest.

James tries to smooth over the tense moment by talking about how he remembers Angie from before, and thought she was cute with her ponytail and horn-rimmed glasses. So basically, this is exactly like one of those movie make-overs. Do not want.

Christabel throws in some casual racism, oh joy (“don’t expect us girls to do the cooking like faithful little squaws”).

Here are the canoe breakdowns, arranged by Tracy: James, Angie, and Tracy, because the three of them make a pretty good team (I bet you do … dirty); Ron and Christabel in the second canoe with most of the food because Ron is the strongest and most experienced canoeist; Chip and Melanie at the end; and the Holmbergs out front.

On the way back to the hostel they’re staying for the first night, they meet a police roadblock. The police are looking for an old guy in a red flannel shirt and khaki pants. Per the police, he hasn’t committed a crime “unless you consider being crazy as a bedbug a crime.” UGH UGH UGH. Fuck you and your crazy hate.

One more for the roll call:

Amos Fletcher: Grew up locally, his relatives had him certified as insane and committed to the state mental hospital a few years ago, now he’s busted out. He wasn’t dangerous before, but he took a knife to a guy right before he escaped. Because crazy people are dangerous amirte? FUCK YOU.

The next morning, Christabel and Melanie primp while the guys carry the gear down to the boat house, and the Holmbergs are mysteriously absent. (Christabel eventually shows up “ready” for a canoe trip in tight jeans and a lime-colored t-shirt with a matching ribbon in her hair.) The guys return with news that someone broke into the boat house and stole a canoe the night before, and of course they assume it was Amos.

Turns out the Holmbergs are terribly sick, dizzy and with an “intestinal affliction” which I take to mean they’ve been spewing from both ends all night. Christabel and Melanie both look like they’re going to start laughing when they find out. At first Mrs. Holmberg says they should all stay at the hostel and wait for the Holmbergs to feel better, but they smoothly talk her around. Oh, the joys of teens drugging their chaperones for time alone in the woods. Heh. [Dove: *raises eyebrow*]

Their canoe trip down the river sounds awesome (if cold; Angie is wearing a heavy sweater. I prefer my canoe trips to be warmer, thank you):

When we first set out down the Doone River, we’d paddled past small, isolated towns that bordered the water. Then, after we’d gone a few miles, civilization began to thin out, and we saw only the occasional farm.

But now that we’d been on the river for a couple of hours, we were hitting long stretches of semi-wilderness. Every once in a while we’d see an abandoned camp or a few dirt roads that paralleled the river, but the roads were narrow and ran for only short distances.

The sun came out, briefly, at one point, and since the water was running briskly, we drifted with the current.

I put my arms on my knees and watched lazily as we passed trees that seemed to bend out over the water. It was so lovely and peaceful. I wished the trip could go on forever.

In the middle of this peace, James brings up Michael, and his voice sounds gruff and harsh when he does. He says he didn’t know Angie knew Michael, and that it must have hurt when he … died. Angie says it did, that they were close, very casual on the surface, but her internal thoughts are very different.

Michael was a science nerd, like me, and as much a social outsider as I was. His was the loneliness of genius. And aren’t all geniuses lonely because they are so much above everyone else? I felt privileged to be allowed to share in his and his loneliness.

The two of us moved quietly among the invisible untouchables of Oakbridge High. But I know this for certain – that, if he had lived, someday Michael would have done something important. For the world. Maybe he and I would have done it together.

But he was gone, so I did the next-best thing. For all his absentminded genius, Michael admired beauty. So I made myself beautiful for Michael. And I determined to make it for Michael in the most exclusive clique in school.

I’m pretty sure I want Angie to be the bad guy at this point, because otherwise I have no idea how to take this whole obsession with becoming beautiful and joining the most exclusive clique in the school.

[Dove: See, that’s what bothered me. It was sooooo obvious that Angie was supposed to the a bad guy, I just got infuriated with anything in the text that tried to pretend otherwise.]

We learn that James is an audio freak, always carrying around his tape recorder. Tracy thinks he’s going to be a CIA agent someday.

After some rougher canoeing (which also sounds fun), they arrive at Storm Lake and Shadow Island (man, who names these things? It’s awesome! And totally subtle and not foreboding at all, I’m sure):

We’d just come around a bend that was flanked by two towering bluffs when the river dead-ended in Storm Lake.

The lake was large, several miles wide in all directions. Shadow Island sat directly in the middle, like a stone set in a ring. A black, opaque stone in a funereal ring.

Oh hey, is that an Island of Dr. Moreau reference I see?

Shadow Island looked even gloomier, once we were standing on the beach. The thick woods that began at the edge of the beach reminded me of something out of an old movie I’d seen once where a crazed scientist on a haunted island used shipwrecked sailors for ghastly experiments.

Quickly followed by a direct Friday the Thirteenth reference.

The cabin on the island is surrounded by pine trees that are too close together for them to see it from the lake. It’s old, has missing floorboards and broken pieces of the porch railing, and the windowpanes are jagged in many places.

The inside is similar, with something rustling in the corner, and spiderwebs everywhere full of dead flies and bugs. (WHY is it always SPIDERS?) Tracy jokes about vampire spiders, trapping their victims and drinking their blood, but promises to knock them down for Christabel as soon as she finds a broom, some garlic, and a silver cross. She also jokes about the cabin being haunted. Tracy, I like you.

The floor is weak in many places. A huge fireplace dominates the living/dining room, and there are a few chairs and a sagging sofa, a water pump and a kerosene lamp. There’s no electricity, and no bathroom, just an outhouse. Okay, honestly, this doesn’t sound too bad, but Christabel and Melanie are furious.

The two bedrooms each have three metal bunk beds. Christabel takes one of the bottom bunks, the only one with decent springs. Tracy wants a top bunk hoping the dust will be better so her allergies don’t kick up. (I empathize, Tracy.) This leaves Angie and Melanie with bottom bunks, too.

James takes charge and organizes them all, arranging for firewood, cabin-cleaning, and outhouse cleaning. Tracy, Ron, Chip, and Angie get firewood, James goes to fix the kitchen pump and straighten up the shed, and Christabel and Melanie are on clean-up duty, which is kind of hilarious.

It had begun to rain when we started, not hard, but enough to indicate more was on the way.

The woods had turned dark. Threateningly dark. I was reminded of all the awful, bloody fairy tales I’d read as a child – stories about children dying in the forest and wicked stepmothers trying to poison beautiful stepdaughters.

I was the last to return from the woods.

Well, next to last.

Two thoughts: One, I like this description. Two, why are you lying to us and then immediately correcting yourself? I HATE that.

Chip is the one missing, and Ron last saw him in the wooded area down by the beach. Everyone goes looking for Chip, because no one wants to stay in the cabin alone. (Angie suggests maybe they’ve all seen too many creepy movies, and I love the acknowledgement of horror movies in a horror story; too often it’s as if the horror genre simply doesn’t exist in the world of the book. I want genre-savvy characters, please.)

When they finally find Chip, he’s “lying on his face.” I’m guessing this means face down, but that’s a weird way to put it. He’s very still, and there’s a large clot of blood darkening the back of his skull. They gently roll him over, and his eyes are open, but there’s no movement in them. James tries mouth-to-mouth, but he’s dead. Melanie freaks out, and wants to know how it happened. James suggests he slipped and fell, hitting his head on a rock, but he doesn’t sound certain. Angie wants to know where the rock is because she doesn’t see any rock, but Christabel shoots her straight down, saying it doesn’t make any difference. They do find a bloody rock a few feet from Chip’s body. Angie isn’t convinced he could have fallen on it, but Tracy stops her from asking any more questions because Melanie and Christabel are going to lose it completely. Christabel hears just enough to start demanding answers, and Melanie comes back to herself enough to realize that if they’re saying Chip’s death wasn’t an accident, then someone must have murdered him. Dramatic.

They put Chip’s body in the shed, covered in a poncho, and return to the cabin just in time for the storm to kick off impressively. (Convenient timing, that.) Christabel puts Melanie to bed, and everyone chips in to start a fire, close the shutters, and make coffee and chili.

[Dove: It’s impossible to be unhappy in a poncho.]

They go back to arguing about Chip, because Ron doesn’t believe he fell and hit his head since they found him facedown but the back of his head was busted up. James suggests they stop talking about it so Melanie doesn’t come unglued, get through the night, and get the hell out of there in the morning, taking off in the canoes. At the hostel, they can call the police, who will retrieve the body and investigate. This is a fairly logical plan, except that canoes can mysteriously disappear in the night.

Melanie finally gets up and Christabel and Tracy take her to the outhouse. Everyone goes to bed early after that, and by the time Angie has to go to the outhouse, everyone else is asleep. She heads out into the strong, cold wind, and thinks about how easy it would be for someone to sneak up on her. She spares a quick thought about the canoes and how they could be washed off the beach if they weren’t secured properly, but surely Ron knew what he was doing. She doesn’t go check them, though.

(Full moon on the choppy lake water, too! Werewolves!)

The next morning, Ron goes to check the canoes, and let me tell you how surprised I am when he comes rushing back because they’re gone. SO SURPRISED! He says the waves must have come up on the beach and swept them out into the water, and now they’re on the far side of the lake. Of course, after they all go check the beach together, Ron then says it was almost impossible for the overturned canoes and all the life jackets to have been swept away like that. Make up your freaking mind, Ron.

Tracy says it’s not too far for her to swim across and bring back one of the canoes, but Ron shoots that down because the water’s too cold, it’s like ice, and she’d need a wet suit. Now, I’ve already said I prefer warmer canoeing anyway, but you know, canoes do overturn in the water. If it’s so damn cold, why are they canoeing this time of year in the first place? Or why don’t they have wet suits? LOGIC, PEOPLE.

Just as they’ve decided to go back to the cabin to dry out, they finally spot one of the life jackets tangled in the roots of a tree at the edge of the water. It’s been slashed twice so that there’s a big X on it, and maybe the same person who did that pushed the canoes out onto the lake. DRAMATIC!

Back at the cabin, they decide the only explanation is that someone else is on the island with them, but they can’t figure out why “he” (and they admit it might not be a he, which was unexpected and pretty awesome) slashed the life jacket, because it’s still usable and no one will be swimming in that weather anyway. Angie suggests that whoever it is is trying to scare them. They also go back to whether or not Chip’s death was an accident, and Ron, James, and Angie are all coming down on the side that it was not.

They’re not going to sit around and wait to be picked off one by one; they’re going to find whoever else is on the island. They use he as shorthand for whoever it is, so I will too. He can’t have been there long, they decide, or he would have taken up living in the cabin, and there were no signs of recent occupancy. I can’t believe no one has mentioned Amos yet, considering how big a deal was made of him back after the police barricade.

While they are splitting up into teams, they aren’t going alone, which is pretty smart of them. Tracy and Ron as team one and James and Angie as team two will search the island, while Melanie and Christabel as team three will stay in the cabin with the shutters bolted from the inside and the door barred.

The teams head out. Angie and James head east and then north. The rain has stopped and the woods are quiet, except for a funny little bird that keeps repeating the same four notes of a song. This plus the earlier mention of James recording bird song makes me think bird song will be an important part of the climax of this story. I will be upset if it isn’t. You don’t introduce something like that and then not use it.

James stops suddenly, takes Angie into his arms, and kisses her, his lips like warm silk, his mouth fresh and spicy. There is a potential killer on the loose and it’s time for make-outs. I am torn; on the one hand, make-outs yay! On the other, the timing could be better. After, the taste of him lingering on Angie’s mouth, she does say it’s a bad time to start something, even though her body reacts to him and she wants to start something too. James agrees that the timing is bad, but says he’s going to pursue her again once they’re free of the island. Though she’d been enjoying it before, Angie now thinks it’s all wrong, but before she can say anything, she sees a gray-haired man in a red flannel shirt and khaki pants slip from the woods and head toward the lake. He climbs into a canoe and heads out onto the river. It’s Amos!

[Dove: Spicy? The guy has a spicy mouth? That’s a good thing?]

Now that he’s gone, they decide they’re safe. Because of course he must have been the one doing it, because he was crazy and all. Damn it, if James ends up being killer, I am going to be SO PISSED at all this ableism. (More than I already am.)

I’ll forgive them a little, though, because they don’t assume he’s an intentional killer. They assume he came to hide out in the cabin, got startled by canoes of noisy teenagers, was frightened when Chip stumbled onto him in the woods, and must have felt like he was defending himself when he hit Chip with a rock. Then he hid after, because accidentally killing someone would make most people want to hide, too.

Back at the cabin, they’re all relieved, and cold because Christabel and Melanie let the fire go out so the killer wouldn’t see smoke coming from the chimney. This is pretty smart, actually. Angie gets ready to build another fire, but first decides to clean out the ashes. There’s enough to fill a bucket, and it’s too heavy for her to carry on her own. Tracy volunteers to help her carry it out, and just as she reaches for it, Angie drops the bucket. The cloud of ashes kicks off Tracy’s sneezing, and she has to go get her nasal spray. (As an aside, I so much prefer allergy med pills than nasal spray. Nasal spray is horrible.)

She sprays both nostrils, and then suddenly chokes and gasps for air. Her face turns a dark purplish-red and she collapses, eyes open and staring just like Chip’s when they found him. Everyone is shocked and frozen, barely holding themselves together as Tracy drops dead in front of them.

Damn shame. I liked Tracy.

James carefully sniffs the nasal spray, and tells the others there’s a weird smell to it, like bitter almonds. The poison they always use in murder mysteries, he says, and Angie immediately leaps to cyanide because she reads a lot of murder mysteries and her father’s a pharmacist.

They take Tracy’s body out to the shed and then Angie tells James Tracy had a crush on him, and she really liked her. She wants to know why Tracy insisted on coming on the trip, she didn’t have to, and if she hadn’t, she’d still be alive. Except I thought earlier it was established that Tracy did have to, because she needed the science extra credit or she’d lose her scholarship because her grades would drop so low? So then, yes, she did need to come? I don’t even know.

Back in the cabin yet again, everyone left decides to sit down and talk things out. Angie makes tea for them with lots of sugar, and Christabel wants to add something stronger to it. She asks if James brought his little silver flask, and he gets upset, saying he doesn’t drink anymore and she knows the exact moment he stopped. Oh snap, I see where this is going.

Christabel is flip, tossing about her blond hair and telling him to quit acting like a martyr and it was just a party, what happened wasn’t their fault. Angie asks what they’re talking about, and Christabel says there was a creepy guy that got drunk at a party. James interrupts and says the poor guy was tricked into getting drunk and then became a traffic statistic on his way home. He’s angry, thumping his fist down on the table, and everyone starts snapping at each other.

James puts forward his theory that Amos didn’t kill Chip, because the odds of having two killers on the island are low, and Amos couldn’t have killed Tracy because he didn’t come anywhere near the cabin and he couldn’t have known about Tracy’s allergies and spray bottle. They realize this means that one of them must have killed Chip and Tracy. James says he doesn’t understand the motivation, though, killers always have motivation.

Christabel looks at him, all sly and knowing, and says that some killers don’t need motivation, insane people don’t need reasons for what they do. Fuck you, Christabel. How come the worst people aren’t dying yet? DIE SOONER, HORRIBLE PEOPLE.

James then leads them all on a “hypothetical” discussion of their possible motivations to show that every one of them might have had some kind of motive, starting with Ron.

Ron: Chip was competing with him for a football scholarship. Tracy worked in the principal’s office. She could have found out Chip got the scholarship, so Ron killed Chip, then killed Tracy because she would have fingered (dirty) him as the killer.

Melanie: Angie takes her. She says Chip’s been eyeing the new girl at school, and “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Tracy just beat her out for head cheerleader for football the next year. (Though, uh, this is the first we’re hearing about Tracy being a cheerleader. Way to drop the ball there.)

Angie: Melanie takes her, in revenge. She says Angie had a mad crush on Chip, who ignored her, and she probably came on to him in the woods and he rejected her. Maybe Tracy saw her, so she killed her to cover it up. Though she admits she’s bad at coming up with motives, she says if anyone on the trip could pull off murder, it would be Angie, because she’s cold inside. She can carve up a frog in biology. This made me cackle with laughter. Apparently, it did the same for Angie.

Christabel: Ron takes this one. He says her ego is too massive for jealousy, but she comes under the insanity theory, that crazy people don’t need any reason for what they do. I know he’s just punishing her for being an asshole to him, but FUCK YOU RON.

They stop after this because it’s not doing any good. Everyone else heads out to get more firewood before another storm blows up, and Angie stays behind to cook something for them to eat. She’s supposed to be locked in, but when Ron comes back a few minutes later, she says she’s forgotten to lock the door. He’s come back for the flare gun. He’s decided to shoot it off, though the others had previously thought it was too stormy and they were too far away for anyone to see it.

When everyone returns with their wood, of course Ron is missing.

James says he heard a weird popping sound down by the beach, so of course everyone gets together to go look. They probably shouldn’t have, because they get to see Ron’s body, the back of his head missing, leaving only a mass of bloody pulp. James throws up when he sees it, and Christabel collapses. He was shot with the flare gun, of course, and it clearly was no accident, because he was shot in the back of the head.

They leave him on the beach and cover him with a poncho because James and Angie can’t carry him back to the shed on their own, and there’s no way Christabel and Angie will help. Angie then picks up the flare gun, saying they’ll need to keep it for the police. James says she shouldn’t have picked it up that way, because now her fingerprints are all over it. Could be convenient, huh?

[Dove: Where are all these ponchos coming from?]

Christabel says there are only four left, and that means one of them is the killer. It isn’t her and it isn’t Melanie, so it must be James or Angie, or, she realizes, James and Angie, a conspiracy to kill the rest of them. But then James and Angie start pushing back. Angie says Christabel is a good actress, and she could be the killer, and James says it might be Melanie. Sure enough, Christabel and Melanie didn’t stick together every minute in the woods; Melanie went off by herself to go to the bathroom. There’s lots of discord, of course, everyone blaming each other.

Still, in the end, Christabel and Melanie make it back to the cabin first and lock out James and Angie. Though this doesn’t last very long, because Angie logics her way back in, and finally Christabel decides that as long as they all four stay together, they’ll be fine, it’s only when they split up that people die. Plan on staying awake forever then?

After they eat (Christabel and Melanie won’t eat the sandwiches Angie prepared earlier, nor will they let her make their tea), they go on a search for the cyanide, but don’t find it in any of their belongings. That doesn’t mean any of them is off the hook, though, and they all decide to sleep out in the living room by the fire. After a group trip to the outhouse, they all settle down, and slowly, one by one, fall asleep.

Angie dreams of Ron levitating up and down in front of the window like a vampire, and talks about how that’s what vampires are like, they can’t come in unless you invite them. Depends on the vampire story, but I do like the reference.

She wakes up, pulse racing, but of course nothing is at the window. As she’s finally falling back asleep, she does have one thought: why hadn’t James thought of looking for the cyanide? He always thought of everything, he should have thought of it right after Tracy died.

Well if you’re going to follow that line of logic, Angie, why didn’t you think of it, Ms Rational Scientist?

The next morning, there’s some trickery with the tea that could be foreshadowing of another death or could be a red herring. Angie heats the water, James offers to pour it when it’s boiling, but Angie says the handle is tricky and about to come off, so she pours the water into the mugs. She gives one to Christabel and Christabel says it’s actually Melanie’s mug, and Melanie snatches the mug from Angie without really checking to make sure it is hers. All this detail makes me think there’s something going to happen with it.

Melanie has a hysterical moment, laughing about various things, and once Angie slaps her and she calms down, Christabel hands her a mug of tea to drink. Of course, as soon as Melanie starts to drink from it, she chokes, and lips twisted and turned blue, her eyes stared angrily, accusingly at the others, and then she collapsed.

And then there were three.

James immediately asks Christabel why she killed Melanie, and Angie echoes it, after she puts some space between them, because she can see “madness” in Christabel’s eyes, something dark and deranged. FUCK YOU.

Christabel accuses them of plotting to kill her next, and rushes off to get the flare gun from where James left it in the other room. Angie reminds her it’s unloaded, but apparently Christabel is carrying around another flare in her pocket. Christabel uses the gun to get away from them and escape out into the woods.

Once they’re locked in the cabin together, James and Angie talk about how weird it is that Christabel seemed so out of it right after Melanie died, but killing Tracy and switching mugs with Melanie required cunning, more than expected from her. Angie says she’s been acting so normal, but she has to have been insane all along. FUUUUCK YOU.

James says that he read a lot about mental problems while he was recovering from his depression, and that a person can be a psychopath, totally remorseless and without conscience, and still be charming and likable and popular. Which is true, and is different from the generic “insane” they’re throwing around. I hate you all, characters. I HATE YOU ALL.

Finally James takes off to find her, over Angie’s arguments that they should stay put. He says otherwise she’ll just kill Mr. Holmberg with the flare gun and then overpower Mrs. Holmberg, who is tiny. He’s gone a long time, but when he makes it back, he says he couldn’t find her anywhere, he looked all over by the beach, where they assumed she went, but she was gone.

He goes out again to check the other side of the island. This time Angie goes with him, saying she can’t stand to be alone in the cabin any longer. Of course, they find Christabel dead instead:

She was lying up against a tree, her head resting on the trunk, as if she were taking a short break. Her eyes were open and staring, and her jaw was rigidly agape, as though she’d tried to scream. Her face was a peculiar blueish color. The flare gun lay on the ground beside her.

“She’s dead,” I said. “Christabel’s dead.”

Christabel was dead.

Christabel, then, was not the murderer.

And now there were two.

Only two.

James and I.

Oh god, a repeat of the earlier Bad Guy and/or Victim POV chapter. WHY WAS THAT NECESSARY? IT WAS NOT.

Angie steps over and picks up the flare gun. She is, of course, the killer. James is shaking, his whole body trembling, and he wants to know why he killed all their friends. He steps forward, but she tells him to stop or she’ll cut him with the tiny little paring knife she’s been carrying because it “made her feel safer.”

It looks harmless, but it’s been dipped in curare, a poison that kills instantly when it enters the bloodstream through a cut or puncture.

James says he deserves to know why before she kills him, and she forgets anything she might have known about genre stories and monologues at him. EVEN THOUGH SHE ACTUALLY THINKS ABOUT HOW HE’S TRYING TO BUY TIME LIKE THEY DO IN MURDER MYSTERIES BY KEEPING THE MURDERER TALKING. FAIL.

She says she’s going to kill him because he was present at the murder and did nothing to stop it. He, of course, assumes it was one of the murders on the island, but she calls those legal executions, except for Tracy, who was just an innocent bystander. An innocent bystander who is now dead, which sucks.

I’ll let Angie describe it, though by now, I’m pretty sure we all know what’s coming:

“The murder of Michael Giddings,” I said.

James drew in his breath and took a step backward. Now who needed soothing?

“But… but that wasn’t murder,” be protested weakly.

“Yes, it was,” I said. “Unfortunately, however, no court in the land would see it as that. But it was murder all the same. You took advantage of Michael’s innocence. You five – Ron, Christabel, Melanie, Chip, and you – deliberately got Michael drunk at a stupid party and then put him in his car and let him drive home. Except that he never reached home, did he? He drove off a cliff and was burned to death when the car exploded.”

[…]

“And you, you miserable pack of hyenas, you thought it would be a big joke to get the geek drunk. Well, you succeeded, didn’t you? And then you put him in his car. Why didn’t you just put a bullet through his brain? It would have been a more merciful death than being burned alive.”

“I had nothing to do with it, Angie,” James said. His face was ashen. “I’d been drinking that night, too. That’s why I’ve quit. And that’s why I had that nervous breakdown. The thought of what happened that night made me sick. Physically and mentally sick.”

“No, you didn’t feed him the liquor, but you stood by and watched, didn’t you?” I accused. “And you didn’t say anything. You’re the worst kind of murderer, James. The kind that just stands there and does nothing. That’s why I saved you for last. For the poetic justice of it. So you could stand by – again – and do nothing.”

“I see,” James said quietly. “So when did you decide to… avenge Michael?”

I wiped the tears from my cheeks with the back of the hand that held the flare gun.

“Immediately,” I replied. “I knew I’d have to be accepted by Christabel and the rest of your stupid group first, though. That’s when I lost weight, got a new wardrobe and hairstyle, and ditched my glasses for contact lenses. People started treating me differently right away. What fools!”

OMG she actually does a “What fools!” villain exclamation! I am cackling with laughter.

Anyway, as she monologues about her perfect crime, the Holmbergs arrive early! Of course they do, you freaking idiot! So Angie decides – well, again, her words are best, plus she makes me rage:

“Now it will be your word against mine, James,” I said. “But you’re the one who’s had the nervous breakdown. I have a feeling I’m the one they’ll believe. They came in the nick of time and saved my life. Your hollering at them was just another ruse – another sign of your nutty behavior. That’s what I’ll make them think, anyway.”

Oh, yeah, because having been treated for a mental illness means that you’re a danger to others. FUCK. YOU.

Though the bird calls haven’t really come into play, James being an audio freak does. He has, I am sure you’ve guessed, recorded her entire monologue, and now her perfect crime is done. She starts crying as the Holmbergs come toward them, having finally gotten over their laxative-in-the-hot-chocolate sickness.

Final Thoughts

I love that there are actual murders in this, and I can get behind a story about vengeance for a loved one’s death. I love the countdown, one by one they die in a remote location, and even the types of murders are pretty fun.

HOWEVER, all the fucking talk about mental illness sucked and did not need to exist.

[Dove: However, writing it in first person, with Bad Guy POV in there, only makes it more clear that it’s Angie, and therefore removes all mystery from the book.]

I am the evil twin. I'm in a feud with R.L. Stine, who is terribly prolific. Every story needs more werewolves.

Categories: Nightmares Recaps
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