The Devil’s Elbow roller-coaster derails, killing one student and maiming two. Everyone thinks it’s a tragic accident, except Tess Landers who saw a mysterious figure tampering with the tracks. Before the night is out she’s getting scary purple messages.
At the same time, the mysterious culprit unveils a web of lies from a secret diary. The children of Santa Luisa will pay for the sins of their fathers…
Tess Landers, described briefly as tall and skinny with straight fair hair, is a difficult one to pin down. She’s a bit of a contradiction. There are flashes of compassion, independence and resolve and she sometimes acts like a human being – after her initial note (inexplicably written in purple crayon, a fact which is repeated throughout as if purple is truly the mark of a psychopath), Tess does go to the police like any sensible person would. However, she’s also whiny and sullen and prone to moves of genius like walking home alone through forests at night during a storm. Too much of her behaviour suits the plot unfortunately.
She has excellent YA broken home credentials. In a MASSIVE infodump in the first chapter we learn that Tess has opted to live with her free-spirited step mum, who despite a lengthy description, is never actually in the book.
I’ve decided to cast Debbie Gibson. Just because. Some excellent Tess dialogue: “Well you’re in a pretty good mood tonight,” she said crankily, because she herself was not. It’s a shame Gina, the best friend isn’t the main character – she’s a far more likeable creation.
The Love Interest
Uh. Just uh. As half the book is from the culprit’s perspective, we quickly establish that one of Tess’s friends is the killer. Therefore, a certain amount of suspicion is thrown on all of them. One of the gang is Tess’s on/off boyfriend, Sam.
I have a theory about Sam. His constant sportswear wearing leads me to think he might be on steroids. It would explain his snappish and impatient temperament in any case. It’s hard to understand what any girl (or guy for that matter) would see in Sam. This is how he talks to Tess: “Oh great!’ Sam complained, “Now not only do I have to worry about you, I have to worry about my sister too! That’s just perfect!”
Sam. Not only is this roid rage annoying, it’ll make your testicles shrink to the size of chocolate raisins. Once again delving into 90’s board game HEARTTHROB, I select GARY. Out of the guys in the book, if I HAD to, I’d pick hot dog vending bit-of-rough, Doss.
I’m afraid so…
“The smell of hot dogs brings out the beast in me.”
“Ha ha! Shredded tyres! Now her car won’t go!”
“And to answer your next question, it wasn’t booze or drugs. It was probably brownies.”
“We have, of course, questioned the possibility that Robert might experiment with controlled substances.”
And special shout out the the killer’s poetry skills:
Dade and Sheree went up the hill, with Joey right behind them.
Now Dade is dead and Sheree’s ill, and Joey’s leg can’t find him.
Body count: 1 (3 if we include historical characters)
Does it pass the Bechdel Test?: Yes.
Is it scary?
Scary isn’t the right word. A dead cat pinned to the door is unsettling, but there’s little room for suspense. Seeing inside the killer’s mind slightly removes some of the mystery too. That said, the set pieces are fun. Final Destination 3 showed us how nerve-wracking fairgrounds can be and it’s a shame there aren’t more scenes at the Broadwalk – for example there are only two scenes inside the titular funhouse. My personal favourite is Tess’s (actually quite funny) tumble into an empty swimming pool.
Did the best friend do it? No, and the final reveal is quite a surprise.
Is it good?
Perhaps for the first time since we started our little group we stumble across an episode that doesn’t quite work or stand up to modern YA standards. There is a lot of good in Funhouse, however. The gradual reveal of the killer’s motive IS efcective. He has a believable reason to be angry at the gang – and the fate of Lila O Hare would work in a modern YA. The historical element adds much needed texture to the somewhat pedestrian plot. It’s a shame as, in 1993, a new Hoh installment was something I greatly looked forward to – I was obsessed with the Nightmare Hall range. ‘The Wish’ is one of my all time favourite Point Horrors.
I also think we should mention Trudy Slaughter, easily the best thing about the book. A straight up Regina George. She’s gloriously blunt and has a mean line in leather jumpsuits. PINK LEATHER JUMPSUITS. Amazing.
Overall a competent, if slightly boring, whodunnit with plenty of disposable teens. I just wish more had been made of the fun fair setting.
Over to you!
1. If you had to kai-kai with one of the gang, which would it be and why?
2. Is the killer right to exact revenge on the kids instead of the parents?
3. Why doesn’t Tess just go back to her dad’s?
4. What role does the postal service play in the killer’s downfall?
5. Do you think Sam and Tess are well matched as a couple?
Join us on 13th August for THE CHEERLEADER by CAROLINE B COONEY.