Balzar and Bray 2012
Meg and Minnie are off to a secluded island on a creepy boat for a weekend of boys and booze. They haven’t told their parents where they are going, were surprised to receive an invitation to join the in-crowd and have no mobile phone signal what with the approaching storm and all. As they step off the boat, Meg worrying about Minnie’s anti-anxiety medication and experiencing a strange sense of foreboding, one of the sailors pretty much suggests they turn around and go home. As Meg and Minnie have clearly never seen any horror film, ever, they ignore him and head for a weekend that starts badly and goes downhill from there as it becomes clear that someone on the island is bearing a grudge and has decided to work out their frustrations through the medium of murder. Wooooooo!
The characters in this book are nicely chosen and easily recognisable – although painted in slightly richer colours than usually seen in your average Scream flick. Meg is a nice girl, dealing with a difficult friend and trying to pretend she’s not hopelessly in love with TJ, resident jock-with-a-heart. TJ himself is pretty lovely, but not quite lovely enough to put Meg’s mind at ease when the killing gets underway. Minnie is a tour-de-force of unmedicated bi-polarism and anxiety, causing her to be extremely difficult and occasionally near- psychotic. Her illness isn’t handled particularly seriously, but McNeil does illustrate (if lightly) how difficult someone with a mental illness can be to live with and also how friendships can become scarily co-dependent. Elsewhere we have Gunner, pleasant but dopey friend of TJ; handsome, if vaguely immoral, Ben; bossy Vivian; edgy Kumiko; quiet Lori; creepy Nathan and nice-but-possibly-dim Kenny. Between them, they are the perfect cast for the story that MacNeil sets up and the interaction between them is great to read.
Plot-wise, Ten is very much an homage. Stories like this one have been doing the rounds for years and years and when handled well can be massively enjoyable. The premise is simple but the story-telling has to be, due in large part to the sheer volume of similar stories, complex yet paradoxically formulaic. Gretchen McNeil does a great job in setting the scene. While Rock House is, brilliantly, in a part of the island only accessible by a dodgy rope bridge over which waves continually break. The phone lines are, obviously, down and there is no cell signal. What there is, however, is a hugely creepy DVD which essentially spells out how each character is going to die. And die they do, in familiar yet gruesome ways, all followed by a slash on the wall in bloodlike paint, suggesting that the murder is SOMEONE IN THE HOUSE. Familiar? Oh, yes. Brilliant? Also, yes. McNeil has taken a classic premise and executed it really rather well.
Ten harks back to the old Point Horror books of my teenage years and is written with such an obvious love for the old teen-slasher concept that I suspect McNeil squealed with glee when uberlord Christopher Pike blurbed the book. What adds additional pleasure is the idea of a group of teens so readily setting themselves up as the premise for a horror. Have they never seen Scream? Or watched the rather brilliant Harper’s
Island? Or read Pike’s Final Friends or Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None? Clearly not… and that’s what makes it all so damn enjoyable. While one might expect Ten to be a little bit predictable, it’s really not – because afficianados of such tales will know that ANYONE could be the bad guy or gal. Why, I once read a book where the killer was the actual PROTATONIST. I know! McNeil and her murderer stay one step ahead throughout the story and will have readers second-guessing themselves as they try to figure out the do-er, only to shake a wry head when all is revealed.
Add to all of the above that Ten is sleep-with-the-light-on creepy and you have a bit of a winner. This isn’t literary fiction, it’s not going to be winning any awards but it is bloody good fun, will keep readers up late getting to the last page and certainly have you hoping that Gretchen McNeil continues to write classic teen horror with the great affection for the genre that she shows here. Great stuff!
This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Ten is available now. Splendibird would highly recommending following Ten with The Weekend by Christopher Pike and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie while concurrently watching Harper's Island. Really.