Title: Nightmare Hall #11: Last Date by Diane Hoh
Summary: A night you’ll never forget. Call me. Demi does it on a dare. She places an ad in the personals column of the Salem Chronicle. Lots of guys call. And the nights are everything she advertised. Unforgettable. Unforgettably frightening. Because one by one, Demi’s dates start having nasty little accidents. Disappearing. Even…dying.
Notes: I will now refer to the bad guy as “Muffin Man” because of The Mall.
I didn’t even like this one when I first read it 24 years ago. 24 years. Bloody hell. If that weren’t bad enough, Nola “Hack” Thacker is back in the driver’s seat for this ride, so I’m anticipating severe bouts of carsickness and a strong urge to nap. (Note from the future: and a lot of swearing, too). [Wing: Another one I don’t remember reading. Somehow, I think I missed most of the Thacker ones, even though at the time, I didn’t know they were being ghostwritten.]
I don’t even know what the fuck the prologue is going on about. Something about the dating game becoming the dying game. [Wing: Prologues, generally pointless.] Next up, Demi Blake and Shannon Thompson are on the grass at the Salem University Commons. Demi is pondering putting an ad in the new personals section of the Salem Chronicle because she’s bored. We then find out she actually works at the paper and thinks it would make for an interesting story. Although Demi was already thinking about doing it, Shannon dares her, and Demi accepts. She goes to the Chronicle office and runs it by Kevin Bork, the managing editor, who likes the idea. We get that cliched, groan-worthy chapter ending of, “What could possibly go wrong?” [Wing: Everything. Everything could go wrong. Starting with cliches.]
An unspecified time later, Demi and Shannon are hanging out in the dorm of Gigi LeFarge, a student from France obsessed with American culture, along with Gigi’s roommate Alice, and Lacey Sakurada (originally from The Roommate). They’re talking about Demi’s ad, which says: I’m that kind of girl. Are you that kind of guy? Let’s make a date for a night you’ll never forget. Call me. Demi is so painfully hip I want to vomit. Demi reveals she’s set up her first date for Friday. It’s with Lance, and they’ll be seeing a French movie. Another unspecified amount of time later, Demi is at Mort par Chocolat with Jack, who I’m assuming is her ex-boyfriend. There’s mention that they agreed to see other people. He doesn’t like the fact she’s doing this. It quickly escalates into an argument, with Demi rather dramatically throwing coins at him. Demi tells him she doesn’t owe him an explanation and goes to leave, but Jack grabs her by the wrist and pulls her back towards him.
I beat you because I love you: 1 point
Demi wrenches free and flees. She doesn’t see Jack, his fists clenched, say to himself, “Better be careful, little girl. Or you’ll be sorry.” (Note from the future: Jack is referenced a couple of times, but never actually shows up again).
Red Herrings: 1 point
Oh, good grief, Nola.
Demi is in her dorm with Gigi and Shannon, getting ready for her date. Gigi says she hates blind dates. Demi says she’s dealt with losers before, such as Phillip Morton. Apparently, she was nice to him one time, and after that, he wouldn’t stop calling her.
Red Herrings: 2 points
Before Demi leaves, Shannon wants her to tell them more about this guy and where they’re going, in case anything happens. Demi simply gets frustrated and leaves, thinking that she needs to reevaluate her friendship with Shannon because Shannon was acting too weird.
Really, Demi? She’s showing concern for your welfare like a good friend would do, and you think that’s stifling and weird? Yeesh. [Wing: Seriously. Getting that sort of information, especially before a first date scheduled through an ad (or online dating sites) is smart.]
Cheer on the killer: 1 point
The date is torture for Demi. During the French film, Lance speaks all the dialogue for her in English, even though there are subtitles. That is actually kind of funny. After the film, she gets him to walk her back to the dorm, while he talks about the history of French comedy. She just stifles yawns.
Cheer on the killer: 2 points
Lance walks home, pleased with how the date went. He thinks about what sort of French comedy Demi might like. He might be a bit clueless, but he seems like a nice guy. Which makes him too good for Demi, probably. 20 pages in, and I’m already hating on our main character. This is not promising. In any event, it doesn’t look as if Lance will get to date Demi again – or maybe any girl – because a car races out of nowhere and plows into him.
Well, that escalated quickly: 1 point
Demi’s in the Chronicle office, listening to a call from Lawrence. She is joined by Marge Smythe, editor of the features section. She hated the idea of Demi’s article. She hates Demi, in fact. Apparently, she’s got a thing for Kevin and hates anybody who even speaks to him. The two girls start being bitchy at one another.
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me): 1 point
Marge takes off, and Kevin arrives, accompanied by Brant, a frat brother. There’s some pointless joking about how you have to be crazy to work at the Chronicle.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 point
We then jump to Demi waiting at Vinnie’s for her date with Lawrence, thinking she’s been stood up. When Phillip Morton shows up (the creepy guy who kept calling her) and sits down with her, she realises she’s been fooled. He disguised his voice. But the date doesn’t go too badly – until the end of the night. After refusing a lift home, the two walk instead. Phillip abruptly starts an argument with Demi, grabbing her by the arm and jerking on it, accusing her of thinking she’s too good for him.
I’m not going to like anybody in this book, am I? (Shannon seems okay, but Thacker generally makes her female characters treat each other terribly, so I’m withholding judgment for the moment).
I beat you because I love you: 2 points
Demi pulls free and hurries away. She looks over her shoulder and thinks she sees Phillip standing in the shadows, staring after her. Sunday morning, Demi is woken up by a phone call from Kevin. She tells him about the prior night’s date. Then there is another phone call. It is the police, and they want to speak to her. Demi learns from Officer DeVito and Officer Chang that Phillip was found in his car, in an enclosed garage, with the motor running. He also had a blow to his head. It could be from hitting his head on the dashboard after falling unconscious – or somebody hit him on the head and put him in the car to make it look like a suicide. [Wing: Hit him on the head from the front so that it looks like it could have happened from the dashboard? He must have trusted the potential killer if they got that close from the front.]
Next up, Demi is having coffee with Shannon and sharing the gory details. Shannon believes it’s a sign that Demi shouldn’t be doing this dating thing. Demi argues that she could meet someone she actually likes. Shannon reminds Demi about Jack and how he is crazy jealous of her. She also says he’s a nice guy and kind of cute. Why do I get the feeling these girls are going to fall out over Jack? It seems to be a trend in Thacker’s work. Shannon then points out that Demi always gets what she wants, and that can cost you. God, the dialogue in this book is terrible. This makes Demi think Shannon has a dark side.
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 1 point
Demi goes to the Chronicle office, where she starts sorting through the police notes. This is when she finds out about Lance’s hit and run. He’s in hospital in a critical condition. She’s shocked at the fact that two guys she had dates with nearly lost their lives on date night. As for me, I’m wondering why police are questioning Demi about Phillip, whose injuries are only slightly suspicious, and not Lance, who was MOWED DOWN BY A BLOODY CAR. Marge shows up then and makes a snide remark about Demi and Connie Chung.
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me): 2 points
This is where I took my first nap. Reading about shitty people being shitty to each other is quite draining. Kevin is with Marge, and they’re on their way somewhere. Kevin gets Marge to wait for him in the car. Demi tells Kevin about Lance and Phillip and wonders if they’re connected. Kevin says it’s just a coincidence, but suggests that Demi stop the dates. She decides to keep on with it for the sake of the story. She gets a call for a date from somebody called Andrew. Then we get a dream sequence. Because that’s just what this book needs. Sigh.
At this point, I took another nap.
After 4 pages of pointless waffle that name drops Nightmare Hall, Demi is meeting up with Andrew Decker Winston III for a Saturday night date. [Wing: God, that is quite a name.] They go to the movies. Demi laments that guys need to come up with some different ideas than just a movie. Demi, no matter what a guy might come up with for a date, I have a sneaking suspicion you’re not going to enjoy it anyway. I did like this observation from Demi, though: And it wasn’t as if she had to make conversation. Andrew was having a great conversation with himself. After the movie, Demi wants to go home. Instead, Andrew starts driving like a hoon so we can have a pointless cliffhanger chapter ending.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 point
They go to a steakhouse. By now, Demi is more than ready to go home. Instead, Andrew drives her to the parking lot of a pool hall. She insists that he take her home, and he instead puts the moves on her, kissing her. She pushes him away and gets out of the car. He tells her that she’s a desperate loser and that she’ll never find another date. He drives off. She has to call a cab to get home.
I beat you because I love you: 10 points
Everybody in this book is a bag of dicks. Demi catches up with Gigi and Shannon and tells them about the date. Then she goes back to her dorm. She gets a phone call. The caller tells her she looks good in her yellow sweater. This is actually creepy, but Thacker goes and ruins it by the caller going on to chant, “Demi, Demi, telling lies. Kissed the boys and made them DIEEEE!” Ugh. [Wing: WHY WHY WHY THACKER WHY. You had a nicely creepy moment and then you had to make it cheesy as hell.]
Roses are red, Violets are blue, I’m going to fucking kill you: 1 point
Demi thinks through who could have made the call, suspecting Jack, Marge and Andrew. She goes to the hospital to visit Lance and Phillip. She pushes Lance to remember the incident, but he can’t remember. She doesn’t get to see Phillip because his door is closed and a police officer is stationed out the front of it. A nurse tells her that the police now believe it wasn’t a suicide attempt.
On Sunday, Demi grabs a coffee and whines to herself about how she doesn’t deserve to have this happening to her. Marge finds her, in order to be bitchy (of course), and also to show her the front page of the Chronicle. It appears that Andrew has been reported missing. He hasn’t been seen since his date with Demi.
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me): 3 points
On her way to the Chronicle, she runs into Shannon. She says she was at the biology department and admits that Jack was there too. Demi says she’s finished with Jack, and Shannon muses whether Jack is finished with her. Demi says that if Shannon is interested in Jack, she should just go for it, which makes Shannon happy. Okay. At least it doesn’t look as if the girls are going to start hating each other over a boy. Demi listens to another call for a potential date, and reasons that the only way to find out who is doing this is to keep on going on dates.
She then runs into Officer DeVito and Officer Chang, who question her about Andrew. I still don’t understand how they know about her dates with Andrew and Phillip, but not her date with Lance. An unspecified time later (as often seems to be the case with this book), Demi is getting ready for her next date, who had apparently refused to give her his name. But Demi instinctively felt as if she could trust him. Yeah, whatever. [Wing: DEMI. OH MY GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?] Anyway, the date turns out to be Brant. He takes her to the movies and then they get pizza. But it’s okay that Brant does the same as all the other boys, because Demi instinctively, intuitively trusts him.
I’m usually not too bothered by the whole “show, don’t tell” thing. An info dump here and there can be a good thing if it keeps the pace moving. But when the “telling” is as glaring as it is here, I get a little put out. “Instinctively” and “intuitively” aren’t really going to cut it. Anyway, Demi and Brant take the pizza to the terrace at the Student Centre, away from noisy Vinnie’s, and they eventually share a kiss. They are interrupted briefly by a campus security officer. Brant starts walking her back to the dorm and admits he knew the “Call Me” ad was her ad. Unexpectedly, Brant’s hand tightens on hers, and he tells her to run.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 points
Out the corner of her eye, Demi catches a glimpse of something white and eerie floating above the ground in the shadows of the trees. Something hideous and dead, apparently. Huh? What? Thacker doesn’t bother to elaborate any further. A sweet, sickening smell invades her senses and makes her head swim. She runs, but then somebody grabs her from behind and puts a cloth soaked in ether over her face. She wakes up in the hedges that line the Student Centre terrace. It takes her a while to remember everything, then starts screaming for help. She reaches an unconscious Brant at the same time as the security officer. She asks what took him so long, and he says he was at the bottom of the Commons. This doesn’t match with her memory of him interrupting her and Brant earlier. Which is silly, because there’s no indication of how long Demi has been out for.
Brant is unconscious, but he’ll be okay. The officer says Demi saved his life, which makes her laugh because she thinks a date with her is a date with death. THEN STOP DATING, DEMI. LISTEN TO YOUR FRIENDS. Chapter 14 is utterly pointless, other than that we learn Andrew is actually dead, having been nabbed at a traffic light after his date, thrown into a quarry, where he hit his head and drowned. [Wing: Wait, is he the only date so far who actually ended up dead? I’m so bored that I’m having a hard time keeping the various guys straight.]
Brant calls Demi the next day to reassure her that he’s fine, and wants to make sure she’s still on for their next date on Friday night. She agrees. She then, sensibly (finally), withdraws her ad from the paper. Kevin thinks it’s a good idea. It looks as if there’s a moment between him and Demi, and he’s ready to profess feelings for her, when Marge arrives, and more tiresome bitchiness occurs.
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me): 50 points
Ugh. I’m sick of this. Although it’s Demi who starts the fight, Marge calls her “Last Date Demi”, and says she knows that Demi is linked to all four boys, three who wound up in hospital, one of whom is still missing. Kevin manages to get Marge to back off from notifying the police, and the two of them leave. This makes Demi think Marge is the one terrorising her and her dates.
Demi is getting ready for her date. Shannon and Gigi are in the dorm with her. Gigi leaves for a study date. Shannon wants to make sure Demi is going to be okay going on this date, and Demi reassures her that all will be fine. Wow. Page 110, and two female characters are still friends without falling out over a boy. Maybe Thacker is making progress? The phone rings, and she thinks it’s Brant, but it’s the Muffin Man taunting her. It’s pretty boring.
The phone rings again, and this time it is Brant, so she goes down to meet him. Brant takes her to Bottomless Lake, which sounds like it’s a long way away from campus, as they drive well out past town, through wooded hills and farmlands. Because the first place you would go when somebody is killing your dates is a place called Bottomless Lake in the middle of nowhere.
DED FROM STUPID: 1 point
Brant has organised a picnic. Demi has a wonderful time. Reluctantly, they pack everything up and return to the car. Demi realises they’ve left the flashlight behind (how did they find their way back?) and Brant goes to retrieve it. He takes a very long time. When he doesn’t return, Demi goes to look for him. She reaches the lake, and heads out over the dock, walking over the old boards. She eventually sees a ripple in the water. It’s a hand trying to break the surface. Thinking it’s Brant, she leans over to reach out and help, which is when she receives a blow to the back of the head. She instinctively ducks before the second blow can land, and it hits her on the shoulder instead. She topples into the lake.
The writing in the next chapter is particularly bad as Thacker tries to relay Demi floundering in the water and trying to swim to safety. We get this particular description: “She broke the surface of the water, thrashing, floundering. And felt rather than saw the blow come down towards her, the dark massive weight of something heavy and crushing.”
Well, what is it? WHAT IS IT, THACKER? Tell us! That means fuck all! Is it a tree branch? The oar of a boat? It’s hard to build any suspense WHEN WE DON’T KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING! Is it that hard just to clarify? Sheesh. She dives away from whatever the fuck it is that was coming towards her, and swims this way and that before breaching the surface again. She treads water. She hears someone out in the night whispering her name. It would be creepy if I gave an actual fuck about what was going on.
She treads water, and she thinks she sees the dark skies beginning to lighten slightly. Then she hears voices and sees flashlights. People are on the dock. She starts swimming towards them and is finally pulled free from the lake. She calls out for Brant. When she wakes up in hospital, Kevin is there. He’d called Shannon, who said Demi wasn’t back, so he talked to Brant’s friends, who had been told where he was headed. Demi thanks him for saving her life. Kevin tells her that everybody searched for Brant, but there was no sign of him. Demi insists that he has to be alive.
She endures several more days of torment on campus of people looking at her and knowing who she is. An unspecified time later (surprise) she’s at Campus Grill with Kevin, who wants to send her on assignment. Demi is still in a funk over Brant. Good grief, Demi, it was two dates! Kevin begins to confess the depth of his feelings for her (and I’m pretty certain I know who the Muffin Man is now), but Demi can’t stand the intensity of those feelings and freaks out at him, telling him to put an ad in the personals and leave her alone.
Another unspecified time later, Demi receives a call from the Muffin Man, reciting her personals ad, and tells her to meet him at the clock tower at half past midnight tonight.
And this is where I think: CALL THE FUCKING POLICE YOU FUCKING DIMWIT!!!
DED FROM STUPID: 100 points
Heavy flashlight in hand, Demi heads to the clock tower at the time instructed and climbs the stairs all the way to the top. There she finds Kevin, who claims not to know what she is doing there. Come on, Thacker. Demi may be stupid, but your readers aren’t. Why the fuck else would Kevin be there? Anyway, Demi tells him about the phone call asking her to be there. Kevin says he’s looking out for Demi, taking care of her, because she can’t take care of herself. He tells her to let the police do the work, and suggests that she didn’t call the police. No, Kevin, because that would actually make sense.
And that’s when Brant makes his grand re-entrance.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 3 points
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 1 point
Wow. Two counters in one go. What follows is Kevin and Brant accusing each other of being the Muffin Man, and trying to get Demi to believe them. Then Brant lets loose with the explanation that he’s suspected Kevin for some time, and even went to the police about him, but they wouldn’t believe him, so he set up the date at the lake as a way to lure Kevin out and expose himself. Okay. Be prepared. A rant is coming. Curse words and words in caps are likely to follow.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?????? Instead of giving Demi a call – who at that stage has only been on one date with him, mind you, and only spoken to her once or twice before that, and saying, “Hey, Demi, I think Kevin is obsessed with you and is trying to kill your dates,” Brant thinks it makes more sense to GO OUT TO THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE TO A PLACE CALLED BOTTOMLESS FUCKING LAKE AND THEN LEAVE HIS DATE ALONE WHILE HE GOES TO LOOK FOR A FLASHLIGHT IN THE DARK BY HIMSELF. ARE YOU REALLY FUCKING KIDDING ME??? This shit is unbelievable. Somebody should have confiscated Thacker’s pen/typewriter/computer or whatever the fuck it was she was using to crap out this bullshit.
Okay. Time for another nap.
Brant and Kevin start fighting. Demi tries to escape, going down the stairs. Then we get this: “Something crashed into her. She turned, clinging to the railing and saw Kevin and Brant just behind her at the top of the stairs. They were locked in a mortal embrace, Kevin’s hands around Brant’s throat.” So, um, what exactly crashed into Demi if they’re at the top of the stairs? “’Demi,’ gasped Brant. ‘Help me, Demiii.’ It was the voice from the lake.” What the fuck? Thacker is just being obtuse now, and not playing fair with the reader.
As the clock begins to ring, the three tumble down the stairs. They collide. Hands tear at Demi. Or something. Thacker is such a shit writer. Kevin and Brant keep tumbling down the stairs. Demi goes after them. She pulls out her heavy flashlight and brings it down four times, presumably on somebody’s head, because we’re not told who. I’m assuming that’s to be a surprise for the following chapter.
Surprise! It was Kevin. Demi’s hits with the flashlight gave him a concussion, and he’s now in custody. At the police station, Demi meets up with Brant. He explains that Kevin was obsessed with Demi. He went over the edge because Demi wasn’t interested in him. When Demi started dating, he wanted to warn people off and make himself a hero. Only Demi didn’t fall for it because she was too tough and independent. Okay. Whatever. That glowing, floaty thing was a sheet treated in ether, and the first security guard they saw on their date was actually Kevin in disguise. Kevin rapidly deteriorated when he realised that Brant and Demi were the real thing. Really. THEY’D BEEN ON ONE DATE!!! That was Brant’s voice that Demi heard at the lake. He’d managed to get out of Kevin’s range, but wasn’t sure if Kevin had gone, and wanted to try and help Demi. I think. To be honest, I don’t really care. Demi laments that Kevin seemed like such a nice, normal guy. Brant asks Demi for another date, and she tells him to “call me.” Blech.
Nola Thacker does it again. Just when I think she can’t deliver anything worse, she goes and raises (or lowers) the bar to another level entirely. This was pure horseshit from start to finish. I didn’t like any of the characters. There wasn’t any suspense because Thacker couldn’t be bothered to describe things properly half the time. At only a scant 150 pages, at least I can say it was mercifully short, but that’s hardly a recommendation because it’s about 149 pages too long. I’m going to have a shower now, to wash away the stink of this stinker, and then take another nap.
If I were Diane Hoh, I would have wanted my name taken off this horrid excuse for a thriller.
[Wing: How in the world did Thacker keep getting ghostwriting contracts? HOW? This was terribly written and confusing and boring all at the same time.]
I’m not going to cobble together all the counts. Instead, added up all together, I’m going to say this:
WORLD OF FAIL