Recap #11 – Slay Bells by Jo Gibson


Title: Slay Bells

Author: Jo Gibson (aka Joanne Fluke)

Published: December 1994

Tagline: Tis the season . . . to die!

Description: Santa Claus is coming . . . to kill! The just-opened Crossroads Mall is the place to shop this Christmas season. Diana Connelly and her friends are having such a fabulous time that they don’t even mind the sudden snowstorm that traps them there.

Until the accidents start to happen.

Killing off Diana’s friends . . . one by one.

Accidents that aren’t really accidents at all. Because hiding in the shadows of the Crossroads Mall is a twisted killer with a Christmas list of his own.

He’s checking it twice . . .

To find out who’s been naughty or nice.

And Diana . . . you’ve been very naughty this year.

Nostalgia Time!

That description is, um. Not exactly right? It’s the day before the mall’s grand opening, Diana and her friends are employees of the mall, and they get trapped there when they let other people use their cars to evacuate. The description makes it sound like they’re idiot kids who want to keep shopping during a blizzard. That’s probably not important, but inaccuracy on the back cover description always bugs the hell out of me.

This book was published in December 1994, so I was thirteen when it came out, and I probably read it right around its release. I didn’t remember it very well, which was probably a good thing. This book is a weird combination of absolutely ludicrous events and plot contrivances, and also just not a lot happening. And I’d forgotten who Killer Santa was, but it wasn’t hard to figure it out from process of elimination. This author writes a series of mystery novels for adults under her real name, Joanne Fluke, and I’ve never read them, but I hope they’re more complex and interesting than this. Also, this author has a penchant for lots of exclamation marks and commas in weird places. It’s really noticeable and annoying.


The book opens with a prologue from Killer Santa’s POV. He’s (that’s not a spoiler – male pronouns are used for Killer Santa, cutting our suspect list in half. Way to build a mystery there, Jo.) in the mall’s employee lounge, thinking about his grandparents. See, his grandparents used to own this land, but the mall corporate people swooped in after Grandma died and took advantage of Grandpa, who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Now it’s two weeks before Christmas in Minnesota, the day before the mall opens, and Killer Santa is bitter about the land he’d planned to inherit being stolen away from him. He gives us some exposition about the Crossroads Mall being off the highway between three towns, and something about local boy-turned-Hollywood-star Shane Winter coming in for the mall’s grand opening. Hey, remember when that was a thing?! Some celebrity coming in to cut the ribbon at a mall opening? It’s so very 1990s.

Killer Santa feels sorry for himself for a few pages before letting us know that the only way he would ever get his Grandpa’s farm land back is if the mall fails and the property is auctioned off to the highest bidder. Then the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” comes on the overhead speakers, and Killer Santa notices for the very first time ever how creepy and vengeful the Santa in the song is. Well, nothing good can come from this, right? Killer Santa gets the bright idea to turn himself into, well, Killer Santa and punish everyone who hurt his grandparents. Considering this song is the impetus for every fucking thing that happens in this book, I’m not sure why the title doesn’t relate in some way to that, instead of sleigh bells. I mean, sure it makes a neat pun, but the song that starts playing incessantly through my head when I see the title of the book is not “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which is the song that plays incessantly throughout the book.

In chapter one, we meet our protagonist, Diana Connelly (curly strawberry blonde hair, freckles, blue eyes) and her college roommate, Cindy Swanson (tiny, fierce, secretly soft and gooey on the inside). They’re both working at the mall as elves, along with Sue Langer, who is the head cheerleader at their school and I guess Head Elf at the mall. I swear everyone working at this mall is a college student and they all know each other. I find this hard to believe, along with the idea that all the mall employees would have to be there the day before the grand opening, but okay.

Diana and Cindy have some conversation about how Cindy puts on a bitch front because she’s ugly and she’d rather have people think she doesn’t get asked out because she’s a bitch rather than because she’s ugly, and . . . this is terrible. I can’t even bring myself to get into how terrible this is. Then they go on to talk about, since they’re “speaking of bitches,” Cindy’s brother Jay’s ex-girlfriend, Heather. Heather is a Mean Girl who dumped Jay when he was down but now that he’s back on top again, she wants him back. So she’s delightful. She’s also got a job as the mall’s Christmas Angel, thanks to her rich daddy’s connections. Apparently the Christmas Angel gets to sit on a golden pillow next to Santa, while meanwhile the elves have to skip the length of the mall over and over. Um. Sure.

The girls vow to keep Heather away from Jay, then move on to talk about Shane Winter coming to the mall to rehearse before the grand opening. Apparently he’s a singer now? This book can’t decide if he’s an actor or a singer. I guess he’s both. I’m getting Elvis Presley vibes here. He’s also Diana’s former next-door neighbor, and she’s madly in love with him. Oh, boy. No guy she’s ever dated has ever lived up to the fantasy she has of Shane. Because, you know, that’s healthy.

Jay shows up while Diana is daydreaming about meeting Shane again and living happily ever after with him, and Jay is obviously into her. But Diana couldn’t give a fuck, because fantasizing about famous people you lived next door to when you were thirteen is so much more fulfilling. Jay tells the girls that Sue wants them in the gift wrapping booth, and Diana is shocked when she finds out that there’s more than one guy hired as Santa. Seriously? Why is that a surprise? You can’t have one Santa pulling a 12+ hour shift seven days a week, you ninny.

They get to the gift wrapping booth and meet up with Sue, Nan Eldridge, and Betty Woo, because only people they know from college exist in this world. They’re all supposed to be wrapping up three hundred little stuffed frogs for “the kids.” The frogs are terribly and cheaply made, presumably because they’re made in Hong Kong and shipped in a box that says “fargile” instead of “fragile.” Then Nan asks if maybe “fargile” is the Hong Kongese word for frog, provoking much hilarity because she doesn’t know that Hong Kong is part of China and not its own country. Nan then asks Betty what the Chinese word for frog is, and Betty hilariously tells her it’s “flog.” Now, this is a presumably Chinese character saying this, but she’s written by a white woman, so . . . I’m not super okay with this. It’s not even that funny, but it cracks everyone in the book up for a solid five minutes. Sigh. Even worse. I don’t think I understood this “joke” the first time I read this as a kid, so please: a moment of silence for innocent 13-year-old me.

Oh, hey, it’s time for Killer Santa POV again! This time, he’s thinking about who he’s going to punish first, and why. It’s a “she,” and she deserves to be punished because she got Grandpa to agree to pledge money for a children’s play area. Grandpa forgot all about doing this, then tore up the bills when they came, resulting in interest and collection agencies and money being taken out of the estate by a probate judge and given to the mall. None of this makes any sense to me. First, since when do fundraising drives send you bills then come after you with a collection agency if you don’t make good? And second, isn’t probate court something that happens after the owner of the estate dies? Grandpa is still alive and in a nursing home! This all sounds like total bullshit to me. (But some of Killer Santa’s reasons for punishing others are even more hilarious, so . . . just you wait.)

Meanwhile, Diana and Jay have finished carrying all the wrapped packages to the Christmas tree in the center of the mall, and realized they have three hundred and one presents instead of the three hundred they’re supposed to have. Worried that one of the kids will open an empty demonstration box tomorrow night at the grand opening (I still have no idea if these are just random kids who show up at the mall, or like underprivileged kids, or what), they go to retrieve the odd present out. Luckily Diana remembers what it looks like, and also luckily, Killer Santa had the foresight to use different wrapping paper than the other three hundred packages. Diana and Jay have a romantic moment under the (apparently fucking giant) Christmas tree, involving him braiding tinsel into her hair and low-key planning a New Year’s Eve party together. They find the package and see the tag on it says “To Sue From Santa” and Diana wonders if it is for Sue Langer. Well of course it fucking is, Diana. She’s the only Sue you know, and there are no unrelated events in this book! Haven’t you figured that out yet?

Sue is passing by and hears her name, and when she sees the present she gets excited and embarrassed because she thinks it’s an engagement ring from her boyfriend, Ronnie. Sue of course decides to sneak-open it, but when she does all that’s inside is a piece of paper with the words “You better watch out, you better not cry” written on it. Everyone is confused until, fortuitously, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” starts playing on the loudspeakers. Diana points out in shock that those are the same words on the piece of paper, like OMG! They listen to the entire first verse before Jay agrees that those are, in fact, the lyrics to the song. Excuse me while I knock myself unconscious facepalming.

Sue leaves, Diana and Jay have some flirty banter, then Heather comes across them and tries to strong-arm Jay into going to lunch with her. He blows her off, much to Diana’s delight. Yeah, but you’re still madly in love with the celebrity and have no time for real boys, right Di? Heather tells Diana that Sue needs her for a costume fitting, and Diana is all like, Uh, Sue was literally just here and didn’t say a word about it, but she decides to play it safe anyway and go to the costume-fitting area. Or somewhere. I can’t make heads or tails of how this mall is set up. I’ve worked in a mall, and none of what’s being described makes any sense in terms of how a mall works.

Surprise, surprise, Sue wasn’t looking for Diana at all! Oh, Heather. You rascal, you. Sue is happy to see Diana, though, and puts her to work brushing the Santa costumes (whut), and this is when we find out that the three guys besides Jay who are playing Santa are Dave Atkin, Hal Bremmer, and Jay’s BFF and roommate, Larry Fischer. Larry has an out-of-town girlfriend and runs up the phone bill every month calling long distance, even though he calls at night after the rates go down. I wonder if he was on the MCI Friends & Family plan? Oh, 1990s, I love you.

A film crew from the local news station shows up to do a fluff piece on the mall and Santa and the elves, so the girls have to hurry and get in their elf costumes, even though Heather had bitchily told them that the news was doing a piece on her and her alone. Cindy jokes that maybe they couldn’t get her on film, because isn’t there some old superstition that says you can’t take a picture of the devil? According to the Google rabbit hole I went down, no Cindy, there is not. You’re thinking of vampires. And fuck you for making me go down a Google rabbit hole.

The reporter, Tracy Thomas, interviews Santa (Jay) about the mall and the grand opening, and I have to wonder how slow a news day this has to be for a mall opening to be a main story on the ten o’clock news. Anyway, we find out that there’s a sweepstakes where someone can win two snowmobiles that are on display in the mall. Hmm, are these Chekhov’s snowmobiles? Keep them in mind; I’m sure they’ll become important later. We also learn that the mall has twenty-four stores opening tomorrow, and fifteen more on the first. So, thirty-nine stores total? That . . . doesn’t seem like a lot, considering how huge this mall is described as being. Are there several dozen empty shop areas, then? The small mall in my city has over eighty stores, and that’s not even counting all the little kiosks and food court restaurants. I can only conclude that this mall is a lot of empty space. Oh, there’s also going to be valet parking and an actual sleigh used as a shuttle. But . . . why do you need a shuttle if you have valet parking? The whole point of valet parking is that you step out of your car right there at the entrance! Does Jo Gibson not understand any of the concepts she’s writing about? (Also, I’ve worked as a valet, and it sucks. Tip your valets well, folks.)

We finally find out who the kids the presents are meant for are! (That was an awkward sentence. I apologize for its awkwardness.) Turns out there’s going to be a tree lighting ceremony at 8 o’clock the next night, and the presents will be handed out to the kids who show up to see it. Well, the first three hundred kids, anyway. Fuck that three hundred and first kid, I guess. They finish the interview, and Heather has her panties all in a bunch because they didn’t interview her like she thought they were going to. Aren’t spoiled brats so much fun?

No one gives a fuck about Heather because Shane Winter chooses that moment to show up. (Winter is coming!) The news crew descends on him like vultures, and Cindy waits til they’re rolling camera to shove Diana forward and ask Shane if he remembers her. Because Cindy is kind of a dick, but she’s my kind of dick. Shane does remember Diana (he calls her “Little Red”) and tells amusing stories about her ruining his love life by hiding in the bushes and spying on him and his dates. Um, this is kind of cute and funny if Diana was a little kid at the time, but we find out she was around thirteen, which makes it . . . well, pretty creepy and weird. That’s too old not to know better! What is wrong with you, Diana!

Shane agrees to film a segment of him singing “Blue Christmas” (oh, god, I was right – they’re setting him up as an Elvis-type performer!) to a beautiful girl, and of course Heather volunteers to be that beautiful girl. I know she’s bitchy and all set up to be a villain, but I really have to admire the lady balls on this chick. Heather knows her own worth and ain’t nobody gonna tell her different! Someone has to run to get a blanket to mute the piano, and Diana finds out that Shane always lip-syncs his concerts. Diana is alarmed, wondering if he’s pulling a Milli Vanilli, and I burst out laughing at the reference. That reference does not age well. Hey, kids, does that reference translate to 2017? I feel like it was dated even back in 1994.

I’m bored with Shane, so I’m just gonna hit the highlights here. Fortunately Nan studies vocal music, and Cindy took six years of piano, so they can confirm that Shane is neither playing the piano nor singing. So, total Milli Vanilli-ville, then? To make matters worse, Shane slides an arm around Reporter Tracy behind his girlfriend’s back and whispers something that makes her blush. Hey, guess who reads lips? Betty Woo, that’s who! Convenient, no? She’s able to tell Diana that Shane propositioned Tracy and told her his hotel room number and told her if she’s as good as she looks, he’ll give her an exclusive. Something tells me he’s talking about his dick. Something else tells me his dick probably isn’t all that exclusive. Cindy then feels the need to rub Diana’s nose in confirm Shane’s sleaziness by finding out from his handler that he’s staying in the hotel Betty lip-read he was. Because if you’re going to shatter your friend’s lifelong fantasy, you need to shatter it with a fucking sledgehammer! And, just like that, Diana is over Shane and never thinks of him again. Seriously. I’ve never seen anyone get over their lifelong obsession so fast. It’s kind of impressive, and also maybe a little sociopathic. But then Jay shows up and asks Diana out for a burger, because we desperately need a love story in this book about a Killer Santa with ridiculous motives.

Cindy and Paul the cameraman (who is also a college student, although not at their school) run up to Jay and Diana to gather them up to watch the tape of the mall news shenanigans, which is already edited and ready to go on the air tonight because there’s an editing bay in the news truck. Cindy tells Diana that the best part of the whole thing is that Heather looks fat on camera because she was wearing white, which is something you never do on camera. Yup, Heather looks like a big fat fatty, because that’s obviously the worst thing that could ever happen in the history of ever. While the girls are crowing over Heather’s appearance of fatness, two highway patrol cars pull up to the mall with their lights flashing. They’ve come to warn everyone that there’s basically a blizzard moving in and everyone needs to evacuate the mall. Only people with 4-wheel drive, snow tires, or snow chains are going to be allowed out on the road, which means a lot of people are going to be cramming into a few cars, since it’s been a mild winter so far and hardly anyone has switched to snow tires, and no one has put chains on yet. This is a lot of boring bullshit, so I’ll speed through it. In the end, our core group of the four Santas – Jay, Larry, Hal, and Dave – and Cindy, Sue, Diana, and Heather end up staying and turning their keys over to people who need to get home worse than they do. (Amusingly, the book forgets to list Dave, claiming that only seven of the college kids are staying, even though it was previously stated that he was staying and he shows up on the very next page. Yay for continuity!) I have issues with this whole “turning your car keys over to strangers or at least people you probably don’t really know all that well,” but I guess ol’ Jo here needed some way to trap these kids here. I also doubt that these eight random mall employees would be allowed to stay there without some sort of authority figure to oversee them, or that the cops would even allow them to strand themselves there for who knows how long, but . . . remember what I said earlier about the ridiculous plot contrivances in this book? Yeah.

The kids all decide to eat at the Crossroads Pub (because there’s a freaking pub in this tiny/huge mall) because Dave’s dad conveniently owns it, and someone else mentions there are beds for everyone in the furniture store. There’s a furniture store in this mall? My mall had a mattress store at one point, but we find out later that this is a full-on Slumberland-size furniture store. In a mall. I wasn’t aware that was a thing, but sure. I’m rolling with it.

While they’re fucking about in the pub, they hear pounding coming from the loading dock, and lo and behold, it’s Paul! He came back to the mall with his video camera and shit, claiming to the news station that he could do a human interest story on the employees trapped at the mall. He really just came back because he’s into Cindy. You know, despite her being so ugly that boys don’t ask her out.

We get another Killer Santa POV after everyone has gone to bed in the furniture store, and this time he’s in the communications office, disabling all the phone lines and thinking about how smart he is and how great his plan is. He’s going to kill everyone in the mall and make it look like horrible accidents, and then no one will want to come to the mall and all the big chains will pull out, leaving empty spaces with no revenue in this huge complex. Once again, if there are less than 40 stores opening in this “huge” complex, then this mall is either tiny, or it already has dozens of empty shop spaces. Forty stores is not a lot at all, especially considering how huge this mall is described to be over and over. Anyway, Killer Santa is an idiot if he thinks it’s that easy to kill a mall. The mall corporation probably won’t let these deaths be publicized, and even if they do, has Santa not heard of the 24-hour news cycle? People will forget all about the “accidents” as soon as the next big news story hits. This is a terrible plan, and maybe that’s the point so that we can marvel at how crazy Killer Santa is – and that presents its own, new, set of issues.

Back in the furniture store, Sue can’t sleep. It’s here that we find out they couldn’t get into the communications room to shut off the Christmas music (Killer Santa stole the only set of keys from the security room, which I guess wasn’t locked because why would anyone lock the security room) so they’ve been forced to listen to the same five fucking Christmas songs over and over this entire time. Personally, I would break that fucking door down and set that tape on fire, but this is coming from a girl who has worked retail during the Christmas season and would happily murder anyone who tries to sing “Jingle Bell Rock” at me, so . . . my opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of the general public. But keep in mind that throughout the events of this recap, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is basically playing on a damn loop.

So. Sue can’t sleep so she goes to the pub and pours herself some beer to get sleepy, but she really just gets drunk and thinks about her boyfriend, Ronnie, and how she tried to call him earlier but he didn’t answer. Somewhere in this drunken meditation, Sue decides that Ronnie is coming to get her in her uncle’s snow plow. Don’t you love drunk logic? Sue is so convinced that she walks out of the double doors at the mall entrance to wait for him. So, this is a bad idea, right? Well, the cold starts to sober Sue up a little, and she realizes this is probably a bad idea, but then she hears sleigh bells and looks up at the overhang where six heavy planters hold miniature Christmas trees. Someone in a Santa suit is up there, and Sue thinks he must be drunk too, because of the way he lurches against one of the planters. I’m sure that’s it, Sue, and he’s not actually trying to shove it off the edge and kill you or anything.

Oh, wait, that’s exactly what he’s doing, and he succeeds. RIP, Sue.

Pointless Killer Santa POV time! He thinks it’s hilarious that Sue is dead, and sneaks back into the furniture store while everyone else is asleep. As he starts to fall asleep, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” starts playing over the loudspeakers. I’m sure glad we wasted a page and a half on that!

In the morning, Jay wakes Diana up to help him make coffee because he can’t figure out the coffee machines in the restaurant. Not the pub, mind you. The restaurant. The restaurant on the second floor of the mall. I’m assuming it’s a large, sit-down place and not a counter in the food court, too. This mall is ridiculous. They make their coffee and Diana decides to call her cousin to let her know she’s snowed in and won’t make it to her baby shower, but of course the phones are dead. They try the bank of payphones, then decide to try the payphones outside the mall, because they think those might be on a different line? Sigh. Of course Jay spots Sue’s corpse as soon as they’re done checking those phones, and blocks Diana from seeing her, telling her to go wake everyone up and get the guys out here with blankets. But make sure the girls stay inside and don’t see what’s happened, because we gotta protect the fragile little wimmin from seeing anything that might upset their delicate constitutions, amirite?

Over the course of the day, the kids check every single phone in the mall to see if they can find a working one – that’s apparently over 300 phones in the mall. I’m not sure that math adds up since there are only 40 stores in this huuuuuuuuge mall. It seems like the author is just pulling numbers out of her ass. When night falls, the group gets (steals?) a tray of deli meat and cheese from the grocery store . . . . the grocery store. In the mall. What even is this mall? I understand if it’s like a specialty grocery store, but it’s made out like this is a fucking Kroger/Safeway/Food Lion/whatever your regional big chain grocery store is. I . . . sigh. Anyway. Diana starts asking what the boys did with Sue’s body, and after some sheepish hemming and hawing the boys admit that they brought her inside and put her in the meat cooler in the grocery store. Tampering with crime scenes for fun and profit!

Oh. Heather is freaked out by what Paul did. What did Paul do? He videotaped the whole thing outside so that the police would have a record of the crime accident crime scene. Or so he could rewatch it and gloat because he’s really Killer Santa? Well, no, because thanks to the opening Killer Santa prologue, we know that the killer is a mall employee. I can’t figure out if Paul is supposed to be a red herring or not, because he really seems like the best suspect if not for the fact that the author fucking told us from page one that the killer is one of the Santas. Way to build suspense there, Jo/Joanne.

The kids all wonder what the fuck Sue was doing outside in the first place, and Dave points out that he found the remnants of her drinking binge, so she probably wasn’t thinking too clearly. Fair point, but it doesn’t explain how the planter came loose and fell on her. I think the general consensus is the wind blew it over. In her mind, Diana leaps to the conclusion that it wasn’t an accident and Sue must have been murdered!!!!!111!!! but she keeps that thought to herself for now.

Well, it’s been ten pages, so it’s time for another fascinating Killer Santa POV! He’s thinking about his next victim. This time it’s a guy who, five years ago (!!!) slid off the road in the rain outside Grandpa and Grandma’s house, and Grandpa spent an hour helping him get his car out of the ditch while his date talked to Grandma and copied down recipes from her. Priceless recipes. When they got the car out of the ditch, the guy insisted that they leave, even though the girl was still trying to write down these recipes. He told her that if she was so interested in recipes, he would buy her a cookbook. Well, you’ve convinced me, Santa. He deserves to die. To make matters worse, Grandpa got pneumonia from being out in the cold rain helping this guy. Psst, hey Killer Santa? The cold doesn’t cause pneumonia! That’s an old wives’ tale! You’re obviously not a med student! Or anyone with an ounce of common sense! (Oh, wait, I keep forgetting – Killer Santa is irrational and craaaaaazy. Fuck this book.)

Oh, speaking of crazy, on the next page we have Diana worried that Jay thinks she’s crazy because she just told him her theory that Sue was murdered. Okay. He doesn’t think she’s crazy, but thinks they should let the cops sort it out once the roads are clear, because they’re the experts. Ha. Ha ha. Hahahahahaha! Okay. There’s also a lovely story about how getting drunk makes you do uncharacteristic things, like the straight-laced guy they knew who got drunk, then got naked and jumped in the college pool, then pulled the girls’ swim coach in and kissed her when she threatened to call the police. Moral of the story? Anyone who commits sexual assault while drunk gets a pass because alcohol turns decent people into sexual predators, rather than simply lowering their inhibitions to do the things that are already in their heads. Yuck. I didn’t think I hated this book until I started recapping it.

Jay kisses Diana on the forehead (in addition to having kissed her on the tip of the nose during their romantic interlude under the Christmas tree the day before) and Diana is flustered but doesn’t want to read too much into it. Diana, the boy is obviously into you. Friends don’t normally kiss each other on the nose, that’s weird. Anyway, Jay is going to meet up with Heather to talk about something, and Diana is bummed. She runs into Cindy and Paul, who are also obviously into each other, and goes to get her sweater to give them some time alone. Oh. I thought there was a point to this, but there’s not. There’s actually an infuriating amount of pointless filler in this book. Moving on.

Paul has his camera and “over a dozen one-hour tapes” with him, which doesn’t seem like a lot considering he’s planning on taping their every move to try to sell it to the station as a feature. They suggest titling it “Snowbound Seven” even though there are eight of them, because Paul will be behind the camera instead of in front of it. So, fuck Sue, I guess? We’ve gotten over her death so fast that we’re not even acting like she was ever here? Cool. Stay classy, guys. They need a shot that shows how alone they are in this huuuuuuuuge mall, so they all grab a package and sit under the Christmas tree, looking sad.

Blah blah blah, Killer Santa POV that gives us the impression Paul might be Santa even though we know that’s not possible, blah blah bullshit.

After Paul is done taping, Diana realizes that the package she’s holding is different from the ones “for the kids,” and furthermore it has a tag on it that says “To Dave, From Santa.” How convenient that she picked it up. What if she hadn’t? What if it had sat there forever, never to be picked up and opened? Would Killer Santa still kill Dave if he never opened his present? All moot points, because this book runs on convenience and plot contrivance. Dave grabs the package out of Jay and Diana’s hands, despite being told that he might not even be the Dave it’s meant for (haha yeah right, like coincidence even exists in this book), and rips it open to find another note – the next two lines of the non-titular song Killer Santa loves. “Better not pout; I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is comin’ to town.

Dave thinks that Heather’s the culprit, because apparently they went to high school together and when he asked her to prom she told him she was waiting for some other guy to ask her, then told him to stop pouting because it makes him look even uglier. Damn, Heather is fucking brutal! She claims now that she did him a favor, since the other boy did end up asking her and she would have just had to break the date with Dave if she had accepted, then protests that he really does look uglier when he pouts and she was just being honest, gosh! Is Sweet Valley missing a twin? Because Heather is like Jessica Wakefield cranked up to 11. Then Heather accuses Dave of just being mad at her because she wouldn’t kiss him last night. Wait, what? When did that happen? Also, Cindy tells us early on that Dave is going with some gorgeous girl in the drama department, so . . . what the hell, Dave?

Diana jumps in to say that she’s sure Heather didn’t leave the present because it’s just not like her to be sneaky – I have my doubts about that. Jay says it couldn’t have been Heather, and she starts gushing all over him until he reveals that he’s not vouching for her character – she has long nails that would have torn the delicate foil wrapping paper if she had tried to wrap the box. I think Jay seriously underestimates the ability of women to adapt to performing tasks with long nails, but sure. Let’s all just go along with Jo Gibson’s apparently massive internalized misogyny.

Heather starts pointing the (long-nailed) finger at everyone else in the room, until Dave apologizes to keep the peace. Heather also apologizes, claiming she’s going to try to be nice or else someone here might kill her! Ah-haha, it’s funny because it’s true!

Talk turns to the movie theater and the movies that were supposed to show tonight, and finally there’s something in this mall that I can believe. Movie theaters in malls are pretty common, at least. The girls are bummed because they wanted to see the new Tom Cruise movie, Show-off. I’m pretty sure it’s just two hours of Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah Winfrey’s couch. Paul apparently knows everything about everything, and leads them to the movie theater where all the projectors and everything required to run a movie theater are all completely automated and on timers, so they can watch all the movies they want to! I don’t really know anything about running a movie theater, but this set-up seems unlikely. Especially in 1994.

They all watch the Tom Cruise garbage (can I just pretend it’s Top Gun? I love Top Gun. I’m going to pretend it’s Top Gun.) together, then go out to the lobby, figure out how to make popcorn, then split up for the next movies – Cindy and Paul together, Jay and Diana together, and everyone else on their own. Jay and Diana have some cute/annoying as fuck confusion involving Hershey’s kisses versus actual kisses, and then Jay sexually extorts Diana into kissing him so he won’t tell everyone and embarrass her. I guess Jo Gibson thinks this shit is cute or something, but this shit isn’t fucking cute.

Dave is in the theater showing some slasher flick, thinking about Heather and let me tell you, it is some gross friendzoned bullshit. (Are we sure the author isn’t actually a man?) Basically, he’s planning to be there to support Heather after Jay shoots her down, and hopes he can move in on her, give her a shoulder to cry on, and she’ll experience transference (Dave is a psych major – how terrifying is that?) and eventually bang him. You know what? I’m kinda cheering Killer Santa on with this one. *shrug*

Speaking of Killer Santa, here he comes, menacing Dave in his theater! Dave tries to guess who is in the Santa costume, but Santa shakes his head with every name Dave rattles off. Because there’s no way a sketchy, menacing Santa is going to lie to you, Dave! Dave’s not that smart, though, and convinces himself that this is some random stranger that has wandered into the mall and dressed up as Santa to threaten him. Because that makes sense. Just as Dave is starting to panic, Killer Santa turns and leaves the theater. I’m not sure why he thinks Dave will follow him, but follow him he does, because Dave is not smart. Actually, it’s because he’s worried that Killer Santa is going to go after Heather, and he can’t let anything happen to the woman he loves! Gag.

Dave goes out to the lobby and looks for a weapon by the refreshment counter, finally coming up with a hot dog skewer. But when he looks up, Killer Santa is there! Santa backs Dave into a puddle on the floor, then he falls into the popcorn machine where he gets electrocuted because Santa has rigged something up with wires and extra current or something. Anyway, Dave’s dead, guys.

When everyone’s movies let out, they find the lobby pitch black, because Killer Santa left the lights out when the electrocution knocked them out because he wanted a big reveal of the body. Killer Santa is a drama queen. The group finally find the light switch, but they can’t find Dave. They do smell something like burning hair, though, and go to check if the popcorn machine ran out of oil. Jay finds Dave’s body and tells Hal to take the girls out by the Christmas tree. Because, once again, we can’t let the delicate ladies gaze upon a corpse for fear that they will dissolve into hysterical puddles of goo on the floor.

Later on, after the boys stick Dave in the meat cooler with Sue, the surviving members of the group are sitting around the pub. Diana gets Jay alone and tells him there’s no way the popcorn machine could have fried Dave because the voltage was too low. Jay suggests Dave might have had a heart condition, but only the coroner can tell them for sure. That’s right, Jay. Don’t question anything and always defer to Authority. There’s a good boy.

No one wants to sleep in their isolated sections of the furniture store, so Larry suggests they all sleep together in the pub, stretched out in booths I assume, which sounds horrendously uncomfortable. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that Christmas music is still blasting throughout the mall. So, while the boys are telling the girls about sticking Dave into the meat locker next to Sue, it’s entirely possible that “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” was playing in the background. It’s okay though, I’m sure Killer Santa would take revenge on that reindeer in a heartbeat.

As everyone’s drifting off to sleep, we get yet another Killer Santa POV, and this time he’s thinking about how he needs to prioritize his list and move his timetable up a bit. Well no shit, how fucking long do you think you’re going to be stranded at this mall?

Early the next morning, Jay wakes Diana up, they make out for a hot minute before she fully wakes up and realizes where they are and that they’re not exactly alone, then they take some coffee out by the Christmas tree and debate back and forth about whether the deaths were accidents or murder. Jay insists that it’s probably a coincidence that Sue and Dave received creepy packages and then died. I want to slap Jay; anyone want to help me?

Oh, seriously, another Killer Santa POV? This time the person who deserves to die is a guy who, when he was ten years old, sabotaged Grandpa’s handmade fishing flies during a father-son fishing competition by pouring glue in the tackle box. Grandpa and baby Killer Santa lost the competition, and Grandpa lost his love of fishing and never tied another fly again, and it was all this little boy’s fault. I mean, this kid probably shot Kennedy and kidnapped the Lindbergh baby too. Obviously he’s the devil. And my, isn’t it convenient that everyone trapped in this mall wronged Killer Santa’s grandparents in some way? I mean, what are the fucking odds, amirite?!

Hal suggests a fancy dinner, so everyone “borrows” clothes from the shops in the mall (do none of these stores have those pull-down metal security gates? are none of the stores even locked at all?), then they get the bright idea to have Paul tape them showing the clothes off so that maybe they’ll get to keep them. Because, you know, free advertising in Paul’s sure-to-be-a-hit documentary about some college kids snowbound in a mall and absolutely no one getting murdered at all. What follows is the fakest, most cringe-inducing advertisement disguised as casual conversation that I’ve ever read. I would love someone to actually act this out and film it for me, please.

After dinner, the gang decides to go bowling. Because this mall has a bowling alley. I just . . . all right. Bowling. Sure, why not. Heather hates the idea, because Heather hates fun, but somewhere along the way she loosens up and turns out to be really good at it and apparently gets possessed by the demon of niceness, because she undergoes a drastic personality change. She even apologizes to Diana for being such a Mean Girl and promises to stop trying to break up her and Jay. Huh, so the cure for Mean Girl-itus is to take them bowling? Who knew!

The girls win the impromptu Boys Against Girls Snowbound Bowl-Off (during which we see Larry’s super ugly competitive side – guess who the kid who ruined fishing was!), so Hal goes to get some of the presents from under the tree to use as trophies and consolation prizes. Which doesn’t make much sense since all the stuffed frogs (flogs! hahahahaha) are exactly the same, but whatever. Also, since we now know that Larry is the next target, there’s only one person that Killer Santa can be. There are still fifty pages left in the book. This is not good mystery writing.

Of course Larry gets a box with his name on it, with a piece of paper inside. He doesn’t read it, but Jay takes it from him and reads it with Diana a few minutes later. Naturally it’s the next two lines of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Jay decides to warn Larry to stay close to them tonight, “just in case.” Oh, but Jay, I thought the notes were just a coincidence!

When everyone’s asleep, Larry sneaks out of the pub to the bowling alley for a beer. Yeah, you read that correctly. He’s afraid that pouring a beer in the pub would wake up Jay and Diana, who he thinks are overreacting and being prophets of doom. Larry thinks the notes were a coincidence and Sue and Dave died because they were careless. Unlike Larry, who is wandering through the mall in the middle of the night without telling anyone where he’s going while people keep dying from “accidents.” Larry is an idiot. He also thinks that there’s nothing quite like beer when you’re thirsty. No, Larry, beer actually dehydrates you. Is Biology 101 not a required course at your school?

While sitting in the bowling alley having a refreshing, dehydrating beer, Larry spots a mechanical Santa in a shop window, because apparently the bowling alley in the mall also has windows that look out into the mall. I can’t picture how any of this is set up with my current knowledge of malls. Especially malls that are half the size of my city’s smallest mall but described as being huge. I don’t understand any of this.

Oh, the Santa isn’t mechanical, surprise! He starts talking shit to Larry about the fishing competition twelve years ago, and Larry being the idiot he is assumes at first that this mechanical Santa is interactive and programmed with advertisements. It takes Larry way too fucking long to read the writing on the wall, but by then it’s too late. Killer Santa pushes the shop window out, shattering it on the floor, then stabs Larry through the heart with a shard of glass. Okay, but . . . shouldn’t those windows be made of safety glass specifically to avoid this sort of accident? Man, I would love it so much if it was safety glass, and it just crumbled into a million little gummy pieces when Killer Santa knocked it out. Imagine how ridiculous he would look then!

The next morning, Jay realizes Larry is missing and rounds up the other two menfolk to search for him while the girls stay in the pub because god forbid they see a corpse or somedamnthing, I dunno, I’m running out of ways to describe my annoyance with this sexist trope. Protect the fairer sex from seeing something that might give them the vapors! . . . Where was I? Oh, yeah, they find Larry and presumably move him into the meat cooler corpse-apalooza – all of this happened off-page.

Jay and Diana argue some more about whether or not there’s a killer among them, and Jay calls Di “hysterical” before finally admitting she’s probably right. They go back and forth over whether it’s one of them or some random “psychotic” killer, the word “crazy” is thrown around a bit, and a theoretical escape from the prison down the road is mentioned. Jay informs Diana that Greystone Prison isn’t even a prison anymore, it’s a “minimum-security correctional facility.” Fuck me, Jay, that’s still a prison, you nitwit! If you must mansplain, at least get your facts straight! Then Smarter-Than-Thou Jay explains to Diana that the killer has to be someone they know because he wrote their names on their presents. Then they go off to warn the others, including the killer, and pass out weapons to everyone. Including the killer. By the way, taking this opportunity to remind y’all once again that there is still Christmas music blaring throughout the mall. I’d like to think that while everyone arms themselves with flamethrowers and baseball bats with nails pounded through, the song playing is “The Little Drummer Boy.” Bah-rum-ba-ba-bum, motherfuckers!

Good God, the Killer Santa POV is almost a relief after dealing with Jay’s bullshit. This time Santa’s going after a girl who came to the farm with her high school Home Ec class to learn to make jam from Grandma, whose jam was a blue ribbon winner at the county fair. What did this horrible little bitch do to deserve death? Oh, she threw her jar of jam onto the side of the road as the class was leaving. Heinous. Burn the witch, I say! Also, Santa better step his game up. This one-victim-a-day timetable isn’t going to hold up once the snowplows hit the street. I’m surprised they’re still stranded at this mall after three days, honestly.

Have you guessed who this naughty girl is? That’s right, it’s Heather! She wanted to be alone for some retail therapy in the most expensive boutique in the mall, which is where she finds her creepy Santa present after trying on a dress that probably costs more than my car. She freaks out and runs out of the boutique to find the others, but Santa is waiting for her on a bench outside the shop. Heather is so relieved to see someone that she runs into his arms without stopping to wonder why the fuck he’s dressed up in a Santa costume. He leads her to the glass elevator instead of the escalator, and oh my, this isn’t going to end well, is it? Killer Santa shoves her in the elevator, says, “It’s too bad you don’t like strawberry jam,” (that’s going to be my new catchphrase, guys! I’m gonna get it printed on t-shirts and everything!), and then the elevator somehow malfunctions and plummets to the basement. Good night, sweet Heather.

Killer Santa watches Jay and Diana run toward the elevator, calling for Cindy and Paul, and thinks that Jay and Paul are going to have their hands full gathering up what’s left of Heather, and that means they’ll be leaving the girls alone in the pub! So, can I just go ahead and start calling Killer Santa Hal now? So, Santa Hal runs to change out of the Santa costume and loosen the railing on the second floor of the mall, because he’s realized he’s running out of time and he can kill more than one person at a time. He thinks about why Cindy and Diana should die – one of them sneaked into the orchard and stole apples off a tree, breaking some grafts that Grandpa had on some branches, and the other, and this is my favorite EVER, asked Grandma to bake some pies for a bake sale, then had the fucking nerve to price them at only $2 each! Wow, she must not be allowed to mingle with us decent folk! String ‘er up!

The girls both have canisters of mace, for all the fucking good that’s gonna do, and they think they see someone down the hall, so they go into some office or something and find their presents from Santa. Then they run into Hal and are relieved even though there’s literally no one else that the killer could be. Goddamn, these characters are stupid. Hal has locked the boys in the basement, by the way. The girls tell him all about there being a killer, and he says he’ll protect them but he needs to go to the hardware store to get a weapon. So. This mall also has a hardware store. I really shouldn’t be surprised by that, should I? The girls go with him instead of firing up even one brain cell between them, but on the way there they run into Jay and Paul, who had to take the freight elevator out of the basement after the door “locked behind them.” I swear not a single character has one single brain cell among them. The girls and Hal recap the events they missed, and the decision is made that they can use the snowmobiles to get the fuck outta Dodge! Remember the snowmobiles?! Hey, they’re chained down, but there’s a hardware store where they can get some bolt cutters! Fortune smiles upon thee!

They decide that Paul will stand guard over the snowmobiles so that the killer can’t fuck with them, while Jay and Cindy go get warm clothes and supplies and Diana and Hal go get the bolt cutters. Hal is disappointed that Cindy’s going with Jay instead of with him, and Diana wonders if Hal is interested in Cindy. Uh, yeah Diana – interested in killing her first! Like, you know that the killer is someone you know, and you know it can’t be Jay, Paul, or Cindy, so who does that leave, you absolute ignoramus?!

I’ve lost patience with this book. Hal decides to knock everyone out, starting with Diana, then drag them all out to the railing he loosened and push them over. No word yet on what offence Jay committed, but I’m sure it’s just terrible. He probably peed on a rose bush or something. Cindy and Jay meet back up with Paul at the snowmobiles, while Diana has lost track of Hal in the hardware shop. She realizes she’s being stalked through the store, turns the lights off and crawls around in the dark for a while, then finally remembers that Hal’s grandparents used to own this land. Oh, Diana was the evil wench who underpriced Grandma’s pies. Good to know. So, Diana’s finally figured out that she should stop worrying that the killer got Hal. Good for her, finally using an ounce of brain power!

Diana manages to distract Hal by throwing lightbulbs toward the back of the store and making a run for the front doors in a sequence that reminds me way too much of more than one mission in the videogame The Last of Us, then runs screaming toward the rest of the gang, screaming that Hal is the killer. As she reaches the snowmobiles, Hal appears on the upper level in his Santa suit, firing a gun at them. He’s a pistol-packin’ Santa! Paul decides to try to distract Hal by giving him the chance to air his grievances on tape, allowing the others to jump on the snowmobiles and get away while Hal supervillian monologues. Hal tells him not to call him Hal because his name is now Santa, and Cindy predictably exclaims that he’s crazy. I mean, okay, but . . . ew.

Cindy and Jay take off on one snowmobile when Paul gives the signal, but Diana drives hers straight for Paul, because she believes in No Cameraman Left Behind. He jumps on and they zig-zag through the mall while Santa Hal shoots at them. I really want a movie made of this, because it’s so fucking slapstick. Driving a snowmobile through a mall? I’m sure it’s been done before, but the visual cracks me up. Anyhow, just when it looks like Hal can’t help but hit them with a bullet or five, he leans against the railing he previously loosened and falls to his death. Ah. Hoisted on his own petard!

Diana and Paul burst out the mall doors (hopefully they were made of safety glass) and meet up with Jay and Cindy on the main road. For some (sexist) reason, Jay decides that Paul should drive the snowmobile and take Cindy with him, while Jay takes Diana. Even though Diana has more experience driving snowmobiles than Paul does. But Jay tells Diana he loves her, so that makes everything okay in true YA thriller fashion. Ouch, I just rolled my eyes so hard I saw my own brain.

Fast forward to the next spring, and our four surviving heroes are meeting up at Jay’s apartment to watch Paul’s documentary. Good thing that motherfucker taped literally everything that happened, no? It’s been retitled “Slay Bells” and I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. We’re told that the station has been heavily promoting it, and I’m kind of wondering if it’s being shown nationally, or just locally. I would think locally, but that seems slightly unlikely in a primetime slot. Anyway, when the movie is over, Jay asks Diana what she thought, and she says that while she was scared reliving what happened, she knew it would be okay because it was on TV and they never kill off the good guys. Diana has clearly never seen The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. And wait a minute – they never kill off the good guys? What exactly are you trying to say about Sue, Dave, Larry, and Heather then, Diana? Just fuck those guys, I guess.

Nostalgia Glasses Off

I really hope they remembered to tell the cops where the bodies were, or else some poor grocery store employee is going to get a nasty surprise when they open the meat cooler. That is all.


4 thoughts on “Recap #11 – Slay Bells by Jo Gibson

  1. Pingback: Recap #13 – Silent Night by R.L. Stine – Oh God Why?! Nostalgia Reviews

  2. Pingback: Recap #18 – My Bloody Valentine by Jo Gibson – Oh God Why?! Nostalgia Reviews

  3. Pingback: Recap #32 – Funhouse by Diane Hoh – Oh God Why?! Nostalgia Reviews

  4. Pingback: Recap #33 – The Seance by Jo Gibson – Oh God Why?! Nostalgia Reviews

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