Recap #30: Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick by

13 June 2016
Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick

Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick

Title: Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick

Summary: Robin’s convinced her new after-school job is going to be easy money. The only problem is, it means working at Parker Swanson’s house the most arrogant, attractive boy in school…

And Parker’s family is seriously weird. Scary, too. They’re all morbidly obsessed with Parker’s dead stepmother… And if she’s dead, how can she be scaring the life out of her daughter, Claudia?

And what is it that Robin keeps hearing, alone in the house at night…?

Tagline: Part-time job or full-time nightmare…?

Notes: I will use “Bad Guy” throughout my reviews to refer to the anonymous killer/prankster/whatever. Doesn’t mean it’s a guy. I will now refer to the bad guy as “Muffin Man” because of The Mall.

Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick - Scan by Mimi

Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick – Scan by Mimi

WARNING: This book contains a rapist. Not the usual Cusick fare of “lol no means yes, I’m your boyfriend so it’s just a joke” but an actual rapist. In my opinion, it’s actually less creepy because the text presents this as a bad thing (for once), but still, my triggers are not your triggers, so a warning is needed.

SECOND WARNING: Suicide is a plot point and the book is heavy with mental health being dealt with in a callous manner. Not the usual “crazy people kill” but “woman up, crazy chick, who cares if your mum killed herself, quit your moaning”.

Good lord, this book has a lot of issues. Wing is not going to like it.

[Wing: No. No she is not.]

Dove’s final note: given how awful this book is, and Wing’s book choice for the next recap. I have decided that I’m going to recap a wacky, hi-jinks style book next time around. Probably a Goosebumps.

Initial Thoughts:

I have never read this before. I ordered it off eBay when I realised I was running low on Cusick, so my initial thoughts are simply that I’m sure ellipsis are being abused in this book.

According to my Wordle, not so much. It’s all about the EnDash here.

Also: CUSICK! I’M BACK! I HAVE MISSED YOU. *snuggles the books*

It speaks volumes of how much I hated Defriended by Ruth Baron when I’m delighted to be back in Cusick world. Still, I love/hate her so much.

Help Wanted Wordle - apparently Cusick is over her elipsis

Help Wanted Wordle – apparently Cusick is over her elipsis

Recap:

We open up without a prologue, which is a turn up for the books. We just dive straight in to Robin, our protagonist, talking to Faye, her best friend. Faye is super dramatic and being a diva. Robin wants to go dress shopping for the dance, but Faye is ditching her to hang out with her boyfriend, Zak. She tends to do this a lot. [Wing: This whole friendship is pretty terrible. Robin says that people don’t understand what she sees in Faye. Well, I don’t, either. I can see why Faye would like Robin, who stands up to her and challenges her, but what, exactly, does Robin get out of this friendship other than being ditched whenever a new guy comes along?]

Also discussed is the Florida trip that Robin wants to go on. Her mum doesn’t have the funds to pay for her, but wants her to go, so this will lead to the inevitable job.

They miss the bus to school and cut through Manorwood, where Parker Swanson has just moved in. He’s totally hot, the entire school wants to get in his pants. Robin faintly hoped that he might need tutoring, since she’s tutoring most of the school already, but he’s actually smart. If Faye was obsessed with her boyfriend, Zak, she’s twice as obsessed with Parker. She cannot stop talking about how hot and sexy and rich and awesome he is. She’s desperate to bang him. This is like her defining characteristic. So, back to cutting through the mansion’s grounds.

“If they catch us sneaking around on their property, do you think they’ll call the police?” Faye’s voice brought Robin back to the present. “I’d hate to miss the math test and get expelled all in the same day.”

“We’re not sneaking – we’re just borrowing one little corner. And people this rich wouldn’t bother with the police anyway,” Robin said, starting off again. “They’d just have their caretaker shoot us.”

Had to quote, it amused me. As always, I give kudos to Cusick when her dialogue amuses me. Because it balances when she does something offensive.

They discuss the groundskeeper, Skaggs, which is a pretty unfortunate name (English slang for heroin). He’s an alcoholic who’s been working at the property for ages. They hate him and find him creepy, because of his pockmarked skin and broken nose. [Wing: Conveniently, he works at the school, too, because why not.]

Faye squeezes through the fence first, and Robin is just about to follow when Parker rocks up in a swish car and splashes Robin with mud as he pulls up alongside. I’m assuming the fence they’ve squeezed through is actually a massive hedge or something to explain why Faye, screaming boy-obsessed moron that she is, doesn’t come flying back out to throw herself at Parker at the sound of his voice. He offers Robin a lift to school and calls Faye an airhead, and Robin basically tells him to sod off. So he does, spattering her with mud again.

She joins Faye, who berates Robin for turning down the lift. The fact that he called Faye an airhead doesn’t matter – she’s just excited that he knows her name. In case I haven’t made myself clear: I HATE FAYE.

“Robin!” she shrieked. “Do you realize what you’ve done!”

“Yes. Turned down a ride with a total jerk.”

Parker Swanson! That was Parker Swanson! In his expensive car!”

“Faye” – Robin gave her a withering look – “the guy called you an airhead.”

“So it means he noticed me!” Faye wriggled out onto the sidewalk and stood up, brushing herself off excitedly. “He knows who I am! He knows who you are! I don’t believe this – we could have ridden to school with Parker Swanson! Everyone would have been so jealous. He might even have asked me out – before Vicki! I could have touched him!”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Come on, I can feel more and more points slipping away on that math test–”

“Well, it’s your fault!” Faye still looked slightly stunned. “It’s your fault if I don’t get asked out before Vicki does, and it’s your fault if I flunk that stupid test ‘cause I’m late! You should have thought about that, Robin! There are other feelings to consider here besides yours, you know.”

Robin sighed, giving Faye a shove toward the shrubbery once more. “Trust me. You’re better off without this guy. And what about poor Zak, the love of your life?”

“Just because I’m going with Zak doesn’t mean I’m dead,” Faye grumbled, but she squeezed back through the fence and pulled Robin in after her. “And by the way, when you tell the girls about this, they’re gonna think you made the whole thing up.”

I was really hoping that Faye was going to be a bit like Tawny. A little ditzy, but decent and kind, but instead she’s a vapid airhead. Yay.

Robin drops her books and as she’s picking them up, she finds tracks, blood and clumps of hair.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss me and Wing the hell off.)

She shows Faye, who thinks it’s gross, but not their problem. While Robin wants to call the police or tell the Swansons, Faye is equally convinced it was an animal, and they should just get the heck off the Swansons’ property.

They make it to maths and we meet Walt, who I already have a crush on.

No one ever called Theodore Waltermize by his real name. Tall and soft-spoken, Walt was an enigma Robin hadn’t been able to figure out even though he’d transferred to Lewis High at the start of the school year. He wasn’t handsome in that breathtaking way Parker Swanson was, yet there was something equally intriguing about him – his sandy hair, for one thing, hanging thick and wavy past his shoulders; his customary outfit of threadbare jeans and faded workshirt; the steady calm of his brown eyes; and his square stubborn jaw. She knew a lot of girls were attracted to him, because he was a main topic of fantasizing at lunch and sleepovers and in the girls’ locker room – and yet she never saw Walt with a date or even hanging out much with the other guys. A lot of her friends thought he was a brain, and therefore unapproachable, and some suspected he was really a narc because his uncle used to work on the local police force, but Robin thought that maybe he was just shy. Now, as she risked a glance in Walt’s direction, she saw that he was still watching her, and she dropped her eyes back to her paper.

I love that people think he’s a “narc”. I mean, what the heck is going on in that school that they need an informant in there? [Wing: Oh, sweet summer child, what isn’t going on at an American school?] [Dove: *feels fucking stupid* Yep, you’re right.[Wing: Mostly I was mocking the reputations of American schools, not you, but if you’re going to make yourself feel bad anyway… I AM the evil twin.]

After class, Robin sees an ad on the notice board as follows:

HELP WANTED
GET RICH QUICK
DETAIL-ORIENTED STUDENT FOR CATALOGING PERSONAL LIBRARY
NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY
555–4357
Since she loves books and detail, this is perfect for her. [Wing: Maybe it is the difference in time periods, but I find the whole “get rich quick” part so fucking sketchy. Other than that, this is perfect for Wing, too.]

Nothing else of interest happens, other than their friend Vicki isn’t at school today, so I’ll skip to her being home alone. [Wing: To Robin being home alone, not Vicki. As far as I’m concerned, Vicki’s dead and it was her hair Robin found.] Her brother is at college, her mother works and is putting herself through school, her dad remarried and “moved halfway around the world”, so this will explain why there are no parents around. And since they’re not in Europe (though Dad might be, his location is unspecified), I won’t give this a count. With this and April Fools, it appears Cusick was experimenting with working class families and found that to be a much less eye-poking way to leave our teens alone, rather than rich people who go to Europe all the time.

So she calls the number from the ad speaks to an old man, who invites her to an interview tonight and ends with “Hope you don’t scare easy.” She thinks it’s a rather “crazy conversation” but it wasn’t really.

Going for a job interview was one thing – going alone after dark to a total stranger’s house was another thing altogether. Especially when he sounds like a mental case.

The guy doesn’t really sound “like a mental case” though. He sounds gruff and to the point (maybe a little entitled), which aren’t the same things. I’m giving this a counter, but just so you know, I will Wing out shortly and start handing them out by the thousand. [Wing: I’m a verb. *preens*] [Dove: *sings* Wing, Wing is a verb; Wing is a doing word.]

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)

On the plus side, at least Robin notices how daft it was to agree to go to an interview with a strange man, but she justifies it because she needs the money to go on holiday with Faye. So she goes, and guess what? It’s at the Swanson mansion, where Parker lives. She walks there and the gate opens but nobody’s there…

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 (+1)

Because it’s a fucking intercom. You just gave a cliffhanger to an intercom. It was so stupid I wasn’t even going to mention it, but for some reason Wing and I care about our counters. Wing, why do we care about our counters?

She meets Herk, aka Hercules Diffenbach Swanson, father to stupid son, Gardner, and grandfather to brilliant grandson, Parker. Parker, by the way, talks about Robin to his granddad, so he must have a thing for her. Or wants to kill her. Or both. Both seems about right.

She also meets Winifred, whose job title is not given, but she offers refreshments and Herk says they couldn’t do without her, so I’m thinking housekeeper.

Throughout the conversation Herk states that his family and/or the house is a crazy/nutty/etc, but mostly he’s just a bit whimsical. I get the feeling that Wing will hate him. I don’t, I think he’s fun. He comes across as someone who is living up to reputation of being eccentric and is playing along for his own amusement. This, admittedly, freaks Robin out a bit. [Wing: I think he’s playing along, and I do think that’s fun. I hate him, and this whole book, for how it keeps talking about mental illness. So you’re half right.] [Dove: You’re right, I forgot to clarify this. I liked that he was playing at being eccentric, but I loathe everything he says about mental health, Claudia, Lillith, etc.] [Wing: Yes, old guy trolling his terrible family, A+. Old guy saying the things he says, BURN EVERYTHING.]

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 12 (+10)

Herk offers Robin $100 a week to catalogue the books that belonged to Lillith, Gardner’s second wife. Lillith would probably be doing the job herself, except she killed herself six months ago.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 3 (+1)

Lillith, according to Herk, was evil. Which explains why she’s called Lillith, instead of Lily.

“She was the second Mrs. Swanson. Married Gardner after his first wife died. Against my wishes, I might add! Nothing good came from that match. As if Lillith weren’t bad enough, Claudia moved right in with her – along with the suitcases and all these damn books.”

So that reads as if Claudia’s father is not Gardner, which makes no bloody sense given later events. You know what, we’ll get to that reveal and I’ll pick it to pieces there.

Lillith slashed her wrists, then jumped off a cliff. Her daughter, Claudia, found her body washed up on the beach and has been depressed ever since. Robin empathises with Claudia, rightly understanding that such an event must be thoroughly traumatising, but Herk just writes Claudia off as crazy.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 112 (+100) – believe me, I will start adding more as we go, I’m just easing myself in gently. When it comes to counters, Wing is a nuke and will take out everything in a big boom, I am a fire – might take me awhile to get going, but I will burn it down.

Robin leaves, saying she’ll think about the job, but Herk takes it as read that she’s agreed (he’s probably read the synopsis), and on her way out across the grounds, she bumps into Skaggs. Skaggs is drunk, grabby, unwilling to let her leave, and sinister as fuck. Robin says she’ll report him to the police, the school and to the Swansons. Skaggs does not care, and threatens her life. Robin runs.

The next day at school, Faye is annoying and Parker is egotistical and Faye says “I hate you,” to Robin because Parker talked to her.

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 1 (Because girls can’t be friends, AMIRIGHT?) and I beat you because I love you: 1 (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.) because Faye brings nothing to the relationship except for spite covered in “lol we’re bffs, it’s ok”. Faye then hits on Walt who turns her down, because he clearly likes Robin. Fay stomps off in a huff.

On her way to class, she finds a body at the bottom of the stairs.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 4 (+1) and He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD!… oh wait, he survived: 1 (Where the story tries to convince us that there really is a body count, only to later reveal the victim only sustained minor injuries.)

It’s Claudia, and she’s not dead, merely shaken after she was pushed down the stairs. Parker rocks up and he says he’ll get the nurse if Robin stays with Claudia. Every single description of Claudia serves to infantilise her, she’s small, delicate, childlike, etc. We get it, she’s a delicate little flower – and therefore the bad guy Muffin Man, right? Claudia says she was pushed down the stairs by a female. The nurse says Claudia’s fine, but can go home if she wants. Claudia elects to stay in school, but leaves the scene. This leaves Robin with Parker, who reiterates that his whole family is crazy. He then says that Claudia has a victim complex. Also, it seems like he’s trying to flirt with Robin, which she brushes off.

[Wing: I found it interesting that Robin was certain no one would push anyone else down the stairs. Because that doesn’t actually happen in schools all the damn time, because people are abusive fucks to each other.] [Dove: Also, when the school bus arrived, we would all surge forward and the people at the front would get smashed into the bus, even as it was still moving. This wasn’t bullying or abusive, it was just that “I want” mentality, we wanted on the bus, there were people in the way, and everyone pushes everyone. So the potential for accidental/thoughtless violence is there too.[Wing: And here I thought you were all so gentle in your queues.]

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 200 (+88 because I like round numbers)

At lunch Faye grills Robin about her interaction with Parker – did he ask her out – and also informs her that Vicki isn’t in school today, and she didn’t come home last night. She sneaked out to see her boyfriend, which he admitted, but never showed up. Since this is PH, Vicki is dead. Her body will be a jump scare/Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN! chapter ending in the finale as Robin runs around the grounds of the Swanson mansion. What? That’s not a spoiler. This is Point Horror. This is Cusick. We all know how it’s going to end.

Robin gets fed up with Faye’s sensationalised version of events on everything in the school and takes a walk to clear her head. She finds Claudia on the bleachers outside. She introduces herself officially and Claudia assumes it’s because she’s got the hots for Parker. Claudia is off and disinterested until she realises that Robin’s the one who’s going to be going through her mother’s books. She tells Robin that Lillith was a gifted medium and that Parker doesn’t like her. He was close with his mother, who was in a car accident, and wasn’t happy when his dad remarried. Whatevs. Claudia’s really pale and tragic throughout, and Robin tells her that it’ll get better.

“It’s so easy to be optimistic when you’re not the one in danger,” Claudia said.

Claudia feels hunted, and after a few vague comments, runs off in apparent terror. It’s annoying. [Wing: Well, you know, Cusick wouldn’t know how to write a story without giving everything away on page one if she couldn’t have people stupidly refuse to talk to each other about things.]

That evening Robin goes to work. Winifred says nobody’s home. Robin gets lost in her work, [Wing: She’s so careful with the books, goes on and on about it, and yet no mention of wearing freaking gloves! The oils on your skin are destroying those books as we speak, Robin! Get it together.] and eventually hears a muffled noise. She calls out several times but nobody answers. She hears a female voice calling out for help. She follows the voice into an attic where she sees a dead woman in a white dress, facedown, and bloody bath water.

Claudia finds Robin screaming, and says that Lillith has come for her. She’s convinced that her mother will hunt her until she’s dead too, then bolts down the stairs. Robin tries to follow but loses her and runs into Parker. Long story short, it’s not a body, it’s a set of curtains being washed in the tub. Claudia’s crazy and Robin’s catching it. Everyone is magnificently tactful about mental health. They threaten to have Claudia locked up.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 300 (+100)

[Wing: I am setting things on fire. All of the things. A world full of things.]

[Wing: Also, this is some pretty solid gaslighting whenever Parker talks to Robin. I hope he falls off a cliff.]

Parker walks home and rehashes the fact that Claudia is crazy, but expands that she hated Lillith and all these nightmares are guilt. This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 1 (Recap! Recap! Recap! Something happened last chapter. Tell us about it! Tell it again. Then tell it one more time. Because otherwise we’ll forget.) Parker says he tried to befriend her when their parents married, but she never wanted to have anything to do with him. She’s also probably suicidal, so he gives her space.

Right, let’s put aside the almost-certainty that Claudia is master-minding this whole thing for some reason (I’ve read Cusick, it’s never supernatural) and take everything at face value. Why has nobody in the entire household – which includes Claudia’s stepfather, who Claudia claims to have a good relationship with – bothered to get this poor girl some help? There have been several times when I’ve been wallowing in depression and Wing’s been like, “Yo, you think maybe it’s time to get back on the meds?” And Wing and I live in different countries. You’d think someone in the same house might be concerned about the girl. But Parker’s all like “Kid’s suicidal, but she didn’t want to be my friend, so fuck her! Let her wallow!” as if it’s a hobby Claudia has, like collecting stamps or something.

Robin then lets it slip that she’s home alone, because her mom works and goes to night school and her dad lives in Rome. WE HAVE A MENTION OF EUROPE, PEOPLE! Parents? What parents?: 1 (They’re in fucking Europe. They’re always in fucking Europe.) Although do I give Cusick points for realising that Europe is not a country and she managed not just to pick a country, but a city? I’m so confused.

When Robin gets home she starts her homework but realises she picked up Claudia’s book instead and there’s a note that reads “Claudia, I’m coming for you” and it’s signed “Mother”.

The next morning, Claudia is waiting on Robin’s front porch for her. Robin tells her about the note, and Claudia is convinced it’s from beyond the grave, because Lillith was a powerful medium when she was alive, so she must be super-powered now she’s dead, Lillith wants revenge because Claudia let her die. Robin is just as convinced that someone wants Claudia to believe that to make her feel like she’s losing her mind. If that were the case, it’s probably Parker or Herk, because her father pays more attention to her than Parker. There’s also the money situation.

“An inheritance.” Claudia seemed uncomfortable. She hesitated and plucked nervously at her skirt. “What money that should have gone to my mother will go to me on my eighteenth birthday.”

“And does Parker stand to inherit anything?”

“Yes. His mother’s share, of course. But…” Claudia fell silent. The quiet dragged on for so long that Robin finally reached out and shook the girl gently.

“But what?” she urged.

Claudia’s look was half reluctant, half sad. “Father wants to divide up the rest of the money – his and grandfather’s shares – evenly between Parker and me. But Grandfather refuses. He wants Parker to have it all. And he’s the one who still controls the money.”

Ok, wtf? So, some money should have gone to Lillith, but it didn’t because she’s dead? What money? Why? This using “inheritance” makes it sound like money from a Will, but since Gardner’s not dead, that’s out. Possibly it was some sort of financial promise Gardner made to Lillith, so why does it need to go to Claudia instead? Why wouldn’t there be a financial provision for Claudia, and one for Lillith? Unless this means there was money already given to Lillith, and it has been Willed to Claudia, but that’s not what the wording says. [Wing: I think this comes down to the fact that generally, people don’t understand how inheritances work, and write about them based on common knowledge, which is wrong.]

Next up, Parker. His mother is dead, so he should have already inherited that money, and if he has to be a certain age, it should already be in trust in his name. It should not be sitting in anyone else’s bank account for the time being. It was Mrs Swanson’s, it was Willed to her son, if it goes anywhere else, that’s illegal.

Finally, who gives a fuck what Gardner wants to do with Herk’s money or vice-versa. My personal belief is that both are of sound enough mind to stay in control of their own money and do as they wish. Herk cannot force Gardner to give Gardner’s money to anyone he doesn’t want to. The reverse is also true, Herk, despite being the head honcho in the family of dysfunction, cannot do anything to force Gardner to not give his own money to whomever he chooses. The only flaw in this is if all the money is in Herk’s name and everyone gets a set allowance. In which case: lol. Go Herk for pulling the wool over your family’s eyes.

You guys need a family therapist and a solid financial advisor. That’s all I’m saying.

Robin thinks Parker is the Muffin Man, but Claudia thinks he’s not. The money from their mothers alone would set them up for life, and Parker wouldn’t do something like this for a bit more money.

Then Claudia throws herself in front of a car driven by Death.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 5 (+1)

Thankfully, Walt (out of nowhere like an RKO) rugby-tackles Claudia out of the way and saves her. Claudia maintains that the car was driven by her dead mother. Robin wants to report it to the police, despite the fact that they only description they have is that it was a black car that didn’t stop after a girl threw herself in its path, but thankfully was not hit. Walt says maybe the driver had a bad day. Yeah, no. You nearly hit someone, you stop and make sure they’re ok.

“And who would believe us anyway, right?” Robin mumbled. “They never believe kids. They sure won’t believe us.”

Robin has apparently read a Point Horror before.

They change the subject and it turns out Walt knows Parker from drama. Parker is a very good actor. Red Herrings: 1 (Fairly obvious, but in Point Horror, there’s basically a neon sign above them stating “sinister as fuck”.[Wing: And Claudia goes out of her way to say that her mother thought Parker was a good actor because he could embody the different personalities so well. Because subtle.]

Ok, this recap is nine pages long already. You know what time it is? IT’S BULLET POINT TIME, BITCHES! (I’m still taking that word back, to me it means “dearest readers, who I love to bits”).

  • Robin notices that Vicki’s picture is missing from the bulletin board and so is her own.
  • She has PE with Claudia, introduces her around, but they’re late leaving, so they’re the only ones in the locker room when they take a shower. Robin hears cries for help and Claudia gets a shower of blood.
  • When they scream, Walt conveniently hears – the text notes that Robin has time to grab a towel before he walks in, but does not note the same about Claudia. BOOBIES. I’m sorry, I’m so magnificently bored.
  • It’s not blood, it’s power attached to the shower head. There’s some misdirection about how Parker asked Walt to look for Claudia Red Herrings: 2 (+1) but at this point, if it’s not Claudia doing this to herself, I’ll be fucking astounded. Skaggs is also sinister to Robin as they’re leaving.
  • Walt and Robin agree to meet at her place after she works at the Swansons. They run into Parker, who is a dick to Claudia, and I just feel like we’re treading water here. Event, discussion, Parker is a dick, event, discussion, Parker is a dick… etc.
  • Robin goes to work. Parker suddenly wins a zillion points for verbalising one of Dove’s most strongly held beliefs (about mediums/psychics/people of that ilk):

“She was evil, Robin. She was selfish and self-centered and only out for herself. She was a fraud. She preyed on the grief of innocent people and took their money and lied to them!”

  • I know I usually soapbox about something tangentially related to these books, but Parker’s done it for me. No soapbox from Dove this time. Robin, on the other hand, believes in an afterlife and that some people can “reach into it”. Moar discussion: Lillith = evil; Claudia = crazy; Robin = gullible. This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 2 (+1)
  • And MOAR RECAPPING: Herk concurs with Parker’s assessment above. Also, he’s classist, because Lillith was common. This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 3 (+1)

“My stupid son wants to split up Parker’s inheritance and give the girl half – what in blazes is Gardner thinking! I’ll tell you what he’s thinking – nothing! He never thinks at all! That was Lillith’s idea – the witch! She put that stupid idea in my stupid son’s head! Well, I forbid it! Claudia already gets Lillith’s share, and that’s all the Swanson money she’s ever going to get! Gardner wants to put her in the will – well, okay! But we’ll all have to die first before Claudia gets one – more – penny!”

[Wing: I know you liked Herk earlier, but he is such a prime example of bullshit white male patriarchy. Parker deserves the money; Claudia doesn’t. Because Claudia hasn’t done anything to deserve it, but Parker has. What has Parker done? Been born a white male to the right family. This is all such classist fucking bullshit.]

[Wing: Also, Parker is fucking terrible. Yes, he made a good point about mediums, etc., but he is fucking terrible. He won’t take no for an answer, he gaslights Robin for his own amusement, he is abusive and rude and pushy and — fuck. I hate everyone in this book. EVERYONE.]

[Dove: I do not disagree with a single thing you said.]

  • Once again, no. Well, they’d have to die in a specific order, and that order would be: Parker, Herk and then Gardner for Claudia to get money. Otherwise, I will assume that Herk’s money is going to Parker, to make sure it can’t be passed on to Claudia (but if Parker is dead, then Gardner to keep it in the family). Parker’s money will go to anywhere but Claudia. And Gardner’s money is going to Parker and Claudia, I assume. So yeah, no, this is bollocks. The whole reason Wills exist is so that people you don’t like don’t get your money. There is no way people as rich as the Swansons would not have Wills, because if the inheritance is over a certain amount, you pay a huge amount of tax on it. You need a Will to trust things out to protect against that. If you die without a Will, it usually goes: spouse; failing that kids; failing that siblings/grandchildren – can’t remember who comes first in that list. If you have no spouse and nobody blood related, it goes to the state. And I’m going to stop now, because you guys came here for a recap, not an overview of UK probate/intestate law. But #lifetip if you don’t like all or parts of your family and have money: make a Will. 🙂
  • Herk gives a rather reasonable insight into the cause of Claudia’s mental state, despite the fact it’s worded in the most offensive way possible: Lillith was an abusive mother, and Claudia longed to be out from under her thumb, but when this became a reality, the guilt crippled her emotionally and she’s tormenting herself with these visions/thoughts because she feels she deserves it. Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 500 (+200)
  • Robin leaves work and runs into Skaggs on the grounds. He is physically and sexually threatening, but Parker turns up and threatens him. Robin runs off.
  • She has dinner with Walt and discusses everything. She thinks Parker is evil, and Walt points out that Parker fancies her. Boring. They find a note on the front door saying “Stay away from Claudia or you’ll be next”. They can’t go to the police because this is PH and it’s just a joke.
  • The next morning Claudia tells Robin she found a hand on her pillow. A dead one, not attached to a body, but after she found Winifred to show her, the hand was gone. Robin bubbles with rage that the Swansons are treating Claudia this way, so sends her home and drops by the police station. Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1 (When the protagonist experiences something genuinely frightening, such as finding a corpse, or that someone has been in their room while they were home alone, and it is treated as an attention-seeking prank. Or, when something is done that is written off as a prank or a joke, but is actually pretty damned spiteful.)
  • Robin goes to work, drifts off to sleep and wakes up to see the dead hand on a desk. What’s Cusick’s obsession with hands? Claudia is there in the room when Robin wakes up and there’s a storm going on. Which means we’ve hit the grand finale, which means description will fly out of the window, ellipsis will be abused, and it will finally be over.
  • Claudia runs off, Robin tries to find her. Ends up outside, find’s Vicki’s corpse. (Totally called it.)
  • Runs into Skaggs, he attempts to rape her, which he intends to follow with murdering her. Claudia kills Skaggs before he can go through with either. (Go Claudia!)
  • Claudia claims they have to go because Parker has been targeting Claudia and using Skaggs for the wetwork.
  • Naturally, they need to hide the body in case the police won’t believe what happened. DED FROM STUPID: 1 (Exactly what it says on the tin. If you do not understand this trope, then you are the cause of this trope.) They decide to thrown him off a cliff. Because… I don’t know. Reasons.
  • CLAUDIA HEEL TURN. She wants Robin to jump off the cliff, and she has a gun to encourage her. Reasons? Because setting Parker up as a murderer (?) will destroy the family. And they deserve that for making Lillith miserable. Claudia adored her mother, and killed Parker’s mum, just so she could be Gardner’s wife, just like Lillith wanted. I think the plot is “Claudia’s pretending to be crazy because she’s actually crazy… what you want more than that, go fuck yourself. CRAZY.” Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1,500 (+1,000)
  • Except Winifred rocks up and states she killed Lillith. Claudia is vehement that the Swansons drove Lillith to suicide, but no, Winifred killed her because Lillith was an awful human being. She was going to destroy the family, so Winifred drugged her up, took her for a walk, helped her cut her wrists and encouraged her to jump off a cliff.
  • Claudia tussles with Robin and they both go off the cliff, thankfully the boys rock up at the last minute. Walt grabs Robin and Parker grabs Claudia. For a moment, we think Parker’s going to let her fall, then tries to help her up, but Claudia lets go and falls to her doom.
  • And that’s that. The Swansons are going to hire a great lawyer for Winifred and continue to take care of her. Parker had found Vicki’s body, and he and Walt went to the police, who actually listened to them, because Walt’s uncle is a cop. Good to know that crimes get taken seriously based on how much blood you share with the person listening to your story. “I was nearly murdered by Jason Vorhees! I have video evidence.” – “Don’t care. We’re not related. Go back out there and talk it over. I bet you dated him once and he’s just playing around.” Or “Daddy, Kim stole my pencil sharpener!” – “THROW THE BOOK AT HER! PRISON FOR LIFE! NOBODY STEALS MY DAUGHTER’S THINGS!”
  • Robin now has two boys fighting over her affections, so all’s well that ends well.

Final Thoughts:

Holy snot waffles. That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. It was boring, it was stupid, it was offensive, it was cluttered. This was a tepid mess. It’s not even a hot mess. It’s just bland and dull and boring.

Wow, the mental health stuff was nasty. Also, why add a rapist? These books are for YA in the 90s, it was unnecessary. Just everything about this sucked.

Cusick! You and I are on a break. I’m not recapping any more of your nonsense until I’ve had a chance to cool down. I think I was on a high from The Mall, which was the most extreme book I’ve ever read by Cusick, it housed both her best and worst character decisions, and some of her best writing, despite the silliness it all dissolved into. This didn’t. It tried to take itself too seriously. It wanted to be gothic and haunting, and instead it was just silly and annoying at best and downright offensive at worst.

[Wing: There are many, many things I hate about this book, but one I haven’t actually touched on yet is the rapist thing. It’s an easy, unrealistic out that the weird, creepy old guy Robin avoids is the rapist. In reality, it’s probably Parker. It’s that guy who just. won’t. take. no., who doesn’t look beyond his own privilege. But I like her, I should get what I want. It’s Walt, a little smug, a little sure of himself. It’s the guy you date, the neighbor who just seems so nice, the Stanford swim star. The cute girl in class you thought you could trust, because rapists aren’t just dudes. Generally what it is not is the stranger, the homeless man, the drunk on the corner. It’s someone you know, and when it happens, people won’t act like they saw it coming. People will say, I can’t imagine he did that, or, she’s always so kind, or, what a nice man he is.

So. Fuck you, Cusick. Fuck you, and this book, and everyone who let this go through to publication. Fuck this rape culture society of ours.

I’m going to burn down the world.]

Final Counts:

DED FROM STUPID: 1
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 5
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD!… oh wait, he survived: 1
I beat you because I love you: 1
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 1
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 301,500 (added 300,000 because it was so horrible)
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1
Parents? What parents?: 1
Red Herrings: 2
This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 3

I am the evil twin. I'm in a feud with Richie Tankersley Cusick, and I'm waging a war on over-used en-dashes and ellipsis. All of these things are related. I worship at the altar of the ISUZU TROOPER, BITCHES.

Categories: Point Horror Recaps
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19 Comments

  • Gemma says:

    I’ve never even heard of this one but it sounds AWFUL. Thank you, Dove.

    • Dove says:

      It just didn’t go anywhere. I don’t know if this book was significantly worse than all the others, or if I’m just utterly fed up with Cusick’s formula, but I felt like I was treading water in treacle. There was nothing new or interesting in the entire book.

      We need a light-hearted recap after all this. Especially with the one Wing picked for next week!

  • Jo says:

    Hercules. Skaggs. Best or worst names ever!!! “Parker Swanson” makes me think of a silent film star …

    The rest of the book sucks. You are truly brave souls. (Don’t remember this one … was it an early/late entry? Might have had it confused in my head with the similarly-named “Mother’s Help” by A Bates)

    • Mimi says:

      Parker Swanson just sounds like a brand name to me. Like a company that makes baby lotion or something.

    • Dove says:

      It feels like a late entry. Cusick has given up even trying at this point. In fact, I think she’s even re-using names, Belinda’s surname was Swanson too.

      I think I read Mother’s Help back in the day, but can’t remember a thing about it.

  • Mimi says:

    I actually own this book but haven’t read it yet. I don’t think I will now. It sounds like a book to move to the bottom of the pile. I don’t understand why the character of Skaggs was even needed. Did he actually add anything to the plot? He seems unnecessary.

    I appreciate that you guys do trigger warnings. Sometimes knowing it’s going to be there and not being surprised by it makes all the difference.

    Thank you for reading that so the rest of us don’t have to suffer. Way to take one for the team.

    • Dove says:

      I’m glad we can provide a service, Mimi. Wing and Dove: reading awful YA, so you don’t have to.

      Wing! We need business cards with that on!

      On a more serious note, Wing’s next recap has the same warning, so be prepared.

      Possibly Skaggs was there to do the heavy lifting, so that Claudia, despite master-minding everything, could remain childlike and tragic and beautiful. Thank god for ugly people, they can do the murdering and Claudia can keep her hands clean!

  • Paul says:

    Cusick nabbed a contract with Archway Paperbacks in the US and had to churn ’em out at a rate similar to Stine, which could account for the awfulness. In reality, only “The Lifeguard”, “April Fools”, “Trick Or Treat” and “Teacher’s Pet” were true Point Horror books. Everything after that was for Archway, who also published Fear Street.

    Even before this one, I picked up on Cusick’s formula. Always involves a single female getting caught up in the sinister secrets of another family. Since she goes to the exact same well EVERY SINGLE TIME means the quality is only going to get worse, right?

    • Dove says:

      I’m avoiding Fatal Secrets, because it’s the exact same plot as you mentioned, except with a boy as the lead (and, possibly a fair touch of racial stereotypes, if I’m remembering correctly).

      I can’t do this any more. I’m breaking up with Cusick. I can’t take it any more. I’m finding a new PH author to get into fisticuffs with.

      Also, once again, your knowledge of 90s YA horror explains a lot. 🙂

      Edit: To clarify, I’m not avoiding the story because it’s a boy lead, I’m avoiding because it’s the same plot. I was commenting that changing the gender was the token effort she made to change it up a bit.

      • Wing says:

        Oh no no no, there will be no breaking up with Cusick. I’m stuck with Stine, you’re stuck with her. Until you finish all her books and have to choose a new nemesis, because I will still be stuck with Stine, because Stine has written a billion books and counting.

        • Dove says:

          And you’re supposed to be the smart twin. Stine was not a wise choice for a feud! 🙂

          • Wing says:

            Or, Stine is the wisest choice for a feud, because it will last forever. Immortal feuds are THE kind of feuds to have.

          • Wing says:

            Also, why does no one else’s picture show up when they comment? I just get broken image spots.

          • Dove says:

            I can’t seem to reply to you, Wing, but I don’t know. It randomly removed all the little monster gravatars, and I thought it would sort itself out (this happened around the Big Computer Death at the beginning of the year, and I wondered if it was my settings). It hasn’t. Now I’m just pushing buttons to see if it will work.

            Edit: Fixed. Am genius.

  • Wing says:

    Can’t reply to you either, Dove, but not fixed. Or at least I still can’t see them, even after clearing my cache.

    • Wing says:

      Huh, apparently our commenting system will only let you reply a couple of steps into the thread. That’s — interesting. And completely against the point of threaded comments, but whatever, plugin. You do you.

      • Dove says:

        Ok, I think I’ve fixed it again. It was working last night, (Mimi has a green faced monster with a monocle as her avatar) but when I logged on this morning it wasn’t. So I’ve done what I did last night again. Let’s see if it holds this time.

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