As far as I can tell, 1993’s Help Wanted is the last book Richie Tankersley Cusick wrote for Point Horror before moving to Simon Pulse, so I regret to inform you all that this is the final post in the Pointless Horror series.
OR IS IT?!
After last week’s cluster of fuck, I’m pleased to report we’ve landed squarely back in Pointville (“All the Horror, All the Time”) with Help Wanted, but it’s possible we’ve gone just a little too formula with this one.
Robin Bailey, our tousled everyteen, is just minding her own damn business on the low edge of the middle class, getting good grades and staying responsibly boyfriendless, when out of the blue comes the chance of a lifetime: a spring break-style trip to Florida with her best friend. Problem? It costs money, and our girl doesn’t have a job. But that’s okay, because within ten seconds she spies a notice on the school corkboard or whatever it was they used to disseminate information to juveniles in the nineties:
GET RICH QUICK
NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY
I think we can all agree this job ad was posted well before the internet; if Robin had answered an ad promising “get rich quick” with “no experience necessary” today, we’d be reading a very different genre.
Luckily for Robin, digital porn hasn’t yet taken the world by storm and the job is for cataloging the local millionaire’s daughter-in-law’s books so he can dump them at the local library. Which is probably unnecessary, but Robin needs a job, so it makes plot sense.
“Will the interview take long?”
“Depends on how long you want to stay.”
“Oh. Not long, probably.”
“Then there’s your answer.[…] Hope you don’t scare easy.”
At her totally legitimate-sounding interview, Robin finds out that the local millionaire hates his dead-by-suicide daughter-in-law and his alive-but-crazy granddaughter-in-law (is that a thing?) Claudia, and that his grandson in none other than school heartthrob Parker Swanson. We’ve got a love interest! But he’s seriously obnoxious. But also cute and rich, so I guess he gets a pass on the personality fail.
As Robin tries to get on with her cataloging job (making $100 dollars a week in 1994!), she gets tangled in a web of lies, deceit, murder, money and some other stuff lurking in the deep dark woods smack in the middle of suburbia. It’s all a little…perfunctory, though I should mention Help Wanted was nominated for an Edgar Award, which is, after all, for mystery, not horror.
Still, we’ve got all the Cusick hallmarks here:
Robin’s actually quite shitty best friend Faye who disappears a quarter of the way through the book when she’s needed most:
Faye let go of the door before she realized Robin hadn’t quite crossed the threshold. Robin, struggling with her books, glanced up just in time to see the door swinging into her face.
Death-obsessed bewilderteen Claudia, who’s even more OTT than her namesake:
The suspiciously suspect gardener:
“You better run, little girl, far away from this place! You better run for your life!”
And the obligatory love triangle between Robin, Parker and the improbably named Theodore “Walt” Waltermize.
He wasn’t handsome in that breathtaking way Parker Swanson was, yet there was something intriguing about him—his sandy hair, for one thing, hanging thick and wavy past his shoulders; his customary outfit of threadbare jeans and faded workshirt; the steady calm of his brown eyes; and his square stubborn jaw.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember any boys in my high school matching that description—and that was during the height of grunge.
Overall, I found Help Wanted disappointing. The mystery element is fairly by numbers (spoiler: the killer is the one you have no reason to suspect) and even the romance seems half-hearted, as Robin doesn’t actually spend quality alone time with either of the corners of her triangle, apart from a tensionless pizza date with Walt.
Help Wanted gets two-and-a-half out of five “We’ll get back to you some time next week”s, because it’s not my cup of tea, but it’s also not Silent Stalker.
Next week on Pointless Horror: