Like RL Stine needs any introduction. The incredibly prolific author of such series as Goosebumps and Fear Street, not to mention the Fear Street Reboot and some adult titles as well, Stine’s been around for a while and integral to the formation of horror love for many people my age. Sometimes ridiculous, sometimes creepy, always some of the most excellent deaths in YA, Stine is a mainstay in the young adult horror world and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The lifeguards at North Beach Country Club know they’re lucky. While other kids are flipping burgers, they’re sunning themselves by day and partying by night. So what if some people say the place is cursed, haunted. This is the life!
And then, one by one, the lifeguards start to die horrible deaths. Someone – or something – evil is stalking them. They all know how to save other people’s lives . . . But who will save theirs?
DUN DUN DUN.
North Beach Country Club in Random Place, USA, with a cameo appearance of Fear Street for about a nanosecond. Where is Fear Street supposed to be, anyway? I’m under the vague impression it’s Long Island, but I could be really wrong there.
[Wing: There is a lot of debate about this. The consensus seems to be Ohio most of the time, but that often doesn’t make sense in the summer books that involve a beach.]
Seriously. Stine just might as well have a roll call for how he introduces his characters.
Mouse – A seemingly unstable character whose POV we get shoved into from time to time. The obvious murderer, but as readers we won’t know who in the cast of characters it actually is until the very end. Is actually standing in a pool being swarmed by red herrings. [Wing: Didn’t we have a Mouse in a Stine book before? I could have sworn there was. Maybe I’m actually thinking about this book…maybe.]
Lindsay Beck – The most dominant main character, she has short, straight, blonde hair that’s usually perfect. Stine’s words, not mine. People tell her she’s cute, but she doesn’t think she’s beautiful. According to her, her nose is too short and her face is too round.
Cassie Harlow – The sexy one with the great bod, per Danny, she has big brown eyes and piles of white-blond hair. Her voice is whispery and she has just as fucked up a sense of humor as Arnie but no one seems to give her shit about it, probably because all the dudes want to plug her.
Danny – The slightly less dominant main character who will still end up in his POV a lot, he’s a red head with freckles, the head lifeguard, and a bit of a choad, but at least his intentions are decent enough.
Arnie Wilts – Runty guy who makes bad jokes, but apparently isn’t runty enough to not be a lifeguard.
Deirdre Webb – She has short, straight black hair that’s sleek and shiny, with pale blue eyes. She’s hot according to Danny.
May-Ann Delacroix – Tall with auburn hair and cold, dark eyes. She appears standoffish, quiet, and shy. Ultimately has a hard-on for ghost stories and hauntings.
Pug – The resident bro who looks like a typical lifeguard. His body is perfect, he’s tanned, and an all-American dude. He has curly blonde hair, dark eyes that sort of crinkle at the sides, a big friendly smile, and looks like he’s never had a serious thought in his life. Danny thinks he’s totally cool. He would.
Pete Harris – Hotshot athlete director with way too much energy. According to May-Ann he did 100 sit-ups and pushups while interviewing her. Sounds like someone needs to lay off the pre-workout. He’s about 20, short and stocky with tiny round blue eyes, and light brown hair in a flat top. He’s not around much in this story.
Spencer Brown – Last person to arrive, he’s nice-looking with straight, dark brown hair that’s pulled back into a short ponytail. He has big, dark, solemn eyes and a serious face.
The story opens with Mouse rambling on about passing the lifeguard test and making bad jokes to this Terry person only to have the conversation dissolve to reveal that Terry’s dead and Mouse is going to kill all the lifeguards. They’d already killed one and they’re really insistent that they’re not crazy. Stine likes fucking around with mental illness in all the wrong/bad ways.
Then we see Lindsay walking up to the gates of the country club as she’s ready to begin her summer lifeguarding like she’s done for a couple years now. In this world instead of going home, the lifeguards stay in dorms like it’s some kind of summer camp. Having never been anywhere near a country club I can’t confirm nor deny whether this is even close to an accurate thing that happens. Considering Stine I would imagine he just made it up. [Wing: This country club really reads more like a summer camp. Or maybe a resort.]
Overhead a storm’s brewing and Lindsay’s trying to get into the clubhouse before it starts raining. She pulls out her key card that she got in the mail to try and scan in, but it doesn’t work. She can see a couple boys in the clubhouse, but they haven’t noticed her. Then she sees the body of a girl in the pool and screams.
Meanwhile, inside the clubhouse, Danny’s scoping out all the girls and confirming that yes, they are good looking enough to look at. Lindsay’s scream breaks up the fun times in the clubhouse and Danny goes running out. She points him to the pool and the drowned girl, but when he gets there there’s no one there. Of course.
They bring Lindsay into the clubhouse to dry off and she’s mortified. She’s convinced she saw a girl in a blue bikini dead in the pool, but there was nothing there. Then it turns out she’s not on the lifeguard list and when she shows Danny her ID card to prove that she’s supposed to be there, he tells her it’s two years old. DUN DUN DUN.
Until they get things figured out, May-Ann takes Lindsay under her wing and brings her back to her dorm room to change. And here’s the first red herring: May-Ann has a mouse called Munchy whom she’s currently traveling with because her parents left for the summer and couldn’t take care of him. Right now May-Ann seems fairly stable as she tries to calm Lindsay down after she freaks out about the dead girl and the ID card.
They walk back into the common room after Lindsay’s all dried out and May-Ann mentions she’s seen the dead kids in the pool and she proceeds to tell the group about someone drowning in the pool every year. Last year it was a boy drowning in the deep end with three lifeguards on duty. The year before that it was a girl in the shallow end. Now they all haunt the clubhouse for some reason.
Of course, as she’s telling this story the storm outside is raging and they all hear footsteps outside. The door creaks open and for a second there’s no one there. Until Spencer steps into the doorway.
Stine makes his huh problem clear right about now. If anyone’s confused or they don’t know an answer to a question or something, they say huh. And his characters say huh a lot.
Pete sorts out the mix-up with Lindsay and assigns her as an alternate since they had someone cancel. Because of that Lindsay’s now rooming with May-Ann.
Spencer’s the only person in the whole group other than Lindsay who was there the year before and he barely remembers her. Pug was a guest and he didn’t remember her even though she worked every day. When Lindsay tries to remember details about Spencer she finds she can’t recall anything.
Enter another rambling Mouse chapter about them being at the club and in the dorms while still talking to dead Terry like everything’s okay. I think this is supposed to be atmospheric or something. Mouse asks Terry if they should kill their roommate.
Danny’s getting jealous of the attention Pug’s getting from both Cassie and Deirdre and Danny feels like he’s owed because he’s the one in charge. Yes. That sounds completely logical. The man in charge should have at least one woman falling to her knees in front of him. When Pug starts bragging about his body Danny jumps right in with a flexed biceps and the peacocking ensues.
At dinner, Spencer talks about the year before when Lindsay asks him about the dead body. He says he wasn’t there for that and didn’t know what she was talking about when she asked him if anyone else saw ghosts. Then Cassie gets up to tend to the fire in the fireplace and shrieks as she points to where she just saw a ghost.
Of course, it’s a joke and to May-Ann, who’s taking the ghost stuff the most seriously, it’s an affront when Cassie admits it was all a joke and May-Ann goes storming off while everyone laughs.
Lindsay tries to take the blame but she’s brushed off when the peacocking starts again and an arm wrestling showdown ensues. It goes from joking to intense and the chapter ends with an arm down on the table and a loud crack.
Enter Cassie making another ill-timed joke as the noise was her breaking a twig. Only everyone thought someone had broken an arm. I mean, come on. Arnie’s jokes are cheesy, but Cassie’s seem ill-timed and cruel. But it’s okay because she’s hot?
Lindsay excuses herself to go to her room to try and cheer up May-Ann, but she’s not there and she finds May-Ann’s drawer crawling with mice.
Which leads into another Mouse chapter as they’re complaining to Terry about being laughed at. Another red herring for May-Ann. Of course, it could also be Arnie because he got stuffed in a trash can by Pug. Lindsay doesn’t seem likely, but Mouse wants to kill everyone for laughing at them and Terry. So who is it???
Turns out the mice were just figurines that Lindsay thought were moving. And she wasn’t even drinking. Apparently, after May-Ann got Munchy people started giving her mice stuff. [Wing: And she travels with them?] Just some really, really bad red herring stuff here.
May-Ann walks out of the room without answering Lindsay’s questions about where she was going. So Lindsay goes to sleep and jolts awake in the middle of the night from a nightmare she can’t remember. She’s soaked through her nightshirt and May-Ann jolts awake asking if Lindsay heard it too. This low moan or cry asking for help.
They both get up and walk toward the noise. When they open the door, all the while Lindsay’s trying to convince herself that she doesn’t believe in ghosts and May-Ann reiterates it’s the ghosts of the drowned girl, they open the door.
On the other side are Cassie and Pug playing a prank that May-Ann gets really offended by. She slams the door in their faces and says they’ll be sorry. Lindsay just brushes it off. Add this to the fish tank of red herrings.
Lindsay’s first full day of lifeguarding is uneventful other than Cassie getting jealous of the attention Pug was receiving from other girls.
Lindsay was up in the middle of the night again, soaked in sweat, and decides to take a swim. Only she sees the drowned girl in the blue bikini again and swims out to her. When she flips the girl over she sees it’s her own face. The corpse says, ‘I’m Lindsay,’ which Lindsay outright denies, and then the corpse starts to rot as Lindsay holds its hair, eventually leaving her with just a watery skull. Which is creepy as hell and will scar a person for life.
Except that was the nightmare and Lindsay wakes up, still in the middle of the night, still bathed in sweat, with the picture of her own rotting face haunting her. May-Ann’s bed is empty and a voice calls her name, drawing her out to the dining room. She thinks it’s May-Ann but no one answers her calls. Then she sees Cassie face down on the floor, the poker next to her, and her head in the fire. Lindsay pulls her out by her feet and sees that her head is burnt down to next to nothing.
That wasn’t a dream and the police are called. Lindsay is questioned and she tells her story as is, which the police think is weird. Danny gets jealous that Lindsay’s being comforted by Spencer and not him. Further proof, in my opinion, that Stine doesn’t know how people operate. There’s literally a half-burnt corpse in their dining room. One of their co-workers was just murdered. And Danny’s like when is it going to be my turn? No.
As everyone goes back to their rooms May-Ann gleefully proclaims that someone dies every year and Danny wonders why she’s smiling. Another fish in the tank.
No one actually saw Cassie go into the dining room and she was accounted for until around 11:30 that night.
Mouse confesses to killing Cassie and promises more deaths.
The club opens two days later (there’s a business to run, after all) and Pug is flirting with the girls again. Apparently, he didn’t give enough shits about Cassie to even let her body cool before moving on.
Lindsay’s been picturing dead Cassie the whole time and she has an epiphany about not hearing from her parents for a week. She realizes she’s heard nothing from them and she hadn’t reached out either. But when she goes to call them she gets a ‘number not in service’ message. She tries the operator to get through, thinking maybe a storm messed up the lines, but the same thing happens. She calls information to have them looked up, thinking she brain-farted on her own number, but of course, there’s no listing for anyone in Shadyside named Beck.
Lindsay gets the idea to drive home and borrows Danny’s car to do it. She rolls up to her house and sees that little things are different – like a missing tree (not even the stump is left behind) and a new flower bed. But she thinks nothing of it as she calls out to her mom and throws open the front door.
There she finds a stranger whom she startles. Then she realizes the house is decorated completely differently than she knew it. When Lindsay tells the woman who she is, the woman mishears and thinks Lindsay is looking for the Beck daughter, who she says died two years ago. Lindsay freaks out and runs out of the house.
She drives around until dark, not remembering anything after she left her house, and when she gets back to the club she goes in a side door in order to avoid everyone and their inevitable questions.
She heads straight to Pete’s office and finds her file where (surprise) something shocks her and the chapter ends.
When she opens her file she finds that it reads deceased as of two years ago along with the newspaper clipping detailing it. She can’t make heads or tails of it because she’s obviously alive. Obviously.
We get another Mouse chapter where they’re talking to Terry about killing more lifeguards and talking about how they were both lifeguards before Terry died. These aimless Mouse chapters are just annoying. It also looks like Arnie’s now the main contender to be Mouse as the Mouse chapter ends and as the next one begins we see Arnie just getting off the phone. With Mouse talking about calling Terry all the time, it’s a natural leap.
Pug is being a typical bully to Arnie, who tries to stand up for himself and challenges Pug to a lifting match (while I’m well aware size can be deceptive that isn’t exactly the brightest of moves when it looks like one dude curls cars and the other is Screech). Surprise, surprise Pug simply lifts Arnie over his head and presses him a couple of times before Danny can break it up and scold Pug for his behavior. Points for Danny for not putting up with that shit and openly reprimanding Pug instead of joining in the “fun.”
May-Ann doesn’t let up about the ghosts and Pug and Deirdre lay into her. Lindsay tries to defend her, but Pug turns on her and Arnie escorts her out to save her all the arguing. As they’re walking things get nice and weird as Arnie shoves Lindsay against a tree while he talks about having big plans for the summer.
Someone other than Danny, Lindsay, or Mouse, we get shoved into Spencer’s head, who looks like a callous ass as he pisses and moans about wanting people to forget about Cassie’s death and get back to partying. In his meanderings, he runs across Arnie harassing Lindsay in the woods and breaks it up and sends him running off.
After she shakes the incident off, Lindsay asks Spencer if they were good friends last summer. He mentions she left suddenly and she freaks out, asking him why she left. It’s insinuated that he knows she’s dead but he doesn’t want to tell her if she doesn’t know. All the suspenseful drama going on here.
The next day Lindsay’s back at the pool watching Arnie walk over to her to apologize. She reluctantly accepts and wonders if maybe she overreacted too (to forceful, unsolicited kissing), but when he asks her out that night she says no. He tries to ask her out for later in the week and she gives him a half-hearted answer.
An older guest stumbles when she sees Lindsay, thinking she’s seen her before, as the dead girl from two years ago presumably. But she mutters and walks off with Lindsay reminding herself that she is indeed alive.
After a tense dinner Lindsay goes for a walk and comes across Pug and May-Ann arguing over something, but Lindsay can’t make out what as she spies on them. Deirdre sneaks up next to her and calls Pug a pig for chasing after May-Ann. Her voice is bitter and she’s obviously jealous. Lindsay tries to tell her they’re fighting, but when Deirdre points out they’re not, Lindsay turns to see them walk into the building arm in arm.
Lindsay tries to occupy herself in her empty room, even calling her number again without any luck and trying the number for an aunt who doesn’t answer. Two weeks at the club and she’s received no outside contact. By midnight she goes to sleep and May-Ann still isn’t back.
In the middle of the night, she’s woken up by a voice calling her name. She follows it out to the pool, then the weight room, and there finds Pug’s lifeless body on the floor. His throat is crushed under a barbell, which I’m not sure how that actually happened. If the thing has weights on it it’s set high enough off the ground to roll over your head. If it’s just the barbell it doesn’t weigh enough to crush a throat on its own and would have to be pressed down, which isn’t what I’m picking up happened here.
Of course, Pete bursts in just as Lindsay’s trying to move the barbell off of Pug.
The cops come and start dealing with the body. They’re starting to insinuate that maybe Lindsay had something to do with it since she found both bodies after following a voice. When they question her she bursts out at the accusation and the officers try to placate her. They move on to May-Ann who confirms Lindsay had no reason to kill Pug, but she does say she saw Lindsay crouching in the bushes watching them with a weird look on her face.
Yet another Mouse chapter gives us a lame joke about Pug having a weight problem (GET IT??? Haha?). This further points to the red herring known as Arnie and his lame-ass jokes. Also a promise of more dead lifeguards.
A couple days later, after the club’s closed for investigations, Pete tries to give everyone a pep talk about how the summer’s just starting and the trouble should be over. That the police suspect someone jumped the fence and killed Cassie and Pug. Not sure how Pete’s ascertaining that trouble’s over when he’s talking about some random dude on a murdering spree and no suspects are in custody, but what do I know? Lindsay doesn’t believe that (good to know we’re on the same page) and strongly feels someone from the lifeguards killed Cassie and Pug.
Lindsay borrows Danny’s car again to take a drive and is startled when she finds someone staring at her in the rearview from the back seat. No surprise that it’s Arnie being really creepy and practically causing an accident as he scares the shit out of Lindsay and causes her to lose control of the car temporarily. This only makes Lindsay hate him more. When he crawls into the front seat he grabs her arm tightly and insists that she should give him a chance because he likes her and thinks she likes him. Well if that were ever incentive . . .
Thankfully Lindsay’s disgusted by him and the situation so she gets out of the car, throws open his door, and screams at him to get out or she’ll flag down a truck and call the cops. Go, Lindsay! Arnie responds by saying she’s making a big mistake. No, Arnie. She’s not.
The rest of the lifeguards are splashing around in the pool when Lindsay comes back. Danny convinces her to join them after she tells him about Arnie and how he’s walking home. She changes, comes back out, and things are cheerful until Lindsay starts screaming that she’s not Lindsay and no one can calm her down.
Turns out her memory got jarred when May-Ann pushed Deirdre into the pool and it made Lindsay remember she’s not Lindsay but Marissa Dunton, who killed Lindsay two years ago.
Marissa and the real Lindsay were friends who bunked together while lifeguarding. One day they had an argument and I guess they started off play-wrestling at the side of the pool and then it turned serious. Marissa pushed Lindsay in, but Lindsay hit her head on the concrete and died. Marissa broke from reality and assumed Lindsay’s identity immediately, even taking Lindsay’s things from the dorm as her own. She was sent to a mental institution where the doctors finally worked to convince her that Lindsay’s death was an accident and that she was Marissa.
She was eventually released into her parents’ custody after missing a full year of life, only it was too soon and she relapsed, slipping back into Lindsay’s identity and running away to the club.
I tried to find something even remotely close to what’s happening here as being based in reality and the closest thing I could find was DID, but even that it’s not really what’s going on here. Great way to just make shit up in the mental illness world for use as a prop to drive the story. This is one of the things I don’t like about Stine’s writing: that he has these serious cop-out endings that are absurd. Plus he flings around mental illness as if it’s confetti, but I shouldn’t expect much from someone who has a hard time getting basic human interactions right.
Back to the story. Spencer asks Marissa why she killed Cassie and Pug and Marissa says I don’t know and then the chapter ends.
In a blink, she comes to her senses in the next chapter and denies killing them. [Wing: Because that’s just what this book needed, Needlessly Dramatic Cliffhanger Chapter Endings. Good to see Stine is back to true form.] Spencer thinks maybe she blocked out those memories too, but Marissa’s convinced that wasn’t her. Everyone’s apparently okay with this whole situation and Danny tells Marissa to use the phone in Pete’s office to call her parents while he goes to wake Pete.
Before Marissa goes into the office she asks Spencer why he didn’t call her Marissa since he said he knew her from before. He explained that things were so hectic that summer and he’d only been there a few days when it happened and he didn’t know which girl was which.
Spencer follows her in, asking if she’s okay. When the phone rings (after midnight, mind you), it’s Spencer’s mom starting to explain why her son never showed up for his job. DUN DUN DUN.
It’s because he was MURDERED the day before he was supposed to come to the club and his mom has been sedated ever since. She woke up, not knowing the day or time, and made the call to the club (how incredibly convenient). When Marissa hangs up the phone she turns to ask “Spencer” what the deal is but he’s gone. She goes to look for him, realizing the rest of the lifeguards had already gone back to bed and finds him by the pool. He jumps out at her and says that Spencer had to die for Terry and now Marissa does too.
Another memory veil lifts and Marissa remembers who “Spencer” actually is: Jack Mouser aka Mouse. He says he has to kill her because she knows too much, but she was next on his list anyway. Two years ago Mouse and Terry were working in the kitchen and desperately wanted to be lifeguards. Those on duty, including Marissa, made them do all sorts of exercises, convincing Terry and Mouse that the lifeguards could certify them. But it was all a joke.
Terry was a “messed up dude” who couldn’t handle rejection so after he got denied acceptance for lifeguard duty he went home and killed himself (seems like a rather callous use of suicide). Now Mouse is killing lifeguards for revenge.
Marissa tries to run away but Mouse catches her, throws her into the pool, and holds her head underwater. She fakes drowning to get him to let go and it works. She jumps up and drags him into the water, trying to fight him. But he fights back.
Then May-Ann jumps into the pool and together they wrestle Mouse out as he calls up to the sky that he did it for Terry. May-Ann apologizes for suspecting Marissa of killing Cassie and Pug and Marissa does the same. This surprises May-Ann. When Marissa asks her what she was doing the nights of the murders she confesses to being with Pete. They’ve been dating outside the club, but he’s forbidden from dating the staff (never mind that May-Ann is still in high school and Pete’s in his early twenties). So they’ve had to sneak around. Pug had found out and threatened to tell for shits and giggles, which explains her argument with him.
The book ends with Marissa mentioning she needs to call her parents and tell them she’s okay.
Ugh. These Fear Street books are so lazy. And I just . . . Where did Stine learn how people interact? I just don’t understand how human beings can be written so inaccurately. And his propensity for huh. All the huhs. So much confusion all around. Let’s not forget the lackadaisical use of mental illness. But, you know. Entertainment value.
As the story stands it’s definitely not at the top of the Fear Street books. Until the end, it was actually fairly creepy and even though I recognized the red herrings I still didn’t know who the culprit was until the end. But the reasons behind everything. Blah. Lazy and sucked what little depth the story had clean out of it. Luckily I don’t expect much going into Fear Street so it’s hard to be disappointed by them.
[Wing: I like a lot of parts of Fear Street books, but Stine often falls flat at the endings. I don’t mind this one so much, despite some crazy = dangerous writing, because I find the idea of Marissa taking on Lindsey’s life as a part of her mourning interesting, but the stuff with Mouse is terrible. I still think there’s another Fear Street or Point Horror-esque book that also uses Mouse as the Muffin Man, but I can’t think of which one.]