Thursday, April 7, 2011

Die Softly by Christopher Pike

Published April 1991.

Herb just wanted to photograph the cheerleaders in the school showers. He planted his camera high in the corner where no one could see it, and rigged it to a special homemade timer. He did this Thursday night, and he hoped by Friday night to have an exciting roll of film to develop.

But a girl dies Friday afternoon. On the surface it appears to be nothing more than a tragic car accident. But when Herb finally does collect his roll of film, he develops a picture that shows a shadowy figure sneaking up on the girl who dies - sneaking up on her with a baseball bat.

It makes Herb wonder if the girl was dead long before the car accident.

But unfortunately for Herb, he doesn't wonder if the murderer knows he took the picture. (book back blurb)

It's not often you get a creeper as the MC whose eyes you read through. But even despite the fact that this guy rigged up a camera to take pictures of his naked classmates, Pike wrote it in such a way that Herb was still an appealing guy. I didn't get skeeved out at all while reading. In fact, I empathized with Herb a little. He was just setting himself up for a stupid prank but he ended up getting handed a lot more.

Pike has an excellent way of teetering guilt from one character to another. You can't tell who's lying, who's being genuine or who has some tracks to cover. Everyone (except Herb) looks guilty. I just love how it's all woven together so seamlessly. Until it was made obvious who the culprit was, I was constantly trying to figure out who was the big bad in this story. And why. Now I'm not the best at these kinds of whodunnit type of stories but I'm able to connect the dots decently enough. But Pike's dots were masterfully all over the place in a kind of organized chaos. I truly think that the truth is hidden so well that not too many people would be able to figure it out until close to the reveal.

The only thing I'd change would be the villain dialogue at the end. It's kind of classic in a cliche sort of way how the villain ultimately suffers from verbal diarrhea and just can't shut their damn mouths, destroy evidence and be done with it. It was a definite unload that I think could have been better worked into the plot but I'm over it. I liked the rest of it too much.

Pike did a great job of keeping all of the characters (except Herb) at arm's length. Each had something about them that I could empathize or sympathize with but each had a motive, just a little hint of guilt that kept me from getting them too close. I had no idea who I could trust. That feeling of unease that Pike created isn't found often, I don't think, and it really made me uncomfortable at times. As do all good creepy thriller books. And don't go in expecting a cookie cutter ending either. Pike is fearless with his characters. No one is safe and he sticks to that.

While it didn't have anything paranormal in it, it still rates pretty high on the creep scale. Good horror doesn't need paranormal elements in it to make it horror. Just amazing writing that makes you uncomfortable and some level of afraid. Die Softly did just that.

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