My Secret Admirer by Carol Ellis
Title: My Secret Admirer by Carol Ellis
Summary: Jenny is new in town. Her parents go away, leaving her all alone in an isolated house. The mountains surrounding the town loom ominously, guarding the secret of what really happened the day of Diana Benson’s accident. Then the phonecalls start…
Jenny has a secret admirer, who courts her with sweet messages and flowers. But she also has an enemy, who chases her on a lonely road. Does she know too much about the “accident” on the cliffs? And is there anyone she can trust?
Jenny has no-one to turn to.
Except her secret admirer…
But who is he?
Tagline: He was crazy about Jenny. Crazy enough to kill her.
Notes: I will use “Bad Guy” throughout my reviews to refer to the anonymous killer/prankster/whatever. Doesn’t mean it’s a guy. I will now refer to the bad guy as “Muffin Man” because of The Mall.
Warnings: NONE. After the past two recaps, which have handled touchy subject matter (with varying degrees of success), we are back to a regular Point Horror, which features the standard tropes. Boys. Alpha bitches. DEATH (not really, it’s actually a convenient coma). Wing and I will resume our usual level of goofing off, adding silly gifs, and using “BITCHES” to mean “dearest readers, who I love to pieces” (that last one is just me).
[Wing: I am still really angry at the world, for a lot of reasons. Not sure how much fun times I’ll be providing in recaps for awhile, to be honest.]
[Dove: Yes, I probably phrased that wrong, I just meant it was more appropriate to goof off in this silly recap than the serious one of last week.]
I read this back in the day, but it didn’t really stick with me. Generally speaking, I like Carol Ellis. When I was younger, Camp Fear and The Window were my favourites. As an adult… I still enjoy Camp Fear, but The Window had a lot of faults. I remember it being a story that didn’t really move very fast. And given that it’s one of the shorter PHs around, that’s a worry. [Wing: Camp Fear remains one of my favorites. I’ve never read this one before, but since I have good memories of Ellis from Camp Fear, I am excited.]
Right, let’s do this thing.
Also, please note the various covers for this book. I particularly like the one of the right. BEWARE THE JAZZ HANDS, BITCHES! [Wing: The middle cover isn’t terrible, but the jazz hands one is the greatest thing I have ever seen, and by greatest, I mean most terrible. And also, I definitely thought that phone booth was a window standing in the middle of nowhere when I first saw it. Because in Point Horror, things don’t have to make sense.]
Edit: Extra fun – our lovely Mimi has provided a copy of the American cover, so you can see the glorious jazz hands in high quality. Enjoy!
We start this off without a Muffin Man POV. It’s a sad state of affairs when I assume that’s how all Point Horrors will open. This is why Cusick and I are on a break.
Jenny Fowler wakes up in the middle of the night, not sure where she is. Nothing sinister, it’s just she’s moved around four times in the past six years. Her father is a freelance consultant and her mother has itchy feet. She has a pet dog named Peaches, who is getting old. When she can’t sleep, she takes a tour of the house, which is what she does now. The living room has a full-size window overlooking the bluff called the rimrocks. Jenny doesn’t like the rimrocks because they loom. She and Peaches head back to bed.
Clarifying note: Town is called Rimrock, the bluff is called the rimrocks.
The next morning, her father suggests they all go for a hike on the rimrocks but before that can get off the ground, her parents are already out of the door and probably the state. Mom is going home to oversee the sale of the old house, and since she’s going, Dad’s going too because he has a job in the area, and they might as well go together and leave their sixteen year old home alone in a strange town where she has no friends or family. Yes, Fowler parents, I am judging you. Apparently the painters are coming to this house, so Jenny has to be there to oversee that. I want to be clear, Dad could stay home with her, but he doesn’t want to. (Well, the plot doesn’t want him to.)
Parents? What parents?: 1 (They’re in fucking Europe. They’re always in fucking Europe.)
Admittedly, Jenny doesn’t want to go back to their old home town, but she doesn’t want to be left alone either, she doesn’t know anyone and the nearest neighbours are a mile and a half away. But she sucks it up and agrees.
She heads into town, which is tiny and only has the necessary shops, to stock up on food for while her parents are away, and in town she meets a girl on a horse (described as a “big shiny brown one”, lol). The girl is called Sally Rafino, and she introduces herself in a very friendly way, immediately noting that Jenny must be the girl who’s just moved to town. Sally’s the same age as Jenny, they’ll both be Juniors when school starts again.
Sally invites her to the scavenger hunt tomorrow. They have one every summer. Sally also suggests they go horseback riding sometime, and climb the rimrocks. I like Sally and so does Jenny. This is unnerving.
Chapter break, which then picks up with them on the scavenger hunt. Oh, Ellis, I love you. First of all, I haven’t seen an ellipsis at all so far, you avoided the Muffin Man POV, and you also didn’t end chapter one with a false cliffhanger.
Jenny’s trying to keep names and faces straight, rather than contributing to the scavenger hunt, which is a nice touch. A lot of authors would be tempted to have their lead come up with the winning answer, rather than working on making friends.
Sally has introduces her to everyone, and them that Jenny’s new and home alone, so call her all the time to keep her company. While that’s dumb, I’ll let it slide, because Sally means well, and nothing scary has happened to Jenny yet, they’re teenagers and feel immortal, it’s the 90s and people aren’t as security conscious, and all that jazz.
People we meet:
Dean Latham, the class brain
Brad Billings, the “one and only football star”
Alice, the near-airhead that is a lovely human being (hi, thar, new best friend)
Marc, the arrogant future Wall Street tycoon with daddy issues
Karen, unspecified smartness
Diana Benson, the hot blond who just broke up with Brad, unspecified shadiness of character, and she’s into…
David Howell, the love interest, since he gets a minor description as being a long-legged lanky boy with dark eyes.
Also, Ellis caught me making a list:
It was obvious that Sally had everyone pegged. It was also obvious that she was something of a gossip, but there was nothing really malicious in what she said. Jenny figured that once she got to know these people, she’d form her own opinions. In the meantime, she was enjoying Sally’s thumbnail sketches. It was sort of like reading the back cover of one of those fat, gothic paperbacks she’d looked at in drugstores – “Jessica, the heiress whose passionate nature matched her fiery red hair; Alexander, the dark-eyed stranger whose secret vow of revenge had hardened his heart…”
We actually get to interact with Diana, who displays alpha bitch tendencies. Diana takes a dig at Jenny, saying only a fool would be interested in the scavenger hunt, and Jenny shoots back along the lines of “then what are you doing here?”, and we have a feud. I give good odds that Jenny will start talking to Long Legged Boy, Di will be into him, and shit will get real, yo.
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 1 (Because girls can’t be friends, AMIRIGHT? For some reason, this girl, who is utterly desirable in the looks department, hates the ever-loving fuck out of our protagonist. And, despite claiming to not care, our protagonist makes digs about her all the time.)
Diana pairs up with Dean, and Jenny gets Long Legged Boy, who I can’t seem to call David because anyone called David looks like Kiefer Sutherland in my head. Jenny ends up besotted with Long Legged Boy, she’s never felt this way about anyone before. She also notes that people are swapping groups (trading people and items), Long Legged Boy says they’re doing fine by themselves, and then they kiss.
They need to climb the rimrocks to find an empty nest. Jenny is understandably nervous because she’s never climbed before, but Long Legged Boy says it will be fine. It won’t be fine. We are now heading towards the event that’s going to get her stalked.
They climb for a bit, then some storm clouds roll in, and Jenny admits that she can’t do this. Long Legged Boy tries to reassure her, but gets the point and admits defeat in the search for the nest – with a lot better grace than most love interests in this series would have.
They start climbing back down when they hear thunder, and the storm starts good and proper. Ellis seems to love angry weather in a potentially dangerous landscape. And I love that about her. Long Legged Boy leaves Jenny so he can check the next bit of the descent.
After awhile she starts to panic, imagining Long Legged Boy has fallen and injured himself/died on the rocks and calls out to him. She hears a faint cry over the sound of the storm, which I can’t quite buy, but the story wants me to, so ok, fine, let’s go with that. [Wing: Not super believable, but sound does echo differently off rocks and can carry in strange ways during storms, so possible, and because I generally like Ellis (and I love Camp Fear), I will cut her some slack on it.] She starts to make her way down and finds Long Legged Boy at the bottom. She tells him she heard a scream and she was worried, and he says that he didn’t scream, it must have been the wind. She thinks hard and is certain she heard a shout, followed by a scream. She wonders “Why was David so eager to make her think it was the wind?” and I know that’s the default setting of the lead’s friends, to disbelieve that something happened, but Long Legged Boy wasn’t trying to convince her that she didn’t hear anything, he just asserted that he did not scream, and he only mentioned it once. I’ll happily badmouth anyone suffering from Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity, but this is a rare moment where it’s not happening in PH.
He offers to drive her home, and then there’s a jump to her saying goodbye to her parents at the airport. Jenny then thinks about how she left things with Long Legged Boy, her thinking he’d yelled and him being too ashamed to admit it, and how they drove home in an awkward silence. She still fancies him, and now that she’s calmed down, she’s rethinking her silence in the car. She decides she owes him an apology/needs to clear the air, so sets about calling every Howell in the phone book until she gets to the right one.
Before she can make the call, she notices messages on the answer phone. The first is a message from the painters; the second is from Sally checking in and inviting her to meet up with everyone at the diner, but she’ll call back/Jenny can call her before they go; the third is from her titular secret admirer.
“You’re going to think I’m crazy, Jenny,” it said. “And I guess I am. Crazy about you, that is. Don’t laugh. This isn’t a joke. You’re really incredible. Maybe someday I’ll be able to tell you face to face. Until then, I’ll just keep my eye on you. And believe me, that’s one spectacular view. Bye, Jenny. For now.”
He has a “soft, silky voice”, but she can’t place it. The voice also sounds shy and she finds that quite appealing. She finds it kind of fun and flattering.
Me, I’m already at creepy. I once got a phone call where a guy identified himself as “John” (well, not John, but a name nearly as common), and for the first part of the conversation, I thought it was my friend’s boyfriend John, because he mentioned being at the pub where I was last Friday, then he got flirty, and I realised it was certainly not a John I knew, because most of them really didn’t like/know me much at all, I was just their girlfriends’ friend. So I asked which John it was, and he was like “I’m your window cleaner.” He wasn’t, he was mum’s window cleaner. But one day I’d been at her house, the window cleaner had come by, I knew him by sight and had seen him just clean the windows. Mum was out so I paid by cheque and she could pay me back later. He had used my name on my cheque to find me in the phone book and ask me out. Flattering? Maybe, if you’re into that. But also, I was freaked. the. fuck. out. because I didn’t even know his name, he was just a guy I had given a cheque, and had possibly exchanged pleasantries about the nice weather with. I didn’t know him. He never asked my name, he never gave me his. We didn’t have a conversation. He was a stranger who found me in the phone book, knew my name, knew my address (wow, the 90s, amiright?), and I had no clue who he was. I don’t know if I’m coming across as classist – as if I didn’t know him because he was “the help”, but what I’m driving at is that I didn’t even live at the house he met me at, he only came by every other week, so I rarely ever saw him at all, and I’d never interacted with him before that day. So long story short, I find this shit creepy. Wing, edit me if I sound like I’m being a snob.
[Wing: I don’t think you’re coming across as classist here. I think this actually ties back into the rape culture we so thoroughly discussed in the past two recaps. A big part of rape culture is the idea that straight white cis men can do whatever they want and women should be flattered by it. Everything about your situation is creepy. He was a stranger who ended up with your name during a business transaction and then abused that information to track you down. That is seriously fucked up, and yet he probably felt you should be flattered by the attention. Also, we’ve been fed this kind of thing as romantic, which is such a load of crap.]
But hey, Jenny thinks it’s cute, so let’s go with that. In fact, she kind of hangs around the house, hoping her secret admirer will call again.
Her parents call to check in, they’ll be a couple more days. Which is more than most parents do in PH. This is probably the most active parenting I’ve seen. Oh, wait, Belinda actually had a mother that got scenes with her kid, right?
Sally rocks up, and they get talking. Also, so far, Dad Fowler keeps going on about how fat the dog is, and now that Sally’s here, she mentions it too. Just give it a rest already. She’s an old, beloved pet. Just leave her alone.
Sally wants details about how Jenny got along with Long Legged Boy. (It’s now at the point I read the name David and think “who?”) Jenny is saved from answering that by a phone call from McPherson, the painter. Who is another creep. He says he wants to make sure someone’s home, and Jenny says she will. McPherson asks why her parents won’t be there, and Jenny lets it slip she’s home alone.
He gave a low chuckle. “So, you’re on your own, huh? All by your lonesome.”
Jenny frowned at the phone. Was this guy for real? “You’re coming tomorrow, then?” she asked coolly.
“Oh, yeah.” Another chuckle. “See you then, Miss Fowler.”
Well, gosh. That’s not predatory at all. Unfortunately, I don’t have an appropriate counter. I would say Red Herring, but it’s still creepy, whether or not he is the Muffin Man. [Wing: So fucking creepy.]
“Gee, Jenny,” Sally said. “Why’d you tell him your parents were away? Don’t you know you’re not supposed to let people know you’re alone?”
This? This I have a counter for, since Sally spent a chunk of time at the scavenger hunt encouraging people to call Jenny because she’s home alone. Hypocrites are hypocritical: 1 (Because it’s ok, when you do it.) Also, Jenny knows this, because she thinks “And why did Sally care? She’d broadcast Jenny’s “single” status to the entire group at the scavenger hunt.”
[Wing: I kind of love Jenny, which is a weird moment for me, because I just spent so much time being frustrated by Jenny from Stine’s baby-sitter books.]
Jenny plays the admirer message for Sally, but she has no idea who the voice belongs to. She presses about David, and Jenny says they had a mild disagreement at the end of the night. She also asks whether Sally’s into him (sisters before misters?), and she says that she’s a talker, he’s a thinker, and the couple of times they went out, she thinks her personality wasn’t his cup of tea. Jenny isn’t entirely convinced Sally’s over it, but doesn’t want to push.
“Of course, Diana’s no gem, either, I’m sure you know. If you’re interested in David, you better move fast, or she’ll beat you to him.”
“She’s interested in him?” Jenny asked. She hadn’t known that.
“She’s interested in guys, period,” Sally said. “For a while. And then she moves on.” Her eyes darkened and her face lost its sunny look, as if the thought of Diana were like a cloud drifting across her mind. But it passed quickly. “Anyway, back to you and your mysterious caller.”
Black Widow: 1 (an evil woman that commands the attention of men) Of course. Because she’s hot and mean, so she’s obviously a black widow too. Also, Red Herrings: 1 (Fairly obvious, but in Point Horror, there’s basically a neon sign above them stating “sinister as fuck”.) for Sally’s dark expression on mentioning Diana.
Finally, they agree to go to the diner together, and Sally will try to figure out who her secret admirer is there.
There’s a nice bit about how Jenny briefly puts on a blue shirt because Long Legged Boy likes blue, and she takes it off again, and is basically, “Screw that, we’re going to talk, clear the air, and if something happens, good, but it’s not just gonna happen because I wear a colour he likes.” And I love her for it. (She wears yellow.)
She gets to the diner and Sally’s got them playing a game where one person changes their voice and the others close their eyes and the others guess who was speaking. Or something. Not really sure how the logistics of that fall, but whatevs. David’s not bubbling over with enthusiasm to see Jenny. Bugger. I called him David. Damn, now I’m going to have to use his name. They talk about the scavenger hunt and Karen and Dean quiz them on why they were at the rimrocks during the storm, and points out that David’s the best climber, so it’d be embarrassing for him to get caught in a storm. Karen then asks Dean where he was during the storm, and he’s interrupted by the waitress arriving. So I’m calling that Dean is the secret admirer/Muffin Man.
They’re talking and eating when Brad the Jock staggers in and announces that Diana’s in a coma. She fell on the rimrocks.
“I can’t believe it!” Karen was saying. “I think I was the last one to see her. We’d been with you, Dean, remember? And then you went off to try to find a zither. And Diana – she was in a really foul mood – said she was going home.”
Right, so she and Karen split up, then Dean doubled back to murder Diana. Probably because she “humiliated” him, by making him like her, and then dumping him. Or maybe she used him to pass a test or something, because he is teh clever? That’s where I’m at right now. (And I’m totally anticipating being wrong, and Wing being a smug bag of dicks as she laughs at me for being taken in by a red herring.)
Jenny says that she might have heard Diana yell for help that night. Brad is really upset about Diana, and kinda harangues her about exactly what she heard and why didn’t she mention it, and Dean gets Brad to cool down, saying the storm was very loud, and she might not have actually heard anything. And he winks at Jenny, which she finds oddly sexy. David is being quiet, and Jenny assumes he’s thinking about Diana, so why’s he staring at her? [Wing: I love Jenny, but the things she finds sexy and delightful when it comes to romance are really screwed up. His wink is described as a nice, slow one, too, which is just fucking creepy. Not as creepy as the secret admirer thing or the painter, so at least there’s that, I guess.]
Red Herrings: 2 (+1)
People leave and Jenny grabs some food. She felt awkward eating in front of everyone because everyone was off their food with the shock over what happened to Diana. Ellis does put in these little humanising touches that Cusick tends to miss, which is nice. While Jenny is eating, Dean comes back in, saying he forgot his keys. Jenny hears a jingle as he moves, and says they’re in his pocket. Dean then pulls out a handful of coins and says she was mistaken. She assumes he means she was mistaken on the rimrocks too. He says he wasn’t making a point. Then he realises his keys were in the other pocket, actually. So the subtext is that Jenny was right all along?
Then David comes back. He says he wants to talk. Jenny says that she feels bad that she “ripped into” David about the scream, when really she should have considered that someone else screamed. (Again, it is painted as if they had a really aggressive argument, when really they were just two people who disagreed and fell into an awkward silence.) [Wing: Well, Jenny is described as being kind of shouty, but she was also terrified.] [Dove: I think we’re so used to PH where everyone treats our protagonist like shit and then she has to apologise for it, it seems refreshing that no-one is being emotionally abused when they disagree.] They briefly talk about Diana, and David is moody, and bails out. Presumably to bump the Red Herrings: 3 (+1) count.
Jenny gets home to flowers and a message from her secret admirer.
Sally calls and says they went to the hospital but weren’t allowed to see Diana. Apparently Brad was aggressively angry and Dean cooled him down again. [Wing: Dean and Brad: Totally Doing It.] She invites Sally to stay over, but Sally can’t, her horse has a cold and she’s waiting for the vet.
She then lets Peaches, the dog, out and Brad is at her door, drunk but trying to apologise for being angry at the diner. Jenny is kind of freaked and doesn’t want him in the house. Brad gets belligerent about Diana – and it was the guess I’d made about Dean. Diana made him think she cared, then dropped him abruptly. He says he hated her, but he never wanted anything bad to happen to her. Then he kind of realises where he is and apologises again to Jenny. Then drives off. Drunk. Yes, Brad, I’m judging you. Jenny suddenly realises that she shouldn’t have let him drive off drunk, but she was so shaken by his appearance and drunkenness that she just wanted him to go away. And I have to say, I’d probably be the same. I have a rather strong fear of drunk men, and would want a drunken near-stranger to leave asap if I was home alone.
Peaches growls, and Jenny feels exposed and alone. She locks all the doors and tries to calm down with popcorn and a movie. When she goes to bed, Peaches stays at the door.
[Wing: It is at this point I thought about checking in with Dove to make sure the dog survived the book, because I wasn’t sure I could handle it if it did not. Then I decided odds were high that it would be fine, since we’ve already had coma-not-death for a human character. We’ll see if this bites me in the ass.] [Dove: Sometimes I’m late to the party, but I do try to email/text you any time there’s something questionable in the books we’re reading.]
She wakes around two a.m. and Peaches is still at the front door, growling and scratching at it, and Jenny realises that someone must be outside of the house. She then goes around constructing booby traps on each external door, a pyramid of cans with silverware, so that if the door opens, they will topple. She then sits next to the phone with a poker in her hand. And I’m sorry Tess, but a PH protagonist has just set the bar a bit higher on the self-preservation scale. Jenny, despite the fact you share a name with one of the most silly PH protagonists of all time, I really like you for this.
[Wing: Seriously, Jenny is bad. ass. I hope Ellis maintains this for her, because she may be my new favorite protagonist. I feel this is a gift to me after having to deal with Stine’s Jenny.]
Morning finally comes and Sally shows up. She’s not exactly sympathetic to Jenny’s fears.
It sounds like one of those movies,” she went on, scratching the dog between the ears. “You know, where the girl’s all alone in the house and the next thing you know there’s blood all over the place.”
“Did you have to say that?” Jenny shivered. “That’s all I thought about all night long. I’d like to forget it.”
“Sorry.” But Sally didn’t look sorry at all. “Anyway, you should have called me. The vet didn’t come until really late. If you’d called, at least you would have had an ear-witness for when the killer started coming for you.” She held an imaginary phone to her ear. “Jenny?! Jenny, why are you screaming like that?! Answer me, Jenny!!”
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 1 (previously All my friends are a bag of dicks – Something strange and evil is happening. Since I hate all of my BFFs, it’s bound to be one of them.) It’s not exactly the worst example of friendship, but Sally’s a bit off this chapter, so I’ll score it, but I want to point out that it’s not up there with Frank and Hildy’s treatment of Belinda.
[Wing: I want to treat this as Sally just being a bag of dicks, because it sounds 100% like something I would do to you. But also, we have been friends for nearly half our lives at this point while Sally and Jenny have only just met, and once I realized you were really scared, I would be helping you turn that place into a fortress, not tormenting you.] [Dove: Wing and Mr Wing are colossal trolls. When Skype glitches, Wing moves like Samara to freak me out. When it does that weird “shadow passing over the camera” thing for no reason, she tells me I’m haunted, when Mr Wing comes home, instead of gently moving towards the camera from the side, he comes from above, upside-down and scary. And do you know what? They’ve earned that. If I’d met them two days ago, I’d think they were asshats. Also, they would totally protect me from any scary thing in the world.]
Also, she’s brought in a package, which she says she found on the porch. It’s a dead rattlesnake in a nice box. And I’m going to score Red Herrings: 4 (+1) because Sally is being a bit off this chapter because the plot demands it, so we might think that she brought the box.
They decide the flowers yesterday were from the secret admirer and the rattlesnake is from someone who wants to send a message to Jenny. Jenny tells Sally about Brad’s visit, and Jenny asks if it might be him, and if so why. And Sally points out that logic and brainpower is not Brad’s thing, so maybe it’s him. Wait. What? Did something happen in a Point Horror, and not immediately get “Well, crazy people don’t make sense” as a motive? What the fuck am I reading? Ellis suggested it would be stupidity over craziness? Hi, thar Ellis, I love you. This is such a weird thing that never happens, I’m giving it a MINUS count. (Please note: I haven’t given a minus count since FUCKING PIRANHAS!)
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: -1 (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.) (Also, there’s always a chance that “crazy as a motive” will enter the fray quite heavily in the finale, so this tiny moment gets to offset that.)
Anyway, Sally suggests that Brad’s logic is: Jenny heard something, didn’t act on it, and maybe acting quicker would have given Diana a better chance of not being in a coma, therefore he’s going to punish her with scary gifts. Sally is really eager to blame Brad on this.
Anyway, Sally came over to invite Jenny horse riding, but the painters show up, so no fun for Jenny. Also, she’s still in her bathrobe, and this scene is creepy as fuck. Again they mention that she’s home alone. I know it’s meant to be a red herring, but no. Bad humans. Don’t letch over a teenager and intimidate her in her own home. Fuck you.
[Wing: Super, super gross, and super realistic that grown men do this kind of thing to teenage girls.]
She drives into town and sees David, who interrogates her about the night on the rimrocks again. Basically, he thought she’d changed her mind about what she heard, but she said she just stopped arguing about it because it was getting people het up. David seems pleased about this, and he’s annoyingly vague as he talks, like something Cusick would write, as if he’s seeing the big picture and nobody else can. Well, bell end, here’s the big picture: someone tried to murder Diana, they yelled at her in anger, hurt her, and she screamed. It’s really not that hard, but do feel free to keep talking down to Jenny as if you’re the cleverest thing that ever clevered.
[Wing: Right? I am really frustrated by this scene for two reasons. One, David won’t just come straight out and say why he thinks it is important for Jenny to remember. Even though I think the point is that he’s concerned for her and thinks telling her will put her in danger, she is in more goddamn danger if she doesn’t know the threat is out there and is trying to remember. Two, Jenny is a little bit of an idiot. Everyone talks about how horrible Diana is, why in the world hasn’t she even once considered that maybe someone pushed her?]
Oh. And Dean is clearly the Muffin Man. Did I miss anything?
Yes, yes I did. David also grabs her by the shoulders to enforce just how serious he is that Jenny need to remember precisely what she heard. Fuck off, dickhead. Do you honestly think that Jen’s all like “I specifically heard ‘Oh, no! Dean, please don’t kill me – aaaaaarrrrghhhhhh!’ but I’ll be vague about it, because what difference does it make?”
Jenny is right with me here.
Oh, he was tricky. All that cute, little-boy stuff he’d pulled at first – looking at the sky, running his hand through his hair – he’d done everything but scuff the toe of his sneaker in the dirt. And all the time he was just working up to making her feel guilty about Diana. He’d conveniently forgotten, of course, that when they’d met up on the rimrocks that night, he was the one who suggested that the storm had played tricks with her hearing. And now that they knew what had happened to Diana, he wanted Jenny to remember, so he could wallow in a bunch of “If only’s.”
She goes home, speaks to her parents, who have to stay another few days. She calls Sally and invites her to stay over, but Sally can’t make it. Sally then offers to take her riding the next morning.
They go riding and make breakfast, and Sally’s in a bit of a mood because she has to go to her aunt’s this afternoon. After breakfast, there’s a minor avalanche of pebbles. Sally gets hit with a good-sized rock and nearly topples over the edge of the cliff, but Jenny manages to grab her and pull her back. After they catch their breath and calm down a bit, Sally says there should be a “falling rocks” sign, but Jenny is sure she saw the shadow of a person pushing the rocks. Sally is equally sure she saw nothing. Obviously. They head home and Sally says she’ll call Jenny when she’s back from her aunt’s.
Once again, Jenny heads into town. This is her life. Be alone. Have a terrifying night. Drive into town. I feel for her. This time she takes Peaches. Who is not allowed in the store, and she’s asleep anyway. Boy do I not have a good feeling about this at all. Thank god this series doesn’t kill anyone. If we were in the Nightmares series, that dog would be dead. So, Jenny opens all the windows halfway and leaves Peaches in the car. [Wing: The only reason I feel comfortable leaving Cuddle Monster in the car alone (during cooler weather, never when it is hot) is because if anyone did break into the car, she would eat their face. Cuddle Monster loves people, up until the point she thinks they are coming into my space, and then she will destroy them. Also, I am going to go hug Cuddle Monster really hard now, because this whole bit is terrible. Peaches.] Naturally the store is packed today. She sees Dean, waves to him, and he stares at her for ages before waving back and indicating he doesn’t have time to talk.
Because he’s going to close all the windows in her car, isn’t he? BAD DEAN. I HATE YOU.
The she grabs her shopping and then waits in line for at least half an hour. During this time, Brad shows up and says he can’t remember exactly what happened the other night, but he’s pretty sure he was a dick and he’s sorry. She asks if he left anything at her house, and he says not as far as he can remember, then leaves.
Another half hour passes and eventually Jenny’s out of the store.
And poor Peaches is not good, all windows are now closed and the poor thing’s got heat stroke. Jenny remembers that Sally said there was a vet in town and drives there in a frenzy. Peaches will be ok, but the vet thinks Jenny was a thoughtless, stupid person who just left the windows cracked, and Jenny can’t respond because she’ll just sound like someone refusing to take responsibility. The vet will keep an eye on her for the next couple of days.
[Wing: I feel really bad for Jenny right now. This is a pretty good example of gas lighting. Not by the vet, who is just responding to what the situation looks like, but by the Muffin Man, who keeps doing things that make Jenny look like she’s a terrible mess who can’t handle life.]
Poor Jenny. And fuck you, Dean. I’m going to assume that the finale takes place on the rimrocks, and I really hope you go over a cliff, you evil fucking cockwomble.
As a side note, with all the panic over Peaches, most of her purchases from the grocery store have gone bad, so she’ll probably have to drive into town tomorrow too. Just to keep the cycle going.
She has a bit of a cry as she’s driving, and just as the tears stop, so does the car. She’s completely out of gas.
She decides to walk to Sally’s – if Sally hasn’t left already, maybe they can help. Then she brightens up as she notices a phone booth on the road. And if you scroll back up to the top of the page and look at the third cover, you should now be adequately prepared for ATTACK OF THE JAZZ HANDS, BITCHES!
She’s nearly at the phone booth when she hears a motorcycle. She flags it down and then quickly realises that while it is moving towards her, it’s not slowing down. It swerves at the last minute, but then loops back. Jenny shuts herself in the phone booth and for several minutes the biker just keeps driving at her and swerving away. She panics about getting money into the slots, then realises emergency calls are free, but she can’t hear over the roar of the bike. After waiting it out a bit, while she bakes in the booth, just like Peaches, the Muffin Man leaves, so she calls a gas station, except it kinda seems like she has a panic attack about being trapped in the booth because the door is stuck, and then the scene ends abruptly – this part, not really good writing. Or possibly I’m just not getting into it because of the ridiculous front cover.
[Wing: It’s not terrible. She really does freak out over the hot stale air in the booth and being trapped, and tears open the phone booth door while the dude from the gas station is still on the phone. That’s the part I’m not sure I believe; she didn’t have much change, that call would have been cut off quickly.]
And we jump to her home safely. A bit of musing about telling the police but this is PH, so you know we’re not going to the police. Her secret admirer has left a wind chime as a gift. There is a message from her parents, who will be back tomorrow at 6pm, so that must mean that shit will go down tonight.
Jenny starts to think long and hard about all the nonsense that is going on, and I have to give her a count for Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: 1 (“I didn’t see anything” or “I’m sorry, I don’t remember anything about the accident”, because either would lead us to the bad guy, and we’ve still got twelve chapters to go.) because at first she can’t work out why someone is targeting her, despite the fact that even David, patronising moron that he is, actually said there was a puzzle piece missing in the Diana situation and she has it.
She forces herself to be logical, and she suddenly realises that the snake was delivered after she told the group about the scream and the shout. Further, she’s just realised it was two separate voices. Keep up, Jenny.
She goes through the names, and makes a good case for Dean, she even refers to him as “a cold fish”, which is brand new information – the book hasn’t previously mentioned anything about that, because it was so busy hiding the fact he’s the Muffin Man. FFS, Ellis.
[Wing: Right. There’s a difference between a cold fish and a logical genius. Also, you certainly didn’t think he was a cold fish when he was sexy winking at you, so. Fail.]
Then, obviously, she has to consider David too. She notes she can’t just rule him out because he’s hot. And good for you, Jenny.
She notices a message from her secret admirer, asking her to meet tonight on the rimrocks. Grand finale, I see you! GIMME A FUCKING STORM! WE NEED A STORM GODDAMNIT, BECAUSE FINALE. (Note from the future: Storm request? Denied.)
Also, Jenny decides that after she’s met her admirer, she’ll go out to the airport and stay there overnight. Plenty of people do it, and she’ll be safe and not stick out like a sore thumb, while she waits for her parents. [Wing: Ahh, the 90s. And Jenny being white. Woman of color couldn’t linger like that.] And again I have to award Jenny another self-preservation gold star. Of course, that won’t happen, because finale.
So, she drives out and climbs to the right place and waits. I’m pretty sure I should give her a counter for not thinking that someone who wants to silence her might pose as a friend to kill her, so here we go, before it all kicks off, 10 points on: Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: 11 (+10)
Her admirer calls down to her, he’s on a rock above, and she can’t see him. He suggests she comes up to him, and he’ll meet her half way. She still can’t place his voice. She starts up but it’s getting dark and the climb is getting harder, and her admirer is encouraging, but she keeps saying she’d rather stop, have him come down to her, or even go their separate ways and meet at a diner. Finally, she’s like “Screw this, I came to meet you, not bloody climb, I’m going back down.”
“No, don’t! You can’t stop now, Jenny!” He was yelling, his voice no longer soft and intriguing, but hoarse with desperation. “I was counting on you!”
The words bounced off the rocks, and Jenny stopped, listening as they echoed in her mind. Closing her eyes, she heard them again. But not an echo this time. A memory. A memory of a few nights before when windswept rain had battered the bluff, when lightning tore across the sky and the thunder seemed to shake the rocks. And she’d been cowering in a little ditch, shouting for David, calling over and over until she finally heard what she thought was an answering shout.
“I was counting on you!” That’s what she’d heard. Words shouted in fury, in a voice that cracked with anger and fear. But not shouted to her, to Jenny. They were shouted at Diana. The very same words, shouted by the very same voice.
Jenny is now having an “oh fuck” moment. The Muffin Man realises that she knows, and pushes her off the wall of rock she’s climbing.
She blacks out for a moment and takes stock. She assumes he hasn’t checked on her, because if he found her alive, he’d kill her. So he must be waiting to make his move. In the dark, Jenny tries to climb down, and this is actually quite scary (for the genre), because she’s not a confident climber, she’s got a sprained ankle and elbow and it’s pitch dark, and she’s scared to death both of pitching over the edge or of the Muffin Man killing her.
Then she hears David calling out to her, and she assumes that Muffin Man has stopped disguising his voice, and David’s the bad guy. Nope, still pulling for Dean. However, it’s a sound assumption from Jenny and she brains him with a rock. And, lol. Just lol. Also, go read my rant on concussions in The Window.
Within sight of her car, she bumps into Dean. She assumes that David is the bad guy, and Dean must be here to save her. A swing and a miss from Jenny.
Dean then sets her straight. He didn’t actually push Diana, she fell, but he was pleased with that. Everyone’s going to assume that Jenny and David got into a fight, it turned physical and they both died on the rocks – and I’m like, why not just make sure David’s dead, and pretend that you saved Jenny? Until you started Bond Villaining at her, she thought you were her saviour.
Anyway, Jenny’s not getting murdered, she’s going to fight. She lunges at him with her rock, but her ankle gives way, Dean’s balance is off and he goes over the cliff. (CALLED IT. CALLED IT. FUCKING CALLED IT. And now Wing’s going to chime in, with that frightfully bored tone, the one that says, “Ah, my toddler’s not very bright” and point out that I’m excited that I called the most obvious end to the most obvious Point Horror in the history of obvious things.)
[Wing: He hurt the dog. I’m too busy cheering that he got hurt in return to be patronising.]
It’s not actually clear whether Jenny bumps him or whether he just dodged away from her as she flew at him, and I would rather know for sure, but by the next chapter Jenny feels that she killed Dean. But she also says to David that she’s not sure if he’s dead or alive. So, kudos for being confusing, Ellis.
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 1 (Where the story tries to convince us that there really is a body count, only to later reveal the victim only sustained minor injuries.)
He’s alive. For fuck’s sake.
Ok, now David tells his side. Diana’s awake, she says she was fighting with Dean when she fell, but she doesn’t know at this point she was left to rot. Dean’s parents are pushy and his grades have been slipping, looks like he wasn’t going to Harvard or Stanford, so he hacked the school computers and changed his grade (has this ever really happened outside of fiction? It’s a trope I see a lot in fiction of this era, but I don’t think I’ve heard of real life cases). Diana knew, and initially wasn’t going to tell, but the school got wind of it, and she knew it wouldn’t be long before they got to the bottom of things, so she confronted him to ask him to just fess up, and that’s when she fell. So I was completely and utterly wrong about my assumption that Black Widow would be the motivation.
Also, David’s been push-me-pull-me with Jenny because he thought she might have actually been the person who pushed Diana – not just because Diana was frosty when they met, but also because David would rather a stranger did it than someone he’s been friends with for years, which again is a nice, humanising touch.
Also, Jenny left her house unlocked and David thought it was suspicious that every single light was on. He listened to the message on the answerphone. I know it worked out in the end, but can you say boundaries?
Anyway, he and Jenny decide to get to know each other better and they lived happily ever after.
And I’m done. Without the bullet points of rage.
Well, ok. First of all, I like that Jenny had self-preservation instincts, and also realised that if she can’t trust anyone, that includes the hot boy with the cute smile. I liked the fact that the motivation was actually strong and not just about romance or silly things. I also liked that this book was relatively short.
What I didn’t like was the fact it was so damned obvious it was Dean.
Basically, my feelings are this:
[Wing: Good story overall, loved Jenny, too many red herrings for no reason (and that failed miserably).]
Black Widow: 1
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 1
Gimme a blindfold and some stupidity: 11
He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 1
Hypocrites are hypocritical: 1
I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 1
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: -1
Parents? What parents?: 1
Red Herrings: 4
13 thoughts on “My Secret Admirer by Carol Ellis”
As always, a very excellent recap.
I actually own this book (the jazz hands cover). I really liked it as a teen. As an adult, I see a lot of problems with it. The bad guy is way too obvious and the characters contradicted themselves all over the place. Still Ellis is usually one of the better ones (if we discount “The Stalker” entirely which I HATED) and this book was pretty readable.
Mimi, if you are ever overcome with a strong urge to scan in the jazz hands front cover, so we can all view it in glorious high definition, that would be amazing.
It’s funny you’ve mentioned The Stalker, I just decided that I’d tackle that next. Because I’m taking a break from Cusick, and I picked Ellis because she’s better than Cusick. Clearly I win at choosing books! 😀 Still, I do think Ellis is one of the better authors in Point Horror, along with Diane Hoh.
If I knew how to do that, I would. :o)
I like Ellis. When “The Window” first came out, I loved it. Everybody else in my family read it after me and none of them picked the killer either. I know it’s dated now, but I still look upon it fondly. Funny how one book can hide the killer so well, while another would be so obvious.
I wasn’t too fond of “Camp Fear”, to be honest, but “The Stepdaughter”, “The Body” and “Silent Witness” were decent thrillers, and she did a couple of books for the “Zodiac Chillers” series, which were quite OTT and entertaining (and KILLED people off!)
I’d say you’re on fairly safe ground tackling her work 🙂
I deeply love the Zodiac Chillers series, at least the first four books. I should really track down the rest that actually made it to print, so we can recap them here, too.
Yeah, that’s what we need, Wing, more books to recap. 😉
Of course we do. That’s why you are frequently trolling boot sales looking for more books.
No matter how frustrating we find any given book, I don’t see any signs of us stopping permanently. We enjoy snarking recapping and the occasional gem far too much.
Also, you need to locate Class Trip II, since it was never released over here. I have curiosity.
Can’t reply directly to the comment, but I have found my copy of Class Trip II. I just don’t have any way to get it to you yet. Find a copy for yourself. 😀
There were only ever 6 Zodiac Chillers. “Rage Of Aquarius” and “In Leo’s Lair” both by Ellis were the best!
There was a full 12-book Zodiac themed series written by Jahnna Malcolm, but they were awful. Most weren’t even thrillers, just sold that way.
There was another 12-book series called Horrorscopes by Maria Palmer (a fake name). I have one book. It was short – and crap. Hard to find and too expensive to be worth the effort…
We have a recap of the Nicholas Adams Horrorscope up in the next few weeks, to join this thematic discussion.
Wing, didn’t we discover that Nicholas Adams was the penname of the writer of that werewolf series we bought a few weeks ago? Or did we look up so many werewolf books and authors that they’re all starting to blend together?
Which werewolf series, Dove? I remember buying the trilogy you’d been looking for forever, but that wasn’t by Adams. Adams is a pen name for John Peel, who wrote that Dances with Werewolves book I read awhile back. I didn’t think it was a series, though.