Recap #18: April Fools by Richie Tankersley Cusick

April Fools by Richie Tankersley Cusick
April Fools by Richie Tankersley Cusick

Title: April Fools by Richie Tankersley Cusick

Summary: It’s April Fools’ Day. Frank thinks he’s king of the fools. So when he and his friends get cut up by a hotshot driver, it’s fair game. But things start to go wrong. Someone saw what happened that night, and wants to join in the fun. But April Fools’ Day is over and these jokes are for real.

[Note from reality: They do not get “cut up by a hotshot driver”, Frank thinks it’s funny to run someone off the road because the honked. That’s it.]

[Wing: Is this a Brit versus American thing? Because I’ve never heard the phrase “cut up” used in this context in my life. “Cut off” is what I immediately thought it should be, but that’s not really what happened either, once I read it.]

Tagline: It’s no joke… it’s murder

Note: I will use “Bad Guy” throughout my reviews to refer to the anonymous killer/prankster/whatever. Doesn’t mean it’s a guy. Or, for that matter, that they’re “bad”.

Initial Thoughts:

Given the front cover, I always mix this up with The Doll, which is a short story in one of the Thirteen anthologies. I love The Doll. This? This I do not love. I know I hate the male character in here so much that flames… Flames, on the side of my face, breathing-breathl- heaving breaths. Heaving breaths… Heathing… [Depressing side note: there’s talk of rebooting Clue.]

[Wing: Oh, come on. It could be awesome. They could diversify the hell out of that cast.]

April Fools Wordle -- with... more punctuation abuse!
April Fools Wordle — with… more punctuation abuse!


So, we start with a prologue and, given the completely mystifying description in Teacher’s Pet, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact it was clear and to the point. Cusick’s characters are still complete asshats, who I really want to die, but that’s par for the course.

[Wing: Whereas, I thought it was character soup, just throwing names at us.]

We meet Belinda (the protagonist), Hildy (her best friend) and Frank (I don’t know a bad enough word for him, I’m actually stumped). They went to a party held by Frank’s older brother’s college friends, and Frank gets totally wasted to the point where Hildy insists she drive them all home. They take a different, less used, route to avoid being pulled over, which certainly implies that both Hildy and Belinda were also over the limit. [Wing: You know, until I read this point in the recap, I actually thought Frank had fought so hard he kept the keys and was driving.] So, I hope they fucking die. I think if you get caught drink driving you should immediately lose your licence for five years. No do-overs or driving school, points on your licence or arguing with the judge, if you’re over the limit, no car for you. If you want to get so wasted that you think you’re a hula dancer, more power to you. Hope you enjoy it, so long as you don’t try to drive.

On the drive home, Frank keeps grabbing the wheel and making them swerve all over the place – and just to set the scene, it’s a dark and stormy night, and they’re on a winding road with a sheer drop to one side. It is killing me not to drop the C-bomb here just to convey how much I hate Frank, but since it’s a misogynistic term and I rally against that, especially where Cusick is concerned, it would undermine my position.

Another car appears behind them, honking because they want to pass. Part of me thinks, “don’t be a dick on a winding road”, but then I remember there’s a car full of drunk teens in front of them, and I think, “Fair enough, I’d want to get far away from them too.” [Wing: Yeah, no. The honking is fine, whatever, but it’s raining, it’s dark, it’s a curvy road, and the car in front of them is clearly full of drunks. YOU DO NOT FUCKING RILE THEM UP AND THEN TRY TO PASS. That is stupid, reckless driving, too.] Of course, I also remember the ending vaguely, so this all makes sense. There you go, Cusick, I’m giving you a modicum of credit. [Note from the future: the ending I remembered? Completely different. I remembered that the brake lines were cut and the driver was trying not to crash with B and her merry band of dickheads. That’s not what happened. God only knows which story that’s from.]

“Let’s give those hotshots a scare,” he’d said, and Belinda had felt like she was choking, thick bands of fear tightening around her chest, that awful premonition that something horrible was about to happen. She’d begged Hildy to pull over and let the car pass, and Hildy had really tried, but Frank had suddenly grabbed the wheel again, and they’d almost run the other car off the road. She remembered Hildy shouting at him, and Frank saying, “Let’s give them a real scare this time!” and how he’d leaned on the horn and started laughing.

(bold mine)

So, Frank nearly runs them off a fucking cliff, then thinks to himself, “how can I escalate this?”

Cheer on the killer: (Because the protagonist – and their fucking friends – are such an insufferable wretches that you can’t help but side with anyone who wants him or her dead.) 500

Yes. I’m giving it 500 on the first page of the book. Because fuck you, book, that’s why.

To give Belinda credit, she immediately begs him to stop, and states it’s not funny and someone’s “going to get hurt”. Not could, going to. I might actually fucking like Belinda. I mean, I probably won’t because she’ll do something stupid soon, but it could happen.

Frank’s response:

“Oh, lighten up, Belinda! It’s April Fools’ Day, and I can do what I want. Hey – nothing can happen to me – I’m King of Fools! What the hell – they can’t just push the king around like I’m a nobody! I’m teaching them a little lesson in respect. Tell you what, I won’t even write them a speeding ticket, whatcha say?”

Cheer on the killer: 1,000 (+500) Yes, I did that. I awarded 1,000 points while still on the prologue.

And the other car pitches off the road as they round a corner.

Belinda screams at them to stop the car, and rushes down the incline to help. The other car is now on fire, [Wing: WHY THE FUCK IS THE CAR ON FIRE? DOES CUSICK HAVE ANY IDEA HOW — you know what, no. No she does not. I’m out.] [Dove: Because every car crash ends with a fireball, didn’t you know?] and where are Hildy and Frank? Not with Belinda. Fuck them. Belinda sees someone at the top of the cliff and yells for help. She moves towards the car again, because she can see someone in there. Frank tackles her, and he and Hildy drag her off, because the other car is about to explode. Admittedly, they do save her life, but still, fuck them.

She hadn’t really thought as she’d reached out for the muddy rag beside her on the ground she’d gone into a sort of numbness, hands reaching out and pushing her, and the warm taste of blood in her mouth and on her lips as she’d pressed the cold, wet rag against her aching face.

She remembered the rain… beating down on them without mercy.

And Frank babbling over and over like an idiot, “It was just a joke… a joke.”

My God, what have we done…

If only it hadn’t been April Fools’ Day.

If only the screams would stop echoing forever and ever in her mind.

And that is how you open a book. Well done, Cusick. No, I’m not being sarcastic, this was a good opening. We have the event, we’ve met the main characters, and the description was clear. Admittedly I did give out an unprecedented 1,000 points and the prologue is only 1,371 words long, but still. This is an improvement on silly Bad Guy POVs and idiotic flash-forwards that serve no purpose. [Wing: That is a good point. I almost forgot it was a freaking prologue.]

Not sure when Chapter 1 is set, but it’s a period of time later. [Wing: Two weeks. Belinda says so within the first few lines.] [Dove: Oh, god, really? Oops.] And Hildy is just as bad as Frank. She’s ragging Belinda for acting depressed, and worried that Belinda’s mom is going to notice and start asking questions. Hildy doesn’t think the accident was a big deal, after all, that moronic Victim in the other car should’ve paid more attention to the road. [Wing: Also, I know we joke about how Americans will drive for hours just to get a jug of milk, but they drove more than 100 miles to spend a couple hours at a party and then drive home the same night? I don’t believe that.] [Dove: I think the implication is that they were going to stay over, but Frank was being so obnoxious, Hildy decided to get him home.] [Wing: Okay, that would make sense. Except maybe for it being Hildy.] Just because Frank was trying to run Victim off it, doesn’t mean it was Belinda, Hildy and Frank’s fault that Victim actually went off the road. And they totally did everything possible to save Victim’s life, y’know, by running them off the fucking road. They totally stopped at a gas station, and were totally willing to call 911, but the payphone was broken, so y’know, what can you do? Hildy is a fucking saint. (I originally mistyped that as “stain”, which is a pretty accurate description of her existence.)

Hildy bent low, her mouth pressed into an angry line. “Oh, right, what a smart thing to do. You know Frank was drunk – he wasn’t even supposed to be at that party! If Coach Jarvis found out Frank was there instead of at that special swim practice… I mean, Frank called in sick and lied to him! He could be thrown off the team! And I was grounded – I shouldn’t have been there, either. You, either. If you remember, we were supposed to be house-sitting while my parents were out of town.” The anger melted, replaced by a quiet pleading that Belinda could never resist. “Do you know how much trouble we’d have been in if we’d gone to the cops? I don’t even want to think about what they’d have done to Frank in his condition – and if my parents found out about any of it, they’d never let me date Frank again. Look… we did all we could.”

Because that’s what’s important when Victim burned to death. That Frank lied to his swimming coach and whether or not Hildy’s allowed to date Frank. FUCKING PRIORITIES, YOU ABSOLUTE ****S! [Wing: Why isn’t Hildy more worried about what would have happened to her? Unless she wasn’t drunk at all, in which case, why did they take that weird back way? For that matter, why didn’t they put Frank in the back seat where he would have a harder time reaching the wheel? The logic is falling apart.]

Cheer on the killer: 1,500 (+500)

(Yes, I censored myself. If you can find a word that has the shock value of the C-bomb without causing the offense said word does, pretend I mean that.) [Wing: You do realize by referencing the word and using it censored, you’re really not avoiding the actual misogyny of it, right?] [Dove: My hole-filled logic still makes more sense than a Cusick plot.] [Wing: Well, yeah, clearly.]

They talk about the mysterious figure who watched the “accident” unfold. Naturally Hildy doesn’t believe he exists, then she changes the subject to the tutoring that Belinda does. She and her mom are not well off, her mom works double shifts at the hospital and Belinda tutors for cash. And… again, I find myself liking the protagonist, which is unheard of in a Cusick book. Hildy mentions that some guy was asking about Belinda at the library, so the librarian showed B’s yearbook photo and told him how qualified she was. [Wing: I am super creeped out by that. He has her number to contact her from the card, why the hell show him a picture? CREEPY.] B rightly gets worried about this, because she seems to be aware she’s in a PH, and is properly paranoid. Hildy, being the vapid twat that she is, thinks that this could be “Mr Right”. B doesn’t mention her issues to Hildy because she realises that Hildy will just be a bitch about it. [Wing: Also, “twat” has the same misogyny as “cunt,” so you’re avoiding it why?] [Dove: See above re: hole-filled logic. Additionally, the c-bomb causes much more offense.] [Wing: So your concern is not the actual misogyny, but the offense? And honestly, I think “twat” would cause similar offense in the USA if people heard it more.]

“I’ve gotta get to class.” Hildy shoved back her chair, long silvery braids brushing across the tabletop, pale green eyes narrowed on Belinda like a cat’s. “You’d better get your act together. You’re getting to be a real bore with all this.”

Belinda gave a vague nod and watched her go, Hildy’s miniskirted figure sashaying through the crowded cafeteria and drawing the usual stares. “If it was some problem with cheerleading, you’d be panic-stricken,” Belinda grumbled, then stopped herself, ashamed. She and Hildy were best friends, after all. Hildy had never been one to dwell over problems; Hildy hated little annoyances upsetting her busy social life. Belinda had always been the worrier. While Hildy was going out on all the dates, Belinda sat home, worrying about studying, about making money for college, about how she was going to help Hildy pass her next big test. But that was okay, wasn’t it? Best friends accepted each other unconditionally, didn’t they?

Yes, B, they do. Which means that if you’re upset about something – especially something as important as this – it is Hildy’s fucking job to listen to you, and care about how you feel, and support you. Not rag you because if you come clean, it’ll upset her dating ability. But, since Hildy clearly has no compassion or empathy, you’re on to a loser. Find yourself a new best friend. One that actually cares about you.

[Wing: I kind of love B right now. She’s delightful, and reminds me of baby!Wing. Except for that whole letting someone else drive.]

Once Hildy exits, B is called to the principal’s office. [Wing: How big is this fucking school? They have separate buildings, she’s running across campus — oh, Cusick, it is both the big things and the little things that throw me out of your stories.] She momentarily panics, thinking they know all about the crash, but it turns out a lady named Mrs Thorne is there, checking B’s credentials as a tutor. Mrs Thorne is looking for a tutor for her step-son, because she works long hours and her husband is in hospital at the moment. Referring to him as “the boy” and speaking of “the boy’s mother”, Mrs Thorne makes it very clear she has no interest in his life at all. B, at first, thinks she’s speaking of a young child, but then Mrs Thorne clarifies that her step-son is around the same age as B, and his name is Adam Thorne. Oh, and btw, Mrs Thorne, her husband and Adam were all in a car crash two weeks ago.

And another sensible chapter break. Am I going to end up giving this book a tolerable score? Well, no, because Frank and Hildy are horrible people and I want them dead, but aside from this… this book has structure and flow – I’m astounded. The only thing I would say is that the final line about “two weeks ago” would have much more impact if we had previously had it confirmed that Chapter 1 starts two weeks after the crash, and someone really should’ve caught that. [Wing: We did have confirmation. In the dialog. Which is your specialty, so you really should have caught that. /smug] [Dove: this is my penultimate Cusick – unless I find more – I’m allowed to fuck up. Besides, my editor catches my fuck ups, which is more than can be said for Cusick’s.] [Wing: Wait, it’s the penultimate Cusick? Oh, god, that’s not ok. Stine has a billion books. Must fine you another nemesis.]

B then tells Hildy what just happened and Hildy completely no-sells B’s worries. In fact, she doesn’t even react. My first impulse was that Hildy is a psychopath, then I did a little light reading and this is much much worse. You see, psychopaths are charismatic, charming, intelligent and prone to lying (to list a tiny sampling of their traits). Hildy is none of these things (Chapter 1 references the fact that Hildy only scrapes by on grades because of B’s extensive tutoring). In fact, she only hit one or two of the traits listed (callous, lack of empathy). So what does this mean? It means there is no psychological reason why Hildy is the way she is. She is merely a thoroughly toxic human being who just doesn’t care about anyone else in the world. And that’s a lot more frightening than the alternative. (Disclaimer: I have no psychological training, except of year of Intro to Psych back in the late nineties, but even I can read a list and work out that someone hits almost none of the most common flags.)

Frank (oh good, him) shows up and B repeats herself, causing Hildy to nearly laugh herself into a coma. Frank points out that wrecks happen every day, and the odds are slim that this is the same one. Except, no. Mostly these books are set in Smalltown USA, so the odds of there being two massive firebally crashes two weeks ago are pretty fucking slim. I will concede that Frank’s right in one sense, I’m sure that scrapes, bumps and fender-benders happen daily, but not massive crashes. [Wing: Remember, the crash happened 100 miles away. So, if they’re counting within that sort of radius, then Frank actually has a point. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to rip out his eyes. Besides, it can’t be that small a town, because their high school has a whole campus and there’s public transportation.] [Dove: I’d forgotten how far away the crash was. As for the other, that kind of idea gets lost in translation. I come from a very small town (1,300 people), which had four high schools (two public, two private/boarding) and public transport. It’s that whole US/UK thing again.] [Wing: Yeah, clearly, but this is a book set in the USA.]

B states that she’s not going to take the job, and Hildy doesn’t see why not, because it’s easy money.

“Adam…” Hildy sighed to herself. “Ooh, that sounds so romantic. Look, Belinda, if I were you–”

You’d have a conscience, she wanted to say, but instead she bit her tongue as Hildy kept chattering.

[Wing: Oh, burn. I like B more and more.]

Not a good sign when Hildy’s best friend thinks she has no morals.

“Oh, please.” Belinda quickened her pace. She was not in the mood for Frank’s perverse humor, but his strong hands clamped down on her shoulders, forcing her around.

“Hey, what’s with you anyway?” He flashed that irresistible grin. “You used to love my jokes. You used to love me.” He loosened his hold on her arms, tilting her face up so he could look into her eyes, and Belinda blushed and looked away. There had been a time she would have given anything for a date with Frank Scaleri, anything just to have him notice her. But it had been Hildy who Frank had noticed, Hildy who Frank had fallen head over heels for, just like all the other guys in school always had. Always Hildy. Belinda had long ago resigned herself to being noticed only because she was Hildy’s friend. Now, with an effort, she looked back into Frank’s laughing eyes and hoped her voice wouldn’t give her away.

Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 500 (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.)

Because we’re still claiming that it was “funny” to run Victim off the road. Seriously? You’re not funny, Frank. You are a completely toxic person. And I have no idea why B fancies you.

Also, at this point, B apologises. For being upset because they may have killed someone/being worried that they didn’t kill an entire family, and said family are cluelessly trying to hire her. B apologises for having emotions. FUCK YOU FRANK AND HILDY I HOPE YOU FUCKING DIE I’M SO ANGRY THAT PUNCTUATION CAN FUCK THE FUCK OFF.

Then they emotionally abuse her because, despite them wanting her to take the job, they are now offended that she can’t help them study because she’s agreed to meet Adam today. Frank is on the honour roll, but won’t help Hildy study, because he’d rather bang her, and Hildy’s ok with that. Fine, then let her fucking flunk. If she’s not smart enough to keep up in class, then don’t help her, prepare her for a life wearing a nametag and asking “Would you like to supersize that?” [Wing: Yeah, because only dumb people work fast food jobs, they don’t deserve any better, blah blah blah. Damn, Dove.] [Dove: I did not say that at all, don’t put words in my mouth.] [Wing: So what did you mean by implying that not being smart enough to keep up in class = a life spent wearing a nametag and supersizing things? (Also, do they still ask that in the UK? It’s not really used in the USA anymore.)] [Dove: Simply that I did not say “only dumb people” work fast food. As for “supersize”, in the UK it’s more passive, “Would you like to make that a large meal for only 50p more?”] and if she is smart enough to keep up in class but can’t be bothered, then let her fucking flunk, because guess what? Actions have consequences. And as I typed that last sentence, I realised how futile my argument is.

I beat you because I love you: 100 (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.)

“And anyway,” Frank added, falling into step beside them, “how could this guy’s accident be the same one? You heard the explosion–”

“Frank, please,” Hildy warned, but Frank bent low and peered hard into Belinda’s face.

“You know I’m right, Belinda. That car blew sky-high. Nobody – nobody – could have survived it.”

Oh good, we are acknowledging that Frank’s “joke” killed someone. We just DON’T FUCKING CARE.

She gets her bus home, and finds a police officer standing outside her house. Apparently someone called to say that B had an accident. He decides it’s a prank (for once, this trope makes sense), but I have to wonder why they sent the police and not an ambulance. It makes no sense. [Wing: Would have sent both, usually.] [Dove: That would’ve made sense.]

B speaks to her mom over the phone and Mom says that someone named Thorne called for “Miss Swanson” at work, not knowing both B and her mom worked there. The call wasn’t taken, but they both assume she was reference checking. B talks about her nerves and Mom gently chivvies her into it (in a non-emotionally abusive way. Just sayin’, Hildy and Frank).

Mrs Thorne picks up B, and B worries about the whole crash thing, and also decides that Frank called the police as a “joke”. I don’t care if he didn’t, I’m giving this a point, because we all know that Frank’s “jokes” are decidedly stupid, and wasting police time on pointless shit definitely falls under that heading.

Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 510 (+10)

I’m giving it 10 now, but if he actually did it, I’ll add another 90. Or maybe 490. I don’t know.

Mrs Thorne then confides that Adam won’t be happy to have B around. And then flat-out tells her “Quite simply, I hate Adam and Adam hates me.” and then:

“My husband loves this house – it’s not right that Adam’s here and he’s not. Adam should be in that hospital dying, not Fred. If it were up to me, I’d never see Adam again. And once his father dies, I won’t have to.” She switched off the motor, making no move to get out. “If he’s angry or aloof, it has nothing to do with you.”

She then goes further to comment that at least Adam does not need a nurse, which is one less expense. Not sensing a whole lot of love in this household – or even from Adam’s birth mother, since it was her idea to send him to live with his dad and step-mother. Mrs Thorne basically leads her to Adam’s room and leaves her to introduce herself.

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.)

(Why only 1 when I’ve been giving out hundreds before? Because this is mild.)

She’s in a darkened room with Adam, who is disagreeable, Mrs Thorne let him know B would be coming over, but he doesn’t really want to deal with her. B tries to get him to show himself, and after a bit of snark, he does.

In the eerie half-light she saw part of his face, the eyes so dark they seemed like holes in a death mask. There were huge gashes – black, crooked lines crisscrossing his cheeks and forehead like jagged tracks, and as her eyes widened in horror, he suddenly released her and drew back into the cover of darkness.

Then she faints. The understandably offends Adam, and B heads downstairs to get a lift home. There are boxes covered in cloth, and some are making slithery noises. She reaches out to lift the cloth when she is accosted by a bloke with a meat cleaver stained with blood.

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

The boxes contain snakes and some are dangerous. The meat cleaver is from dinner. The bloke is Cobbs. He’s old, scrawny, and very proper and uses words like “splendid”. I’m imagining him as this guy. He makes her tea and toast, and B asks him to have tea with her, because she’s not used to being waited on. [Wing: I also got the vibe that she was afraid he was poisoning her, so…yeah.]

B notices a picture of two guys, one is Adam, the other is his step-brother, Noel. I suspect that Noel is the sexy, friendly, perfectly normal one and B will be attracted to him. Which means he’s the Bad Guy. Cusick has a formula.

[Wing: Wait. Wait wait wait.

His eyes and hair were raven black, his face tanned like Noel’s, but more naturally, not just from the seasonal rays of the sun. He looked beautiful and evil at the same time, and Belinda felt tears filling her eyes.

Naturally tan. Which is generally code for mixed race. Which is then equated with evil. FUCK OFF INTO THE SEA, CUSICK.]

[Dove: I did not catch that. In which case:]

Racism: business as usual: 500 (If you’re lucky enough to see a person of colour in any of these books, they’ll be stereotyped to the hilt.)

Next up, Frank and Hildy come over to study. Frank makes it clear this studying has to be short, because he needs to take his woman up to Suicide Drop and bang her silly.

[Wing: And Hildy says he must be insane because of it. FUCK OFF INTO THE SEA, HILDY.]

Everyone knew about Suicide Drop, the hill outside of town that had claimed so many innocent lives. Its narrow dirt road descended almost straight down, then cut sharply between a jagged slope on one side, and a sheer drop to rocks below on the other. Its danger was also deceiving – most people didn’t even realize how quickly their car could pick up speed until they were too close to the cliff to make the curve. Thinking about it now reminded Belinda of the road near the airport, and she nearly dropped the coffeepot she was filling.

Sexy, huh?

There’s nothing new in this scene. B worries and Frank and Hildy don’t care. [Wing: Frank calls B crazy. FUCK OFF INTO THE SEA, FRANK.] [Dove: I swear I quoted some text where he greeted B with “What’s today’s brand new neurosis?” or some shit like that. I’m going to add another 500 to the counter at the bottom, just to cover it.]

[Wing: Wait. Wait wait wait.

“He won’t talk about his accident. He won’t even let me see his face.” She shuddered inwardly, remembering that distorted image in the dark. “He’s all stitched up and something’s wrong with his legs – he uses a cane. I don’t know… I just don’t want to believe we could have caused something like that…

B! I NORMALLY LIKE YOU! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING HERE? They just admitted earlier that they think the crash killed the people in the car, but dear god, she doesn’t want to think about injuring someone? WTF?]

Then Frank brings in a package from outside, and it’s a calendar with a circle around April Fools’ Day, and it looks like dried blood.

Next day at school, Hildy again no-sells B’s fears and this time B just walks away, realising that arguing is futile.

She makes her way over to the Thornes’, cutting through the park. She finds a cloth in her pocket and realises that she picked it up at the site of the crash. It’s not a cloth, it’s a hanky with the letter A embroidered on it. (Does anyone know an 18 year old male that carries personalised handkerchiefs around with them?) [Wing: Pretentious boys trying too hard.]

She arrives and Mrs Thorne is getting ready to leave for business. She’s striding around throwing out dialogue that cheerfully confirms that (again) she hates Adam, she’s not that fussed about her husband and she definitely did marry for money. [Wing: Don’t forget all the crazy and straight jacket talk.] B is aghast and after she leaves, she asks Cobbs why Mrs Thorne is such a bitch (not quite in those words, obviously), and Cobbs replies that she only cares about herself, and does not care what Adam overhears. Which makes him officially not English. Everyone knows that English butlers are like Jeeves, and are marvellously discrete. However, he is dryly sarcastic, and Cusick can be amusing when she does this type of character (e.g. Conor).

B goes up to Adam’s room, and he ignores her, then eventually deigns to speak to her. He wants to know her deepest darkest secrets. He doesn’t really say anything threatening, but B feels panicky regardless and she wants to leave. She races out the front door and falls straight into the arms of Noel. Guess what? He’s hot.

Noel is the golden child, Mrs Thorne loves him, he seems not too fussed about her. He immediately gives Cobbs the day off and offers to drive B home. He has a dog. I don’t know if this will be important later, so I’ll mention it. Noel says that Adam was a loner before the accident, and he doesn’t really know him, they’ve never spent any time together.

And this is all it takes to make her fall in love with him. Yeah. Romance is never particularly well done in PH, is it?

After Noel drives off, she checks her mail and finds something gooey and slimey and it turns out to be an entrails-covered doll, which has been slashed and repaired with thick black thread.

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

She confronts Hildy and Frank about it at school the next day, and they claim innocence.

Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 200 (previously All my friends are a bag of dicks – Something strange and evil is happening. Since I hate all of my BFFs, it’s bound to be one of them.)

“If anyone finds out anything,” he smiled sweetly, leaning down into Belinda’s face, “it’ll be because of you. And you wouldn’t want anything to happen to me, would you, Belinda? Because you know and I know, that you still think I’m pretty wonderful–”

“Oh, Frank, just stop it.” Belinda pushed at him, but he held her tighter, his grin widening.

“You think about what’s at stake here – if any questions come up, I wasn’t the one driving, remember?”

The look on Hildy’s face was positively stricken. Belinda saw it through a haze of anger, and thought for a split second that Hildy was going to faint.

“And I promise you, Belinda Swanson,” Frank added, his finger wagging back and forth, playfully, in front of her face, “I’ll swear Hildy wasn’t driving, either.”

I beat you because I love you: 200 (+100) and Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 500 (+300)

This story? Totally focussing on the wrong people. Hildy and Frank are a step away from going all Natural Born Killers on B’s ass, and it really ought to be a story about B trying to stay alive as Hildy and Frank torment her to the point of death. Instead, we’ve got this silly nonsense about whether or not Victim survived, is B tutoring him, etc. The story should be Victim did not survive, flat out, and Hildy and Frank will do anything to keep the murder secret, and every step she takes – such as going to the police – results in their retaliation, framing her as the driver, threatening her mother, etc. [Wing: That would be a good story. And I’ve given up on pointing out each moment of ableism, because fuck Cusick.] [Dove: I was sure I had quoted more, so it was a surprise when I read your notes saying I hadn’t.] [Wing: Really, if you quoted everything, this recap would be three times as long as the book.]

Anyway, Frank moseys off, totally unconcerned that he killed someone and is framing someone else for it. Hildy then explains everything. You see, Frank had a bad swim practice. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You have a shit day at work, and you frame your best friend for murder. That’s basically a Tuesday for me.

B is on the same page as me, and gives Hildy a hug, relieved that it’s all going to be ok. Then they talk about boys.

She heads over to the Thornes’ house and Adam is asleep due to the medication. So B has tea with Cobbs again, and, it’s weird, I kind of like her. She talks to him and actually asks questions back, and seems to care about him. She says, without any sarcasm, “I hope you don’t think I’m taking you for granted, Cobbs. You happen to be the high point of my day.

She leaves and… gets chased through the park by a car? *shrugs* This could be an English/American thing, our parks just aren’t big enough to chase people through in cars. [Wing: Some parks are definitely big enough to chase through. They seem to live in a good-sized city, and this is a posh neighborhood. Though, with that being said, I don’t for a second believe the old parts of the park are left like that. That’s just Cusick wanting a convenient place to terrorize B.] Unless it’s a national park (which still has nothing on USA national parks – kudos, America). She rushes back to the Thornes’, and yells for Cobbs, but ends up bumping into Adam. B asks him to call her a cab, but he notices she’s bleeding and offers to patch her up. She says she wants to go home and her mom can clean her cuts, but Adam dials his creepy up to eleven.

“Your mom’s not home. She’s working double shifts at the hospital, and she doesn’t get off till seven A.M. The rest of the time… you’re all alone in the house.”

Belinda’s heart jumped, her grip tightening on the table edge. Did I tell him that? Did Cobbs? How does he know?

“I know a lot about you, Belinda.” Adam’s fingers fingered against her cheek. His other hand slid slowly down her neck, sending shivers through her, until it finally clamped down upon her shoulder. “And isn’t it strange… but I keep feeling I’ve seen you somewhere before?”

Noel comes home and yells at Adam for scaring her. Adam keeps emphasising that he’s seen B before.

Noel then drives her home and nothing really happens, discussion about how Adam enjoys scaring her, but he can’t get around without a cane, so he’s probably not the one who chased her through the park – the latter being B’s conclusion, because she’s careful to not outright say “I’m being stalked because I think I nearly killed your step-bro and he’s really angry about it.”

Hildy’s there when she gets home, and she tells Hildy what happened. For once, Hildy isn’t completely dismissive. Presumably because there’s no way she can be responsible for this, therefore she doesn’t have to shut this discussion down. She even lets B speculate that Frank might have chased her for the lolz.

“You should have called me.”

“Oh, right.” Belinda’s glance was scathing. “You’ve been so supportive till now, believing everything I say.”

Go on, B! Stand up for yourself. Hildy does not apologise, or even respond, she just calls for pizza. When she comes back, she’s more open to the idea that Adam was in the same accident… for about 30 seconds.

“Sure? Hildy, it was the same road – how much of a coincidence can that be?” She paused as Hildy shook her head. “If Adam wants revenge…”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore, okay?”

“So you’re going to pretend there’s no danger? It hasn’t been happening to you, so you’re just going to write it off?” Belinda suppressed a sudden urge to shake some sense into her, and then she saw the look on Hildy’s face. “But you really are scared, too, aren’t you?”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I came over to hear about Noel and to talk about the picnic.”

Belinda groaned and threw up her hands. “The picnic. Okay, you win…”

The Noel turns up, Hildy thinks there’s someone outside, and B thinks she sees Cobbs. They all shrug it off because it’s dark, and Hildy excuses herself to give them some privacy. Noel then explains the psychology of Adam, which is basically that he’s a liar and he’ll hurt you because you’ll inevitably hurt him, so he may as well do it first. His current “delusion” (Noel’s word) is that someone ran them off the road. Mrs Thorne doesn’t remember anything because she drugs herself to the hilt when she has to fly.

Oh good, Frank shows up. Hildy then forces Noel to ask B on a date to the senior picnic. It would be cute if I didn’t hate Hildy with the fire of a thousand suns. [Wing: Actually, it is all an invasion of privacy. Frank showing up uninvited, Hildy manipulating Noel. Everyone but B can fuck off.]

B has a nightmare/is it real moment that night, person at her window saying “murderer”. She asks Hildy about it the next morning.

Hildy looked annoyed. “Aren’t you getting kinda tired of blaming Frank for everything?”

“Me? What about you? You’re the one who’s always saying it’s Frank playing all these stupid jokes–”


And she goes back to work, where Adam does his best to scare her, by saying that he had a girlfriend who cheated on him. She had an accident and nobody goes out with her now. B no-sells this initially, but he keeps pushing. Then the hanky falls out of her pocket, he quizzes her on it, and she panics and runs down to Cobbs, asking if she can go home. Cobbs is a fucking joy in this (and, actually, every) scene.

“I’ll just call a cab, if that’s okay. You wouldn’t happen to know the number, would you?”

“In the exhilaration of the moment, it escapes me.”

She picks up the phone but Noel’s already on with the hospital, trying to get them to kill his father put dad out of his misery. B is somewhat chilled by the laugh/cry he does when the hospital hang up on him.

The next day is the senior picnic. B has an interaction with Hildy and Frank, that brings us nothing new, except I’m bumping some counts here.

Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 550 (+50) and Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 50 (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.)

[Wing: This? This is the first place you wanted to mark the mental health count?] [Dove: See notes above?] [Wing: I hate Cusick SO MUCH.]

Then, she meets up with Noel. They have a chat and discuss how nobody wants Adam, and that’s why he’s such a dick to be around. Then they discuss his mother, and I’m sure the below is just an off-the-cuff observation and in no way Noel’s motivation for staging the accident that B thinks she’s responsible for. Oh, did I give the ending away? I’m sorry.

Noel nodded, his face growing serious. “Fred’s been good to her – and to me. One thing you have to understand, Belinda – when you’ve never had money – and then you get it – it’s sort of like an addiction. You want more and more…” His eyes dropped, and he stared hard at a sunspot on the bench, “and you can’t ever imagine being without it again. And that” – he roused himself and gave her a sly wink – “explains my mother. Thank God I don’t live with her.”

They have a really nice date, right up until they’re rammed off the road when Noel is driving B home. They’re both shaken, but ok. The car’s making weird noises, but it’s functional, so, good. B thinks it was Adam, Noel wants to know why she’s so obsessed with him, to which she has no answer. He suggests they go back to his place, so that B’s not alone tonight. She doesn’t want to because Adam will be there, but Noel says, no, he won’t, he’s out with Cobbs tonight. (If anyone wants to fanfic what they thought happened on that wild night out, I’d be delighted!)

Noel borrows a nightgown from his mom (who is also not around tonight) for B. It’s all sheer and sexy and she feels “almost pretty” in it. Noel comes in and B spills the whole sorry tale of what’s been going on. Noel posits the theory that the man on top of the hill was Adam – he threw himself clear of the wreck, and that’s how he hurt himself – and he’s coming after B for seeing him.

I don’t really get that as a theory. So, he threw himself clear, and ended up with a battered and broken body, covered in burns from the explosion, but managed to be at the top of a hill to look down on the accident… Nope, still sounds stupid to me.

Nope. Still sounds stupid.
Nope. Still sounds stupid.

B goes to sleep and wakes up with a snake coiled around her. Cobbs gets rid of it in a jiffy. Whatevs.

The next morning she has tea with Cobbs, who gives Adam’s tragic backstory. He was sent to live with his aunt and uncle while his parents were getting divorced. He was miserable there, they abused him and he tried to run away. The aunt and uncle had a better story, and his parents didn’t really care to investigate. It all ended in a car crash that killed the aunt and uncle. Adam was thrown clear, though he did have an (unspecified) head injury, which caused mood changes, and was the start of him isolating himself. Also, the aunt, before dying, kept saying “Adam” and “steering wheel”, so there’s speculation he caused the accident.

B nips upstairs to fetch her purse before being driven home and spies Adam Fred’s study, reading papers and laughing.

And he began to laugh… deeply… horribly.

It was a cruel sound, without feeling.

And as Belinda turned and ran, she realized that Adam’s laugh hadn’t even sounded human.

Mwahahahaha!: (Bad guy POV. Double points if the bad guy actually does an evil laugh.) 2

Her mom approves of Noel, and they have a nice, normal mother-daughter conversation, and again, I approve. Mom heads off to work, and B heads to the mall to meet Hildy and update her on all the scary things that are going on. On the way there she has a panic attack that’s over in two sentences.

Then she spills the theory that the man on the hill caused the accident. Naturally, Hildy’s all, “Well, duh. Of course we didn’t kill anyone.” But she’s sceptical on every other point.

“Okay, now, just listen – Hildy, please – you’ve got to see how this is all fitting together–”

“What I’m seeing is you going insane right in front of my eyes.” Hildy pulled back with an exasperated sigh. “But, go ahead, I’m listening.”

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 100 (+50) and Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 600 (+50)

My god, if my best friend (Wing, that’s you. Stop preening), treated me like this when I was obviously riled up, we would not be friends any longer. Also, Wing has in the past gently pointed out that I’m not healthy and it might be best to get back on medication. She did it with a lot more tact than bloody Hildy there. And it’s not just that quote, it’s her response to everything B says.

“Maybe he doesn’t need a motive. When you’re crazy, you don’t need a motive, you just do it because you’re crazy–”

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 15,100 (+15,000 – and you got off light, Cusick! Just you wait until Wing gets here.)

[Wing: Psh, by this point, I’m already burning down the world because of Cusick’s casual ableism. It’s even worse in this book, because there’s so much good, too. B is awesome, and her relationship with her mother is fantastic, and therefore those moments of good just make me even angrier that she keeps up with this ableism bullshit.]

Hildy then tries to placate B by admitting that Frank left the package on her porch and called the police.

*explodes and kills everything*
*explodes and kills everything*

Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 10,510 (+10,000) and Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 1,600 (+1,000)

I was so mad, I stopped what I was doing and made a gif to express myself. (It’s from Freddy vs Jason, if you want to know.) And it’s what happens if you make too many “crazy” digs at us combined with shitty human beings doing spiteful things. I do not approve.

Hildy claims that she and frank never would have hurt B. Which is what all abusers say. Oh, sweetheart, I’m sorry you made me so mad that I hit you. If you wouldn’t just keep doing the things I don’t like, I wouldn’t have to black your eye. FUCK YOU, HILDY AND FRANK. FUCK YOU.

I beat you because I love you: 10,200 (+10,000)

B runs to the pool to confront Frank, and finds him dead in the pool.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 4 (+1)

Don’t start partying just yet because it isn’t Frank. It’s just his jacket.

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.)

Hildy states that B can’t take a joke and she’s jealous because Frank loves her and not B, and Hildy then says she’d really love to hurt B. And I really wish that B would just drown Hildy in the pool. Consider it a public service.

She heads home and her mom is there. B idly dreams of Cobbs’ tea… I kind of ship it. They seem to have a real friendship. Also, her mom gives good advice, which is based on Hildy being a human being, and not some twisted emotionally bereft fuckwit.

After a nap, her mom is heading out (back to work) and Noel is there. Noel says that he’s been told it’s unlikely his step-father will make it through the night. His mother is unreachable. Noel’s going to give her a lift to Hildy’s house (why, B? Why?) when a random dude shows up with an envelope for her, he was paid $10 to deliver it. In it is one of Hildy’s braids. They drive over to Frank’s, and his dad confirms that neither Frank nor Hildy are there. B panics, and Noel, reasonably points out that Hildy is fucking evil, and if she did this for the lulz, then B should drop her ass. They decide to go to Noel’s and wait.

Cobbs has gone to the hospital, after leaving a note stating “situation critical”. Noel then leaves to go to the hospital, Adam is already there, so B is home alone at the Thornes’ house. The dog growls, and for some reason this leads B to rummage in Mr Thorne’s study and find his will, which (very unsurprisingly), leaves his estate to his wife, failing which to his son and step-son. With Mr Thorne nearly dead and Mrs Thorne missing, this leaves the boys ready to inherit. And B deduces that it’s Adam who is trying to kill Noel for the money. A swing and a miss for B.

Cobbs calls to ask where Adam and Noel are. Noel has not arrived at the hospital and Adam is not with him. Again, B takes this to mean that Adam is the killer, and Noel is in danger. And if I’m being totally fair, it makes sense, Adam is openly antagonistic and freely admits his hatred for everyone, especially his family. It’s just that Cusick uses this trope so often that it’s obvious. B is probably one of Cusick’s best protagonists.

Anyway, Adam chases her right into Noel’s arms and…

“It was so perfect,” Adam muttered. “Noel’s idea… and so damn perfect. Everything timed… right down to the exact second… the exact spot on the road. And then we came across you. Even after I passed your car, you kept right on my tail… and then…” A look of bewilderment crossed his face. “Everyone in the car started to panic – I couldn’t concentrate – the place I should have jumped out – somehow I passed it – and then–”

… they’re both in on it? Ok, fine, I did not see that one coming. I called Noel, but assumed Adam was a red herring. Ok, this is twice in a row I’ve got it wrong. *shameface* [Wing: I called it. Noel was just too adamant they never talked, despite that picture of them that was such a Chekov’s gun.]

Adam’s pissed off at her because she didn’t help, and she wouldn’t leave, so Noel couldn’t even help him without being seen.

Sadly, they confirm that Hildy and Frank are still alive, though not for long. I wish that was a promise they would follow through on.

“I told you this was business,” Adam said irritably. “Don’t apologize to her.”

“She wasn’t driving,” Noel said, and Adam’s glance was sharp. “She wasn’t driving the car. The other girl was.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Adam said. “They’re all responsible for what happened.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Noel said to Belinda, but not unkindly. “I saw you get out. You tried to help, but you couldn’t.”

The guy who is about to kill B is still more reasonable about the crash than B’s two “best friends”. They’re heading out to Suicide Drop, that place that Frank wanted to bang Hildy about fifteen chapters ago. Adam calls her a “clever girl” for recognising where they are, and I’m pretty sure that those are the only two words Wing approves of in the entire book. She loves that line in Jurassic Park. [Wing: <3]

Adam and Noel are going to put B, Hildy and Frank into a car and tip it off Suicide Drop. That’s what they did to Adam’s mum. Or, Adam did it, at least. Noel’s the plan guy, Adam’s the actual doer. They pile them in the car – I think Frank’s in the trunk, and then Adam double-crosses Noel. … Wait, no Frank’s passed out? – in the car. There’s some kind of scuffle going on, oh, and the car is inching towards the drop-off. It would all be very high-octane if Cusick’s description wasn’t so woefully confusing.

Then something – who knows what – happens, and doors open and Cobbs to the rescue and WTF is going on?

Everyone’s safe, Adam and Noel are being arrested – Cobbs called the police from the car phone. The car phone. Ah, the nineties. And that’s that.

Recap chapter! Hildy has realised that she does have a soul after all, she doesn’t want to date Frank anymore and she’s been a shitty friend to B. Also, Frank has given up his “jokes”.

Then Cobbs shows up. He’s really really rich now, thanks to Mr Thorne’s will, and he’s going to be B’s butler for free because he loves her so much.

And they lived happily ever after.

Final Thoughts:

Well, again I didn’t quite get it right over who the bad guy was. I liked Belinda and Cobbs, and Belinda’s mom, but Hildy and Frank are hateful. I wish they hadn’t survived. I would’ve been happier that way. This is one of Cusick’s better works from a narrative point of view. Generally (up until the finale), she manages to describe what’s happening in a clear way. Her dialogue is, as usual, good — I mean that comparatively, she’s pretty good at dry snark, and always manages to get across what she wants in conversations, it’s just she tends to fuzzy things up as she reaches the end. However, Frank and Hildy are the most obnoxious creatures on the planet. Everything that comes out of their mouths is offensive, be it about mental health, sexism, or just generally how human beings should treat each other. I have no idea why the “happy ending” had B go back to her abusers. Generally, this book has a bad fucking message on a number of levels, Cusick. Bad.

[Wing: This was one of Cusick’s better works, but the good pieces just highlighted how infuriating the bad pieces are. If I ever meet Cusick, I plan on very calmly asking why she has such a hate on for people with mental illnesses. And then setting the world on fire.

Also, I can’t believe you only have one more Cusick left. God.]

Final Counts:

Cheer on the killer: 1,500
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 4
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 1,600
I beat you because I love you: 10,200
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 15,600
Mwahahahaha!: 1
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 10,510
Racism: business as usual: 500