Title: The Murder Game by Janice Harrell
Published June 1993
It was no game.
The ad read “You’re invited to a murder . . .” It was to be a party, complete with a pretend corpse and plenty of clues. Only Meg Redding knew the host’s real motive: Dusty Ellis was determined to catch his twin sister’s killer – even though the police had ruled her death an accident.
The guests are gathered at an isolated cottage out by the reservoir where the stage is set for murder. But when the corpse is found – it’s real. Now Dusty’s a prime suspect and Meg’s out to clear his name . . . unaware that the killer is following her, step by step . . .
Come to party and catch a killer – if you dare!
This was published in June of 1993, so I was probably around 12 or 13 the first time I read it. I didn’t remember too many details, but I remembered who the killer was and why. And the worst motive ever. Seriously, this motive is the weakest weaksauce to ever sauce. Even at 12 I was well aware of that. This was maybe the first time Rocky Horror Picture Show came onto my radar, and the first time I’d heard of Kewpie dolls. I also remembered the 16 or 17 year old girl and her 30-year-old “boyfriend.” Oh, boy, we’re gonna have a time with this one, folks. Not necessarily a good time, but some kind of time.
Well, first of all, the summary on the back of the book isn’t . . . exactly . . . correct. There was no pretend corpse to go along with their game, so already we’re off to a great start.
We open on C.C. Carmody and Meg Redding reading an ad in the school newspaper. (I’m officially an Old™ – do school newspapers still exist?) The ad is some bullshit about being invited to an “all night murder” and refers to the invitees by initials, telling them they “know who they are” and to “ask D.E. for details.” The D.E. in question is Dusty Ellis, who would apparently rather leave a paper trail of evidence for the police after things inevitably go sideways rather than walking up to his friends and inviting them to this party face-to-face, because Dusty makes poor life choices. The party is ostensibly a birthday party, but Dusty really just wants to freak out his friends enough to make one of them confess to his twin sister Elizabeth’s murder six weeks earlier. Did I say murder? It was officially ruled an accident. Except it clearly looks like suicide, what with the whole “close-range gunshot wound to the temple” thing, but I guess being rich means you never have to accept suicide as the official cause of death of your teenage daughter, right? At any rate, Dusty is convinced Elizabeth wasn’t suicidal or careless, therefore: murder.
Now is as good a time as any for introductions, so!
Robot Roll Call:
Meg Redding: Our main protagonist, although Harrell does jump around a bit with POV. Meg is Dusty’s girlfriend, has auburn hair, and according to C.C. is the type of girl to carry Band-Aids and a quarter for emergency phone calls (see kids, there used to be these things called payphones . . . ) in her pocketbook. Meg’s dad is a psychiatrist, and Meg herself is incredibly judgmental about her “friends.” I kind of hate her. Did I hate her this much when I was 12? She’s just . . . ugh.
C.C. Carmody: Oh, let’s have some fun now. According to Meg, she and C.C. have been friends since they were 4, but they don’t have much in common anymore. Meg is embarrassed to be seen with her because she thinks C.C. looks like a pirate. Why? Because C.C. has short dark hair that she tucks behind her ears and wears hoop earrings. That’s it. That’s how she looks like a pirate. (Um, Meg? Do you even know what pirates look like, or are you just walking up to every girl with short hair and earrings and saying “Arrrr, avast ye matey!”) Anyway, we also get some nice slut-shaming from Meg because C.C. wears tight jeans and is “the only girl Meg knew who showed up to the junior-senior prom with a thirty-year-old tennis bum.” Uhhh, what the what now?! How about you stop judging your friend for being so “troubled” and call the cops on this sexual predator who is preying on your friend? Was statutory rape not a thing in 1993? Are you telling me that the school allowed this grown-ass man to come to a school dance with a 16-year-old child and no one batted an eye?!
This recap is going to test me to my breaking point, y’all.
Roxy Blish: Girlfriend of Jeff Holloman, Dusty’s best friend. Pale blue eyes, cornsilk blonde hair. So fair she looks like she was dipped in bleach. (That sounds horrifying to me, honestly, but these weird, flowery descriptions are something we have to suffer through in these books. Onward.) Permanent second banana to Elizabeth, at least until she died. Hmm, is that a potential motive you’re setting up there, Harrell? I see what you’re doing over there. You don’t fool me.
Jeff Holloman: Dusty’s BFF. Son of a cop. He’s described as being funny and always joking around, but I just don’t see it. He’s really that guy who thinks he’s funny but is really just annoying everyone.
Bryan Whitfield: Was dating Elizabeth when she died. Is currently dating Kristin Jenkins. Described as short, skinny, nervous, and young-looking. At one point Meg thinks he’s too much of a scaredy-cat to be a murderer. Whatever, Meg. Bryan’s dad is a state senator running for governor. So I’m sure our man Bry has a great home life. He also thinks that he has to stop thinking about Elizabeth getting her brains blown out because it’s a real “downer” and Kristin is his girlfriend now. Downer? Downer?! I . . . I kind of fucking hate you, Bryan.
Kristin Jenkins: A year younger than the others. Bouncy brown hair, blue eyes. (Hey, Harrell, how come we get more detailed physical descriptions of the girls than the boys? Asking for a friend.) Kristin says things like “neat” and “golly” and I just want to know why she seems to be possessed by a character from Leave it to Beaver. Oh, she also has a shrine to Bryan in her bedroom. I shit you not, girl is obsessed. Bryan thinks it’s cute, and I’m just . . . that is NOT CUTE, BRYAN! Seriously, that is creepy and obsessive, the girl is jealous and possessive to an abusive degree, RUN AWAY, BRYAN! Kristin is also glad Elizabeth is dead because Bryan is all she ever wanted, and I swear to God if we’re trying to set up that Elizabeth was killed because another girl wanted her boyfriend I will fucking fight everyone.
Rick Eason: Oh dear God. Look, I’m referring to him as Rapist Rick for the rest of this recap, mmkay? Cuz I just don’t want anyone to lose sight of the fact that he’s a grown fucking adult man “dating” a 16-year-old child. He’s the tennis instructor at the country club Dusty’s family belongs to, and apparently hates rich kids. Doesn’t stop him from having inappropriate relationships with them, though, and right now I really need him to be featured on To Catch A Predator.
Dusty Ellis: Meg’s boyfriend, obsessed with catching his twin sister’s killer. Used to be a lot of fun, but has become distant and withdrawn since Elizabeth died. Yeah, it’s called grief and his “friends” need to stop being little shitheads about it, but whatevs I guess.
Back to the recap.
So, Meg and C.C. spend some time talking about the party, we find out that it’s going to be at Dusty’s parents’ house out by some reservoir, this is six weeks after Dusty and his parents went to the reservoir house and left Elizabeth alone at the main house then came home and found her dead in the living room with a bullet through her temple. This murder party is going to be an all night affair, with no chaperones, and for some reason Harrell keeps spelling chaperone as “chaperon,” which is a valid alternate spelling but is less common and just annoys me. I’m petty, sorry. We meet Roxy and find out through a POV shift that she’s not sorry Elizabeth is dead, because now she has Elizabeth’s spot on the cheerleading squad and her popularity, and I would think that sounds like an incredibly weaksauce potential motive for murder, except I keep thinking of the Texas cheerleader mom, so . . . anyway, all these people are horrible so far.
We shift perspective again so we can meet Jeff, Bryan, and Kristin, and I really don’t care. That’s not a good sign, is it? While talking to Jeff, Bryan randomly “throws a punch into the air.” Really. He’s telling Jeff they need to go to the party to support Dusty, says “I think we owe it to him,” and then throws a punch into the air. Uh. Okay. Way to get hyphy apropos of nothing there, Bry. (Has Janice Harrell ever met a teenager . . . ?)
Cut to Meg and Dusty talking about the party. Meg is worried Dusty is going to do something stupid (like take out an ad inviting people to a murder, then have a murder actually happen?), and Dusty starts talking about how he doesn’t think Elizabeth’s death was an accident. I mean, no shit, I would think it’s pretty hard to accidentally shoot yourself in the temple, but Dusty’s having none of this suicide talk either. Dusty discovers that Elizabeth lied about staying home from the reservoir house to finish a history paper, because he finds the finished paper and says she would have put it off til the last minute and not finished it til Sunday (she died on a Saturday). I mean, that logic is . . . well, honestly, that logic is about the best we’re going to get from this book.
Some mention is made of suspects, Kristin for one, and we get some lovely ableism from Dusty, calling Kristin crazy (“the kind of crazy that kills”) for the aforementioned shrine to Bryan, and trying to buy love potion, voodoo dolls, all that kind of BS. Because mental illness = violent and dangerous, right? Ugh. It’s a running theme in this book, and my bipolar ass is going to try to treat it with the scorn and derision it deserves. So, Kristin is a suspect because she was obsessed with Bryan, Roxy is a suspect because she’s now basically living Elizabeth’s life. Dusty mentions some girl, Hilary, that Elizabeth used to hang out with, and Meg tells him he must have the wrong name because there’s no one named Hilary at their school. Uh, Meg, seriously? How small is your school? Hilary isn’t exactly an uncommon name, you’re telling me there’s not ONE Hilary in your entire school? I . . . I don’t even know what to say to that.
So, our merry band of teens all concoct cover stories to explain to their parents where they’re going to be all weekend, except C.C., whose mother doesn’t give a shit because C.C.’s older sister had a mental breakdown at college and is now crazy and in an institution. Goddammit, Harrell. Also we see C.C.’s mom reading a book titled Living With the Chronically Mentally Ill, and I’m curious if this is supposed to imply that there are mental illnesses which aren’t chronic? I mean, are there some pesky cases of twenty-four-hour schizophrenia going around, or . . . ?
All of Dusty’s friends make a point to talk about how he’s been “awful down” and how they expected him to be acting like himself by now, and I just want to slap them all. His twin sister just died violently six weeks ago, of course he’s not over it yet, Jesus fucking Christ you little turdburgers!
Jeff goes to Roxy’s house and on the way there thinks about when he first started to notice her. This is all pointless and boring except when he remembers C.C. calling Roxy a second banana and thinks about how “once or twice he’d wanted to punch C.C. out himself.” So Jeff fantasizes about committing violence against women? Welp, he’s delightful.
Switch to Bryan’s house, and his obviously abusive father. Seriously, this guy is a piece of shit, verbally abusive, and physically as well, because Bryan starts thinking about past trips to the ER and wearing long sleeves to hide bruises. So I guess his friends are too busy laughing about what a wimp he is and how he’s so scared of making his dad mad at him to notice that making his dad angry results in a beating? Everyone in this book is garbage and a terrible fucking friend to everyone else, damn. Bryan convinces his parents to let him stay home from the campaign trail that weekend, then thinks about how maybe he’ll drive to Raleigh, go to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show because he needs to blow off some steam and sit in a group of freaks who don’t know he’s the senator’s wholesome son, and stay in a hotel with a pool to unwind. Um, Bryan is what, like, sixteen? Even in 1993 no minor child could rent a hotel room by himself. No way. I mean, unless he’s Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2, and oh God, now I’m picturing Bryan as Macaulay Culkin.
The group heads out in Dusty’s van to Dusty’s isolated reservoir house. Rapist Rick joined them because I guess no one gives a shit about sexual predators “dating” their friend. These are some fucking terrible friends, honestly. They get to the vacation house and discover that someone has very carefully broken in, removing one pane of glass from the door that leads into the downstairs bedroom. Rick takes that room (by himself, thank God for small favors), room assignments are given out, pizza is eaten, beer is drunk by Rick, then Dusty breaks out the cake and announces the way this Murder Game works.
Except it’s not really a murder game, it’s a scavenger hunt, but Christopher Pike locked that title down in 1990 so it would have been bad form to use it again three years later, right, Harrell?
Anyway, the cake has “eenie, meenie, miney, moe” written around the edge, and those with matching pieces will be partners in the mystery scavenger hunt. The teams are: Bryan and Meg, C.C. and Kristin, and Jeff and Roxy. Dusty is scorekeeper and Rick doesn’t give a fuck about any of this, he’s just here for the beer and underage girls.
Each slice of cake has a matching clue in it – Meg’s clue reads, “Beau shoot – an anagram,” and Bryan’s is “You got a bang out of me.” At this point Meg has to explain to Bryan what an anagram is, because Bryan is a fucking idiot. Or Janice Harrell thinks her readers are fucking idiots. Meg’s clue translates to “boathouse,” but then neither one of these geniuses can figure out that Bryan’s clue is obviously a gun. Bang, bang, kiddies. It’s raining and general spookiness outside, and wimpy Bryan jumps at pinecones (no kidding) and shadows all the way to the boathouse. The chapter ends on an annoying and pointless cliffhanger as they uncover something shocking!!! in the boathouse. (It’s a gun. It’s a fucking gun, everyone fucking knows it, Harrell, you’re not being subtle or clever here, fucking hell.)
Rapist Rick is off by himself and therefore not molesting anyone, just thinking about how much he hates rich kids and speculating about robbing or kidnapping one of them, I don’t know or care where this Super. Fucking. Obvious. red herring is trying to go.
C.C. and Kristin are partners and their clue has led them to the attic. It’s here, in chapter 7, where this stupid fucking book finally passes the Bechdel test, but it’s only due to the girls sniping at each other, so . . . not great representation. Hey, all girls hate each other, amirite?! Kristin’s clue is “You can buy me at the same place you buy love potion,” and she’s humiliated because C.C. keeps teasing her about it. They find a wax voodoo doll made to look like Kristin, with a long pin through its heart, and then the lights go out! Kristin freaks the fuck out! Someone shuts the trapdoor to the attic and Kristin is convinced they’re locked in! Jesus Christ this girl is annoying and exhausting. Also, you’re not locked in; that’s not how that kind of door works, calm the fuck down already.
Cut to Jeff and Roxy. Their clue leads them to the basement (or cellar. they’re using the terms interchangeably, despite basements and cellars being two very different things. make up yo damn mind which it is, Harrell!), and Roxy is scared. Jeff tells her a “dumb blonde” joke to try to cheer her up. That’s right, Jeff tells his blonde girlfriend a dumb blonde joke to cheer her up. Jeff, why do you want me to hate you so much? Roxy is not comforted, and loses her shit when the lights go out. Because we need to milk every drop possible out of the “hysterical woman” trope, I guess. Moving on, they get out of the basement/cellar (not the same thing, Harrell), the lights come back on, they meet up with Rick, C.C., and Kristin in the kitchen, no one takes Kristin’s hysterics over the voodoo doll seriously but they do agree it’s time to leave the vacation house. Oh, what’s that? The phone is missing, along with the keys to the van they all drove up in? No one can find Dusty? We’re trapped here? Oh. Okay then.
Back to Meg and Bryan. The shocking thing they found in the boathouse? It’s a gun. I fucking said it was a gun, it was obviously a gun, and yet they’re shocked, shocked I tell you! to find a gun. Also, Bryan’s clue now reads “You got a big bang out of me” and I’m wondering if I’ve wandered into the Harry Potter universe where words on paper can magically change to read something else. I hope so – maybe the end of this book will change and not be so terrible and stupid and horrible and bad. (Future me knows better, but it doesn’t stop present me from hoping.) Bryan passes out when he sees the gun, Dusty sneaks in and tells Meg that Bryan is obviously guilty, then sneaks back out before Bryan wakes up again.
At the house, everyone is going on about what a maniac Dusty is, how he’s gone nuts, and my ableism counter has officially shorted out. Guess I better go murder all my friends now, since that’s apparently all we crazy people are good for, BRB!!!
The group decides to split up to look for Dusty because they’ve apparently never seen a horror movie in their lives, and Jeff goes back to the basement (cellar?) and finds a Kewpie doll (which, if Google Images is to be trusted, is the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen) with the name “Liz” written across it and a bullet hole in the middle of the forehead. Um. Uh. No, but? We’ve been told throughout this book that Elizabeth was shot in the temple. The temple is most decidedly not in the center of the forehead. So, fuck continuity?
Meg and Bryan have made it back to the house, they’re cold and wet from the rain, and they both want showers. Rapist Rick suggests that Bryan take a shower first, because that’s definitely not suspicious or anything. Seconds after Bryan goes upstairs, we hear screaming and end the chapter on yet another pointless cliffhanger.
Everyone runs upstairs in time to see Bryan stagger out of the bathroom with what appears to be blood all over his head! Gasp! Shock! He’s giggling and licking it off his hands, oh no! Oh, wait, it’s just ketchup. For a minute I was really hoping it was pig’s blood, a la Carrie. Oh well. Someone set up ketchup to fall on Bryan and rigged up a motion activated tape player to play someone whispering “I know what you did and I just might tell.” That’s pretty weak as far as terrifying pranks go, but everyone seems pretty freaked out by it, so what the fuck do I know. Well, Rick thinks it’s funny and shouldn’t bother anyone who doesn’t have a guilty conscience, but Rick is a sexual predator and has no business talking to anyone else about guilt, or having a conscience.
More talking about how Dusty is crazy, yawn. Meg and C.C. argue about whether or not Dusty is crazy and wants to kill all his friends, because obviously that’s what all crazy people really want, then Meg says C.C. is probably going crazy just like her sister did, and C.C. tells Meg she’ll kill her if she doesn’t shut up. All right then. Maybe don’t threaten to kill people at the murder party? Meg decides to take a shower to get away from C.C., because being naked and vulnerable is exactly what you need to get your mind off your friend threatening your life, and as Meg is heading into the bathroom she hears a gunshot ring out from downstairs! Dun-dun-DUNNNN! Cliffhanger ending!
Meg runs into Bryan running up the stairs (on the one hand, running away from a gunshot is smart, but on the other hand, why are you running away, Bryan? Hmm?) as she’s running down. They agree the shot came from the kitchen, they go to check it out but don’t find anything. Including the gun. Which they just left in the kitchen for anyone to pick up, I guess? So someone picked it up, shocker. Everyone eventually gathers in the kitchen except for Rick (asleep? too drunk to hear the shot? something else?), and even Dusty shows back up now. C.C. wants to go outside in the rain to look for Rick, but the raincoat she was going to borrow from Bryan is missing. Somehow this leads to the conclusion that Rick took the raincoat and left? Okay. Jeff looks outside to see if Rick also stole the van, and then we get the old tried and true, “Hey, take a look at this!” cliche. C.C. looks outside and begins to scream and we have yet another cliffhanger ending. C.C.’s not the only one who’s going to be screaming if this trend continues.
Rick’s dead, facedown in the mud, wearing Bryan’s raincoat, with a bullet in the back. Are you shocked? I’m shocked. Yes. Shocked. Dusty plugs the phone back in, the cops are called, and in an effort to cover his ass that was conspicuously absent at the beginning of the book, Dusty runs around the house destroying evidence of the murder game. Except for the Kewpie doll that Jeff refuses to hand over. He is both a good little cop’s son and a terrible friend. I guess. I don’t really care enough to work out how I feel about any of this. But everyone here is a terrible friend anyway. Bryan keeps freaking out that his dad is going to kill him, and I guess not a single one of his “friends” has taken the time to notice that Bryan’s dad is an abusive garbage person and Bryan has legit reason to be afraid of him? Friendship is fuckin’ magic, y’all.
The cops get there, question everyone, and not a single one of them even blinks when they find out the thirty-year-old dead guy was this sixteen-year-old’s “boyfriend.” To protect and serve, my ass, fuckin’ rape apologist motherfuckers.
The next day we find out that C.C. told the cops the truth about everything going down at the murder party (fun fact: for the longest time I thought this book was actually called “Murder Party”), which was actually . . . really smart of her, although it doesn’t win her any points with Meg, whose sole concern is making sure her boyfriend doesn’t look guilty? Sigh. Meg decides to go to C.C.’s house to yell at her instead of continuing to yell at her on the phone, because she’s afraid the phones are tapped. Pretty sure that’s not how that works, but whatever Meg. Anyway, Meg is a real brat to her mom while she’s trying to leave the house, and we find out that her full name is Margaret. All this time I’ve been assuming “Meg” was short for “Megan,” so fuck me, I guess.
At C.C.’s house, apparently C.C.’s mom is worried that C.C. killed Rick, but clearly unconcerned with the whole statutory rape thing, so that’s some stellar parenting right there. Also, for some unfathomable reason, Rick had C.C. down as his next of kin, so she now has a box of his belongings from the country club. I . . . what? Next of kin? Really? I was with my boyfriend for over a year before he put me down as his emergency contact; how the fuck long has this creep been victimizing this child?! I mean, I know it’s a plot convenience, but fucking hell. So, the super important things in this cardboard box of belongings that we just had to get into Meg’s hands somehow include a videotape of Rick competing in some tennis competition at the country club the day of Elizabeth’s death, a shit ton of fake IDs, some aspirin, and athlete’s foot medication. Guess which of these things is important. I bet you figure it out before Meg does. We also find out that shortly after Elizabeth’s death Rick was suddenly flush with cash, when he was usually broke. Meg thinks this means someone hired him as a hitman to kill Elizabeth, which is . . . uh. Not where I would have gone with this evidence, but you do you, Meg. Obviously C.C. hates this theory, and there’s a lot more “crazy” and “Dusty’s gone nuts” thrown around, and for some reason Meg thinks this is a good time to mention Elizabeth’s mysterious shopping friend, Hilary. Whom she thinks was really Roxy in disguise because Roxy won a ventriloquist contest as a kid and therefore knows how to change her voice and . . . you know something? At this point I would sell the soul of my firstborn if the killer turns out to be a possessed ventriloquist’s dummy. (Future me assures you that nobody’s soul was sold. Dammit.)
The next day at school, Meg finds out from Dusty that the police found the ad inviting everyone to a murder, and they suspect him of killing Rick. Because no shit, Dusty. See, you had to be all dramatic instead of just calling people to invite them to your party like a normal fucking human being, but I digress. Hey, guess what, the gun that shot Rick is the same gun that shot Elizabeth! Dusty thought it was unloaded because the “clip” (calling it a clip is a pet peeve of mine, please refer to it as a magazine, kthanx) was empty, but lo and behold, there was a bullet in the chamber. Um. So. I can buy that the cops gave the Ellis family back their gun after Elizabeth’s case was closed. Really, I can. But they gave it back with a round still in the chamber? No. No no no no no oh my god no. They would have fired it to test the striations and make sure it really was the gun that killed Elizabeth (guns don’t kill people, lack of logic in terrible books kills people!), and then they would have returned it unloaded. For there to be a round in the chamber, someone in the Ellis family would have had to deliberately rack one into the chamber. Period. I hate this book; are we almost done?
So there’s a lot more ableism and nobody acknowledging C.C. and Rick’s relationship as predatory, but honestly I just can’t be arsed anymore.
Meg goes to Dusty’s house after school. He offers her “soda pop.” I’m convinced this story actually takes place in mirror universe Mayberry. Maybe Opie is the killer. Makes as much sense as anything else in this book. They talk about the mystery girl again, turns out Dusty only saw her in passing a few times and never really spoke to her. Could be Roxy, could be some other weird girl, and hey, Elizabeth always had weird friends she was trying to “fix”, for instance nobody could figure out what she saw in Bryan, and hey remember this girl Sue-Sue Menken who shaved her head, wow what a weirdo, right?! I mean, that’s worse than wearing tight jeans and looking like a pirate! All Dusty can tell Meg about the girl is that she and Elizabeth left the house one night in heavy makeup and fishnet stockings and were dressed like western dance hall girls. I doubt any 17-year-old boy would use this terminology, especially since he couldn’t even come up with the term “fishnet stockings” without Meg’s help, but fine. Whatever. Maybe Miss Kitty is his fantasy woman. Gunsmoke is hip with the kids, right? Anyway, Meg gets Rick’s things from C.C. so she can Nancy Drew it up, and starts asking around about anyone seeing Elizabeth with the weird mystery girl.
Next day at school, we get an annoying POV from the killer, thinking about how Meg has to die now that she’s getting close to finding out the truth. Sure, why not. People are laughing at Meg’s amateur sleuthing, thanks to C.C. Damn, girl, and you were the one I hated the least. Now, I don’t think you want to know what I’m imagining those “C”s standing for.
After school, Meg dicks around with Rick’s stuff, tasting the aspirin, sniffing the athlete’s foot medication (lol omg wtf r u doing r u ok Meg?!), before finally putting the fucking videotape in the fucking VCR and watching it, my God Meg, how clueless are you?! It’s a goddamn videotape that shows the Ellis house in the background on the day Elizabeth died omg omg omg why were you wasting time licking aspirin you twit?!
After finally WATCHING THE GODDAMN FUCKING TAPE, Meg sees Bryan’s car in the Ellis’ driveway. Finally. Goddammit. Bryan killed Elizabeth. Meg calls Dusty, he comes over, they call the police station instead of 911 because . . . reasons? Plot contrivance? Yeah, let’s go with that one. Because Meg has to be put on hold. With hold music playing. It is specifically stated in the text that hold music was playing. Someone knocks on the door, Dusty goes to answer, Meg hits the button for speaker phone and hangs the receiver up, then turns around and surprise! Bryan is in the doorway pointing a gun at her! He knocked Dusty out! Uh-oh!
It’s finally here. The stupidest motive in all the teen thrillers I read through all my teen years.
Rocky Horror. It’s Rocky Horror. Bryan was the weird friend “Hilary.” He and Elizabeth would dress up on weekends and drive to Raleigh to watch Rocky Horror. He tried to break up with Elizabeth, she freaked out and got a gun, then told him if he broke up with her, she would tell his dad about them dressing up and going to see Rocky Horror. This would apparently make Bryan’s dad freak out about Bryan “embarrassing” him. I . . . just . . . what? I mean, so what? Big deal? It’s Rocky Horror? FOX did a network television remake, fucking Glee did a Rocky Horror episode for fuck sake! It’s . . . not that big a deal? Bryan killed his girlfriend to keep his dad from finding out that he went to a movie. I mean, I get that Bryan’s dad is probably a hardcore conservative, probably homophobic and transphobic as fuck, but . . . dude, you killed your girlfriend so that your dad wouldn’t find out you saw a movie. What. The. Fuck.
And then he killed Rick because Rick was blackmailing him, and now he’s going to kill Meg because she’s on to him, and Dusty because Dusty just happens to be there. But instead of shooting them both and making it look like a murder-suicide (which I think is the more logical thing to do, but then again I’m not going around killing people to cover up the fact that I know how to do the Time Warp, so what do I know?), Bryan’s plan is to set the kitchen on fire and make it look like a cooking accident. Except he’s talking about how Dusty will be blamed for everything, so . . . it’s almost like the logic of this plan is flawed.
Okay, bored now. Bryan slips in the cooking oil he spilled on the floor, Meg hits him with a frying pan (not even joking, hand to God), the police show up because they heard everything over the speakerphone (why didn’t Bryan hear the hold music that must have been coming through the speaker? or the dispatcher coming back on the line?), Dusty’s okay because head injuries are never serious or anything, and they all lived happily ever after.
We get a wrap-up chapter with C.C. now looking like a gypsy instead of a pirate (so, racial slurs instead of Disney attractions? yeah, that’s not better), talk about how Bryan must be “crazy” to be willing to kill four people to keep his dad from being mad at him . . . and now I feel like I have to point out that BRYAN IS AN ABUSED CHILD, YOU ASSHOLES! Some friends! Seriously, did none of you cockwaffles ever stop to wonder why Bryan was so afraid of his dad? (Look, it’s still a ridiculous motive for murder. I’m not taking that back. But come on, these kids are supposed to be his friends and they still just think he’s a wimp for “being under his dad’s thumb”? This is how not to be a good friend.) Whatever, C.C.’s birthday is coming up, she wants to have a party but she assures everyone that it won’t be a murder party, and everyone at the table bursts into applause, prompting everyone else in the mall food court to stare at them and wonder what the fuck these assholes are doing, because spontaneous applause in public places is just not a thing that people do. Unless they’re characters in terrible teen thrillers.
I actually really like the idea of a murder mystery scavenger hunt. It’s a fun and creepy idea, but this story just didn’t do it justice. When I was younger I thought this book was just okay, but now . . . there’s nothing okay about any of this. I need to pour some bleach into my brain to try to erase this whole unpleasant foray into . . . whatever the fuck this trainwreck was.