This one was a wild ride, and after a few dull reads I really appreciated how gruesome this was. R.L. Stine says he outlines every one of these and that’s how he produces them so fast, but this one had so many random twists and red herrings I doubt he had more than a title and an idea when he typed this one out.
The cover (pulled from Amazon) is kind of meh. There’s no actual sunburn depicted on it. Both those girls are pretty pale, and that girl lying face down doesn’t even look like she was tanning. I would’ve redone the whole thing.
The perfect tan… or the perfect murder?
I kind of love this. I wish the cover image went along with it more, but it’s a perfect combination of innocuous phrase and ellipses-murder that I’ve come to expect from these books.
Chapter one introduces us to Claudia Walker, who slowly wakes to find herself buried in the sand, and it’s a pretty good start to this book. The description is slow and building, and it’s actually pretty horrific. She’s been out there so long her whole face and exposed body are sunburned to the point her eyes are swollen shut, and the flies have come to consume her. She can see the tide coming in and knows if she remains she’ll drown. She screams and screams for help, hoping her friends will hear her.
Chapter two cuts away to a letter to Claudia from Marla, who wants to catch up with her bunkmates from Bunk 12 at Camp Full Moon. Claudia’s happy to hear from Marla and see her and the other girls, since they were such good friends, even though some sort of mysterious accident happened. Claudia makes her way to Summerhaven, where we meet Joy, who is sleek and fashionable, and Sophie, who tries hard to look adult and carries four bulging bags of things. Marla drives them all out to the Drexell Mansion, which is just far enough away from Summerhaven to be isolated, surrounded by a metal electrical gate, with several acres of land full of all sorts of amenities. Marla tells them they’ll stick together, but we cut back to Claudia, where the tide is meeting her, and she feels the shadow of death over her.
Except it’s not that, it’s the shadow of a person. A boy finds her and helps move the sand off her body so she can climb out. She notices his skin is so cold as he helps her back to the mansion, and when she asks him his name he gets really cagey, but it’s Daniel. She asks him if he lives here, and he gives a vague answer. He also knows the code to get through the gate onto the property. Marla and the others come running out when they see her and ask what happened, that they’d thought she’d already gone back to the mansion, that they hadn’t seen her when they came back, and Claudia mentions that Daniel saved her life, but the others have no idea what she’s talking about. He’d completely disappeared. The girls take her inside and give her something to put on her face.
They eat dinner in the mansion, which has an overly elaborate dining table, and they huddle on one end of it to eat together. Alfred is the only other person on staff, and he makes them dinner. Joy screams when she finds a worm in her salad, and she tells them she’s had a thing about bugs ever since the mysterious accident at camp. They quickly forget about it and wheedle Claudia about the boy who saved her life. When Claudia tells Marla he knew the code, Marla has no idea what she’s talking about, because there are never any boys on their beach, and there shouldn’t be any in the house. She then gasps and tells Claudia she must’ve seen the Ghost Boy! Marla had seen him too, wandering the grounds, and she thinks he lives in the guest house, and one day she saw him on the tennis courts and he disappeared right in front of her. Claudia insists that he’s real, that she touched him, even if he was awfully cold, but the real estate agent told Marla’s family the whole story, about how he was murdered a hundred years ago, and now he walks around, goes for swims, does your regular ghost stuff. This is the point you get suspicious because when Claudia met Daniel he was wearing “baggy swim trunks” and not 1890s swimwear (which looks ridiculous please google it for yourself). The girls get excited, with Joy declaring she believes in ghosts and wants to find him, and then Marla starts laughing at them all. She made it all up! Claudia tries to backtrack, but Marla’s too busy laughing.
The girls stay up late watching movies and talking, and when Claudia goes to bed she sees a light flickering in the guest house, and a shadow passes over the window, one that almost looks like Daniel. She tells Marla, who tells her it must be a reflection from the crazy bright spotlights around the mansion. Security at this place is ridiculous, with the electrified fence and mad guard dog that roams it at night.
The next morning Marla and Claudia are up first, and they decide to play on the tennis courts. It seems at camp Marla was always better than Claudia at the game, but here at the mansion she does terribly, misjudging balls, being unable to serve, falling apart. She tells Claudia she hasn’t played in about a year, and Claudia asks her if she’s just upsets after seeing them again, since the last time they were together her sister died. Marla gets really mad at that and storms into the house. She’s calmed down by the time Joy and Sophie wake up, and they decide to have a picnic on the beach. They gather everything up and walk down there, but when Sophie goes to open the gate, it’s still electrified, and she’s sent flying back. Marla rushes to turn off the system while the other girls help Sophie up. She’s fine but frazzled and feels like she’s gotten punched. Marla’s really mad about the system messing up and asks Sophie if she wants to go back to the house, but Sophie insists that they all go down to the beach as planned. She’ll sit with Claudia for a while and not do anything extraneous.
They get down to the beach and spread out. Everything seems to have calmed down and then, horror upon horrors, boys arrive! Marla is quickly belligerent and tries to get them to leave, but the other girls invite them to stay. They got pulled this way by the riptide, and they’re a little aggressive but not overly so, so I give them a pass for now. Dean and Carl poke fun at Claudia for a bit for being covered in a pink goo to protect her skin, and Marla again tries to get them to leave. She warns them she has an Irish wolfhound up at the estate as an attack dog, and it’ll rip them to shreds. The boys get really aggressive here and want to know why she won’t invite them up to the house, and then one reaches out and slaps her! In that classic R.L. Stine fashion it’s treated as if it’s a full Sean Connery slap across the face, but then in the next chapter Dean is apologetic, saying he saw a horsefly and accidentally slapped Marla trying to get it. It’s unclear where he slapped her, if it really was her face or somewhere else, but Marla has to regain her balance, though that could be from the surprise of a dude trying to slap your goddamn face. Carl and Dean at least have the decency to leave after that little display, with Dean shouting out cryptically that “my dad used to work for your dad” before they get back in the water. This serves absolutely no purpose except I guess to let you know that sometimes the house staff has children??? It’s not even a red herring it’s just sort of blurted out. Stine says he outlines all of these stories which is what lets him write so quickly, but I don’t think he had a solid plan for this book.
Later, Joy, Sophie, and Claudia are sitting up together, and they’re worried about Marla. She’s too tense and gets mad too easily. Sophie admits that she and Joy had wanted to go back and check on Claudia the other day, but Marla had insisted they take another path to the mansion, refusing to let them go back. She never talks about Alison, her sister, which the other girls find strange, but Claudia thinks might just be her coping strategy.
Marla takes them in her Mercedes to the boardwalk, which the girls are excited about. They go through a house of mirrors, ride a rollercoaster, get in the bumper cars, and everyone’s having a pretty good time until they run into Carl and Dean again. Sophie and Joy invite them back on the bumper cars, and Marla goes with them mostly to ensure they aren’t invited up to the house. Claudia walks off on her own where she runs into Daniel and calls him the Ghost Boy to his face. He plays it off, but when she grabs his hand it’s still incredibly cold. He asks her if she’s doing alright, and they walk together a while. They get to the Ferris wheel, and he invites her up. As they ride, she tries to get him to talk about himself, and he keeps making jokes about being a ghost. They look out at the ocean, and when he leans forward, he starts to fall!
Only it’s not Daniel. It’s Alison. Claudia flashes back to the night Alison Drexell died. The four girls were sitting around in their bunk, playing truth or dare. Alison shows up to bother them, and they’re immediately really mean to her, even Marla, who calls her fish face. Not only is she a brat who only wants to hang out with the older girls, she’s a snitch too, and she reports any infraction at the camps to the counselors. Marla tells her to go walk into some traffic and then riles her up by recounting to the girls the time Alison stole her boyfriend, which gets her really mad. They try to get her to leave, but Alison insists they give her a dare. Marla tells her she has to cross “Grizzly Gorge” which sounds horrific under the full moon tonight. They think they’ve won and Alison will just stalk off, but Alison says she’ll do it, despite being afraid of heights, and being terribly uncoordinated. The other girls try to talk her out of it, but Marla insists she has to go.
The girls sneak out at night to go meet Alison at the gorge, but Marla is caught by the camp counselor. The girls debate going back or not, but they decide their counselor will be waiting for them, and they should get Alison anyway. They get to the gorge, which is named for Grizzly River that runs underneath it, slightly less horrifying. It’s described as a twenty foot drop which, while high, isn’t what I think of when I think of a gorge, but what do I know I hate the outdoors, and it has shallow water and sharp rocks at the bottom. Sophie and Joy insist to Alison that she shouldn’t do it, but Alison knows they’ve all crossed it, and she needs them to tell her sister that she did it. Alison steps onto the log and very slowly makes her way across. She trips and falls to her knees, and now she’s too scared to turn back. She calls to the other girls to help her, but the camp counselors show up. The girls bolt back towards camp, calling for Alison to run. Claudia is sure Alison was right behind her, running too, but Alison actually fell into the gorge, fell to her own death, and was carried away by the river.
Claudia comes out of her flashback to see Daniel, who did not fall and is totally fine. They get out of the Ferris wheel, and she tells him she has to find her friends, except he’s disappeared again. The other girls run up to her and gush about the romantic time they had with their boys. Claudia decides against mentioning Daniel, and they go back to the mansion.
As they’re getting ready for bed, they hear Joy screaming and all rush into her bedroom. Joy’s bed had been filled with leeches, and they’d attached to her skin. They pull them off, and Joy is sure there were no leeches in her bed before she got in, because she checks her bed every night before going to sleep, which sounds exhausting and paranoid but I bet someone out there does it. Joy is no longer so sure all these “accidents” are what they seem. Someone had to put the leeches on her, and since no one else could get into the mansion, it had to be someone already inside. Joy’s convinced it’s Marla who must still be mad about the whole dead sister thing. Claudia and Sophie calm her down, and Claudia goes downstairs to get herself a glass of water, when she finds she’s not alone.
It’s Daniel! In the kitchen! Not exactly with the murder weapon. He disappears into the shadows, and when she turns around Alfred is there. She tells him she saw a boy, and he tells her that’s not possible, and no one else is staying there. He gets uncomfortable with the suggestion and insists she’s wrong. In the morning she tells the others, and they make fun of her for seeing the Ghost Boy. Marla reminds her she made up the story, and that if there is a boy staying here she’s going to find him. She tells Alfred to have the police search the estate from top to bottom while they go out water skiing.
The girls go out to water ski with Claudia dressed from head to toe to keep the sun off her. Sophie goes first, and everyone’s having a fun time, and it seems like they can forget about all the weird stuff happening. Claudia gets ready to go next, but Joy shouts that Sophie’s gone under. They panic when Sophie doesn’t resurface, and the boat stalls so they can’t turn around to get her. Claudia decides not to wait. She jumps into the water and swims after her friend. She catches sight of her friend, but she accidentally swims into the riptide and is carried away. Claudia thinks she’s going to drown, but she’s saved at the last minute by hands pulling her and Sophie out of the water. It’s Carl and Dean! They saw the girls in the water and pulled them out. Sophie’s shaking but fine, and they drive back towards Marla’s boat. Joy is elated that they’re okay. Sophie isn’t sure how she ended up falling over, but Claudia pulls on the tow rope and finds that it was cut. Now they know someone is doing this on purpose, and Marla suspects the boy Claudia saw in the kitchen, Daniel, or possibly Carl and Dean, though that’s clearly just because she hates them.
But Joy is certain Marla is doing this to them, and when the other girls ask her why she thinks so, she says, “Because Marla must know Alison’s death wasn’t an accident.” We’re then given the real events of what happened at Grizzly Gorge, that the girls goaded Alison onto the log, that Marla acts like she hates her sister, and that when the counselors showed up they didn’t even bother to check on Alison. This doesn’t really mean that it wasn’t an accident. No one pushed her or anything. It’s almost the exact same scene except the girls are a lot meaner in it, and Marla still wasn’t there so who knows why it would make a difference. The girls decide that Marla’s the culprit anyway, and Claudia called her mom to pick them up. Only they have to wait an extra day for her to get up there.
They split up the next day and try to stay away from Marla. Claudia goes for a walk on the beach, and for a moment she thinks she sees Marla. What she gets instead is that Irish wolfhound that should be locked up, and it attacks Claudia. It chases after her, and Claudia’s dumb adrenaline brain cooks up some wolfhound facts. She decides to swim away from it, but it grabs her in the water. She keeps going, swimming further and further away, ignoring the pain in her foot, and then she sees a blue-grey fin cutting through the water. A shark.It’s swimming straight for her! It’s definitely attracted to the blood in the water, but she tries not to struggle so she won’t look like a dying fish. She tries to swim back as smoothly as possible, but that’s where the guard dog is waiting for her!
She gets caught in the riptide, which helps carry her away. The exact sentence is “I’ve swum straight into the riptide”, which is not a conjugation I’ve ever heard of swim/swam, but I looked it up and apparently it is appropriate it just sounds really dumb. Claudia is happy to get away no matter what tense she does it in, but she turns around at the squeal, and here I relay to you the tragedy of the Irish bloodhound.
As Claudia gaped in horror, a geyser of blood boiled up from beneath the water. The foamy crest of a wave turned pink. The metallic smell of blood floated out over the tossing waves. Even from where she swam, Claudia could see the water darken with the wolfhound’s blood.
It’s incredibly tragic. This dog was bred to be aggressive and attack to the point that it had to spend it’s days locked up and was only allowed out at night, probably wasn’t socialized very well, probably wasn’t played with or treated kindly, and it did what it was trained to by attacking Claudia and for its service was ripped apart by a shark in a literal geyser of blood. Farewell, unnamed Irish wolfhound. Your life was cruel, but at least you went out like a badass.
(Also, SyFy, wolf vs shark, sharkwolf, there’s something here, get on that.)
The tide carries Claudia away, and she washes up on shore where Marla is there. Marla acts with concern and tries to get her back to the mansion. Claudia is sure now. Marla was on the beach, her dog attacked her, she was waiting to make sure she died. Marla doesn’t even ask how Claudia got injured because she knows. She has to be sure. She tells Marla she’s too tired and has to sit, and when Marla goes to get bandages, she hobbles over to where the guard dog was kept. Its cage is open, not broken, but unlocked. She hurries to warn Joy and Sophie, but Joy is still in town with Carl.
As soon as Joy gets back, they make the plan to leave, but Marla insists they eat out at the gazebo even though it’s pouring rain outside. They go to demand that she take them to town, but when they open the gazebo, Marla’s body falls out! She’s clearly been dead a long time, but the girls don’t notice. Her skin is purple, her eyes are hollow, her mouth is open in a scream. They try to take Marla’s car and get out before they’re killed as well, except it’s night now. The gate is electrified. They’re trapped. They think they can mess with the timer, but it’s in the basement and they all refuse to go. There might be another gate they can go through, so they walk to the guest house, except someone is waiting for them, someone with a pistol, someone who looks just like Marla.
You probably already guessed it’s not Marla, it’s Alison! Back from the dead, so to speak. Alison returned weeks ago after a year of faking amnesia and being adopted by a different family, but she couldn’t contain her rage. Marla was there the night she dropped from the gorge. Marla watched her fall with a smile on her face. Her whole family hated Alison, so Alison came back, killed Marla, took over her identity, and invited these three chuckleheads over so she could get some sweet revenge. She points her gun right at Claudia, but a figure emerges from the guest house, and it’s Daniel! He tackles Alison, Claudia grabs the gun, and a lightning strike shuts down the power. Alison makes a run for the gate, and they all shout at her that it’s electrified. Right as she touches it the generator comes back on, and she’s thrown back. She’s consumed by electricity and dies again right there.
They all turn to Daniel, who lets them know he’s Alfred’s son and has been staying kind of illegally in the guest house. Sophie and Joy go to find a phone to call the police, and the worst exchange happens on the very last page, so terrible and awkward I just have to share it with you.
“Now both sisters are dead,” Claudia said sadly, shaking her head.
Daniel put a comforting arm around her shoulders. “It’s a horrible night. A horrible night,” he muttered.
Claudia nodded in silent agreement.
“Did you really believe I was a ghost?” he asked, pulling her nearer.
“Maybe,” she replied softly.
He smiled. “How can I prove that I’m not a ghost?” he asked, his dark eyes lighting up.
Claudia raised her face to his and kissed him.
Literally the body of a girl you killed twice is not five feet away from you, and these two start making out. But it’s happily ever after I guess, and no one is traumatized by any of this.
“Ever since I found out I was a Pisces and water was my sign, I’ve had a much better relationship with swimming.”
Fear Street Trends
No reoccuring characters or places as far as I could tell, but there’s plenty of fashion in this one. Marla first shows up in a “very preppy” turquoise designer top and white tennis shorts (the favorite of the rich), and repeats the look later with white shorts and a pale pink top. She has an actual tennis court at her house so she may be forgiven. Carl is described as having a razor-cut hair, which I’m not sure what that means, and Daniel shows up later in a white Gap t-shirt with a sweatshirt tied around his waist. (I’m starting to think Daniel has that low blood circulation like I do.) It all feels distinctly 90s.
I’m being nice to this one after so many dull books in a row, but I was really expecting more out of the Fear Street summer reads. This one was gruesome, had a few twists I didn’t mind, and one of the most awkward endings I’ve read in a long time, so I’m giving it three dog-eating sharks out of five.