Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Swimming with the Sharks, Part 2

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Let’s talk about this cover for a moment. While it’s extremely similar to the original edition in composition, it has some marked differences that make it more effective as a YA horror novel cover. First, the subject isn’t hiding his crow’s feet with aviators and he doesn’t have Miami Vice permastubble. Which, as I think we all knew then as well as we do now, isn’t a feature of seventeen-year-old boy face. Second, the silhouette not only looks younger, but projects an air of mystery–we know he’s a lifeguard, but we have no idea which lifeguard, and guess what? That’s the thrust of the entire book, summed up succinctly in one illustration. Well played, Open Road. Well played.

Now onto the meat of this retro roast dinner. The Lifeguard follows Kelsey and her mother, whose name is either not given or totally unimportant because I’ve already forgotten it, as they visit Beverly Island, home of mother’s playwright boyfriend Eric, his daughter Beth and his two lifeguard sons Neale and Justin. But lo! As soon as Kelsey and mother step off the ferry, they’re informed that Beth has gone missing (and is pretty much presumed dead by cold and unfeeling but also sexy and piercing Neale who spent time in a mental institution where murders happened but is totally okay now maybe but we just don’t talk about it). Kelsey, who is deathly afraid of water due to her father’s drowning two years prior, finds a note from Beth suggesting her disappearance isn’t an accident, and then super weird shit starts happening. Super weird murdery shit. (No spoilers!)

In the pregame commentary I mentioned that The Lifeguard wasn’t my favourite Richie book, and this reread has done nothing to change my opinion. Overall, I think it suffers from an overflowing kettle’s worth of red herrings–pretty much every male character except one has ample cause to be a murderous psycho, so guess who’s the murderer? Yeah. Kind of a rookie mistake when it comes to mysteries, but this was only Cusick’s first Point novel and her second overall, so I’m not going to judge her harshly. Also, while getting rid of the parents is a necessary trope of Point Horror (and one of my personal favourites), the manner in which the kids were separated from their primary caregivers made the parents seem neglectful and borderline dickish.

By the way, your mom took off for the mainland…. She said she forgot to tell you.

Kelsey’s mom took off and left Kelsey on a strange island with strange teenagers she literally only just met and no adults and she forgot to tell her? Seriously? I know I’m old and less excited by the prospect of parental neglect, but come on.

That said, the atmosphere of the story held strong, with all its isolated beaches and disused lighthouses and fogs and storms, so it was a pleasant ride if not a mindbending one. Kelsey’s friend Donna was as much of a joy of a character as I remember her to be–nuanced, naive, complicated and fun to be around. I just wish we could have seen more of her (especially as I liked her a lot more than Kelsey, who came off as a bit of a drip most of the time). There were a few amusing-in-the-wrong-way moments peppered through the story, mostly as a result of the book’s seemingly ancient milieu:

She wished she could just go down and ask him where the phone was, but if it was in the same room  with him then he’d be able to hear everything she was saying. No, better to find an extension.

Remember when you had to find an actual phone to make a phone call and that phone could only stay in the room it was plugged into and other people could pick up a totally different phone and hear everything you were saying on your phone, the one you were standing right next to with no privacy because the cord only reached so far?! Me neither.

She paused on the steps and slid her arms into her purple windbreaker.

Thank you for dying young, windbreakers

Kelsey averted her eyes, but not before noticing his thick black hair, the firm set of his jaw, the high cheekbones, the sinewy curve to his upper arms.

Ha! This genuinely made me laugh out loud. Ah, Richie, you tickle me.

All right all right. I’m giving The Lifeguard 2 1/2 bonfire beach parties out of 5–it’s quite flawed, but nascent Cusick is there, so if you’re a fan of beachy YA horror you could do a lot worse.

Next up, 1989’s Trick or Treat. And ooooh, it’s a doozy.

 

Buy The Lifeguard ebook on Amazon here. (For the ebook editions, she’s listed as Richie T Cusick.)

Publishers Weekly review from 1988 here.

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Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Swimming with the Sharks, Part 1

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Look at those muscles. Seriously, look at them. This is a book for teenagers and that guy is at least 35. A chiseled, five-o’clock–shadowed, Top Gun–handsome 35 years old. This isn’t just any lifeguard, young ladies. This is The Lifeguard by Richie Tankersley Cusick.

I’ve decided to read through Cusick’s books chronologically, and while The Lifeguard is her first Point book, it isn’t her first novel. That distinction goes to 1984’s Evil on the Bayou, which was released as part of Dell’s Twilight: Where Darkness Begins series. Dell ceased publishing Twilight about four years before Point barged onto the scene like a brash young boxer with something to prove (sort of), but Twilight, with its twenty-six standalone young adult horror titles, very much blazed Point’s trail. Casting an eye over Twilight’s list of books, Evil on the Bayou is the only title I can definitely remember reading, but the series had a decent stable of authors so it might be worth a punt if you can find them.

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In the 1980s, women did the hokey pokey with snakes.

Evil on the Bayou wasn’t bad at all, very atmospheric, and I think it was the only novel Cusick set in her native Louisiana. It’s all sticky sexy heat, voodoo, and moss-dripped bayous–I was reminded of it when I watched The Skeleton Key. Like, really reminded of it. (Maybe someday soon I’ll read the book and then watch the film to see how similar they truly are–you know, make a night of it. A laaame night.) Sadly, since it’s not Point it’s out of scope for our purposes, so these brief reminiscences will have to suffice.

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This Laurel-Leaf reprint has the cover I remember.

On to The Lifeguard. Now, in my previous post I mentioned that Point Horror began in the early nineties, and some sources confirm that, but Cusick’s own website (does she know I’m stalking her?) states that The Lifeguard was published in 1988. So let’s take her word for it–in which case, this must have been one of the series’ launch titles. Now, I don’t think this was the first book of hers I read–that was probably Teacher’s Pet or Trick or Treat–but it was an early one. It wasn’t one of my favorites, but neither was it an unqualified stinker. I loved the remote, isolated beach location, which may or may not have influenced the establishment of my current abode by the sea. I technically lived by a body of water when I read this book as a kid, but it was a thirty-minute drive away and the ‘beaches’ were covered in industrial and medical waste, so sand and surf wasn’t really part of my childhood.

Anyhoo, lifeguards and beaches and sun and romance and murder and clean water and, crucially, no parents. That’s what I remember of The Lifeguard.

Hang on…did I just say MURDER?!

 

Note: All pre-reading Part 1 posts will henceforth be posted on Thursdays. Part 2 (The Reviewening) will be posted on Mondays.

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