BEWARE THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
The phone and the radio were dead, but they’d already heard the news: a mass murderer was on the loose. Hannah and her younger sister Meg were miles from the nearest neighbor, trapped in a raging blizzard, home alone. Until the knock at the door. Two strangers burst into the house, wounded, bleeding and nearly frozen. Hannah couldn’t just turn Lance and Jonathon away, so she made them promise to leave in the morning. But they stayed, insisting the girls needed protection. Wary of Lance’s brooding good looks, Hannah was drawn to Jonathon’s reassuring presence. Until the dog, and the axe, disappeared–and the girls wondered “protection from whom?”
When the back cover blurb of a book includes the phrase, “the dog disappears”, I can say with a certain amount of confidence that I don’t expect to enjoy the story. With all due respect to fictional people, the misfortunes of fictional nonhumans–particularly domesticated animals like cats and dogs–are always far more distressing to me. There are at least a few reasons for this; first and most obvious is the simple fact that I adore cats and dogs and have no interest in reading about them coming to harm, especially if their fate is not even particularly essential to the plot.
Luckily, however, Someone at the Door exceeded my expectations, and–if you don’t mind the spoiler–it certainly helped that the canine character managed to survive. But of course that’s not the only reason.
Someone at the Door definitely has its share of flaws. Hannah, the main character, isn’t exactly the nicest character; she’s bossy, rude, and even cruel to her younger sister, Meg. And yet despite the fact that her behavior soured my opinion of her toward the beginning of the novel, I started thinking better of her as Meg got more screentime. Because Meg, I’m afraid, is a typical Bratty Little Sister character. She’s ridiculously naive and vaguely bratty, and after a certain point, I found that I could easily sympathize with Hannah’s treatment of her.
But the biggest problem with these two sisters is that they spend the majority of the book playing Hot Potato with the Idiot Ball.
See, Hannah has this ex-boyfriend. Like most of the females protagonists of these novels, Hannah’s a popular enough girl who was dating a pretty darn popular boy… who happens to be a violent, jealous psychopath. But when this ex-boyfriend, Kurt, calls to tell Hannah, “I’ll kill you before I’ll let anyone else have you,” Hannah decides not to call the police, confide in her parents, or even warn Meg of the potential (and later definite) danger.
Later, Meg and Hannah have caught the news to hear that an escaped murderer is on the loose and headed in their general direction and have been forced to allow two strange men to shelter in their home during a blizzard in which they have no electricity. And in spite of the fact that Hannah passes it several times, pointing out its presence by the wood pile, not once does she ever think to take and hide the goddamn axe. Instead, she leaves it sitting out in the open for any escaped killers, jealous exes, or enigmatic houseguests to pick it up and chop everyone to bits.
On the other hand, it’s an interesting thriller with a fairly satisfying conclusion. The dog lives, the killer is logical and properly foreshadowed, and the majority of the plot is an entertaining story. If you’re looking to try some of the 80s/90s YA horror/thriller subgenre–books like Fear Street and Point Horror, for example–this is a pretty good place to start, and I look forward to reading some of Cusick’s other works.
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