Monday, 24 November 2008

The Mall - Richie Tankersley Cusick

The Mall – an angry commentary on a society that's hellbent on self destruction, guzzling down greasy fast food and sweatshop clothing? A gently humorous satire on a consumerist culture? The tragic tale of a loveless woman whose life is so empty that all she has room for is shopping? Or a ridiculous Point Horror book about a beautiful girl and all the men who are in love with her, at least one of whom is insane?

Man, Richie Tankersely Cusick has issues. I can’t say too much here or I’ll give away the big twist, but what is it with her and inappropriate relationships between teenage girls and much older men in positions of authority who have tendencies towards sexual aggression? First we saw this in The Teacher’s Pet, now in The Mall…in fact, the whole book follows a pretty similar plot line to Teacher’s Pet. I don’t know why this surprises me.

The Mall is set in a mall. Not just any old mall though – this is a super creepy old mall that’s been built over time and time again, until it’s packed full of all sorts of layers and tunnels and shops and subterranean chambers that have been abandoned and blocked off until the world has forgotten about them. There’s also some bad stuff going down here – several characters emphasise just how creepy this place is, and just how terrible an idea it would be to ever visit this mall after dark falls. I repeat – do NOT visit the mall after dark. Gee, I wonder if anyone’s going to end up trapped in the mall at night time?

So, The Mall opens with The Thoughts Of A Stalker – an unnamed narrator thinking about the object of his desires, who works at The Mallllllll (scary voice). He likes to stalk her by pretending to be a mannequin and just watching her. Umm, okay. Facebook sure has made stalking easier hasn’t it? Although there still is something to say for kickin’ it old school, after all you know what they say, “you can’t smell someone’s skin cells over the internet.” Who says that? Me, I do.

Trish Somerfield is our heroine, and the object of the stalker’s desires. Unless I tell you otherwise, you can pretty much assume that she is constantly in a state of “icy terror.” Trish works in the food court and her boss Bethany is a serious mega bitch. Also, Trish’s mom is conveniently ‘in Europe’ for the whole book.

Trish’s best friends are Nita and Imogene (nice spelling, not). They’re twins (yessss! Evil twin anyone?) and there’s a pretty detailed description of them but it’s probably just easier if I say Nita is Jessica Wakefield and Imogene is Elizabeth.

Storm Reynolds is a) the proud owner of like, the dumbest name EVER and b) the mall hottie. He’s pretty evasive about stuff like where he lives. Trish likes Storm and Storm likes Trish.

Also mysteriously evasive is Wyatt, who claims to be some kind of odd job man about the mall. Wyatt is quirky-cute and Nita decides she likes him. He has combed back long hair and wears stuff like this – jeans with holes, rock band t shirt, combat boots and a denim jacket with the sleeves cut off.

Muffin Man is this very very strange guy who Trish first spots watching her in the food court. He has a voice like a womans, “and a long, wispy beard on a pointed chin, long flowing hair that hid much of a gaunt face , and where the eyes should have been, only a pair of dark glasses. Oh, yeah, and his hair and his beard are both grey. (cough cough, *Dumbledore* cough)

He’s the immediately obvious contender to be the stalker, ordering a honey muffin from Trisha and then saying stuff like this: “the way that honey looks on your fingers…one could almost…taste it.” Yeah, it's definitely him.

The Muffin Man makes a couple of weird phone calls to Trish (on a payphone, natch, this is the 90s baby) – coming out with more gems like, “I’m eating the muffin. It tastes just like you.” she knows it’s him cos she recognises his weird, womanish voice, also his reference to the muffin, I guess that’s like their ‘thing’. When Trish tries to get a security guard to help her out he inexplicably becomes enraged, muttering about kids playing pranks on each other. Security guards and policemen of the world, I beseech you – when will you learn? It’s never just kids playing pranks on each other. Do your job, damn it.

Trish goes to visit Nita in her store, and she finds a dress she likes from the Purely Passion range: “long and flowing, it was all white satin and lace, like a gauzy cloud, with delicate trimming of ribbon and velvet…..a low cut neckline (with) a tiny row of pearl buttons down the front of the soft, full skirt”

Whilst trying it on, Trish gets the feeling that someone is watching her. Yeah Trish, it’s the fashion police and you’re looking at 15 years to life.

Leaving with Nita for the day, Trish finds Wyatt fiddling around by her car – weird. He makes up some lame excuse and the girls take him with them to a diner. Wyatt acts shifty throughout. For some reason he asks to be taken back to the mall, claiming he has a friend that lives nearby and Trish agrees. After dropping him off, her car suddenly dies. Uh Oh.

Trish heads towards the mall, hoping there are some security guards about that can help her. She finds a weird side door, and meets a security guard with long black curly hair, sunglasses and a scar down his face. This must be a disguise if I ever heard of one. In another Deus Ex Machina, Trish cuts herself on a bottle and the security guard invites her in so he can first aid her. Whilst being first aided, Trish stumbles across a mutilated corpse with an ice pick in her throat. The security guard says he will call for help, but Trish has to leave now, and not tell anyone about this, or else he could lose his job for letting her inside. He calls her a cab, finding out her address and home alone status in the process. What a kindly old security guard, thinks Trish.

The next day, it slooooooowly dawns in Trish that this security guard might have been up to no good, so she tries to figure out who he is. Based on her description of him, she’s directed to a security guard called Roger. He has the curly black hair, but not the sunglasses or the scars and, so Trish reasons that it can’t have been him. She also finds out that there are no night security guards. Trish realises that she was chilling with a murderer last night, a murderer who now knows her home address. Trish pretty much spends this point on until the end in a state of perpetual panic.

Trish visits Imogene in her book shop and agrees to go down to the loading bay with her. The bay is like, ridiculously deep in the ground, they have to get into about 20 (okay, two) different elevators going down and down and down until they can reach it.

Down in the stock rooms, Trish bumps into some familiar looking creep with slicked back hair who’s wearing dark sunglasses: “As Trish stared in cold, creeping terror, his mouth formed a crooked smile. Some of his teeth were black.”

Upstairs, Imogene finds a long grey wig and wispy beard in a bin. Trish thinks that the Muffin Man and the Security Guard and this guy she bumped into are all the same person donning different disguises. She still doesn’t mention anything about any of this this to anyone though.

Trish basically runs around the mall freaking out and falls off an escalator or something, waking up in hospital having had chin stitches. That night she wakes up to find a creepy visitor standing at the foot of her bed– it’s Muffin Man/Security Guard stalker guy. Somebody needs to teach this guy about boundaries. We find out that his name is Athan, and although Trish is upset and scared by his appearance, he insists that he would never do anything to hurt her, as Trish is ‘his life.’ He admits that he’s been watching her for ages – including that time she was in the changing room trying on the white dress and felt eyes all over her. He also threatens to hurt Nita and Imogene if she tells anyone about him, and also warns her of speaking to ‘him’, telling Trish not to trust ‘him’, but rather unhelpfully, won’t specify who ‘him’ is. Thanks a bunch Athan.

Trish drives herself crazy trying to figure out who ‘him’ is – Storm? Wyatt? Some other guy from the mall? I think it’s a pretty safe bet that it won’t be some other guy at the mall, unless RTC takes the unprecedented step of flying in the face of Point Horror structure and tradition and gives us a wildcard baddie. Relax, I’m sure she would never be so unprofessional.

Out of hospital, Trish spots Wyatt in a car outside her house. She has another freakout and heads to the library where there will be lots of people. Storm shows up there, and he’s nice to Trish but she's mega-suspicious, with Athan’s warning still ringing in her ears. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure that id trust my ice pick murderer stalker to tell me which of my friends may or may not be bad news. Storm is worried by Trish’s freak-out and drags her out to the car even though she’s crying and begging him to leave her alone, well this guy is certainly a keeper, who says romance is dead.

Storm decides to show her something – a special place in the woods. Trish is massively uncomfortable with this, but Storm seems to think its ok to just ignore her protests and drive on. Trish manages to leap out of his car and run into the woods. Storm chases after her, pins her down and yells in her face for her to calm down. I do tend to find that that is the best technique for calming people.

Once Trish has been cowed into submission, Storm acts shocked that she would think he could ever hurt her. Well, let’s break it down Einstein shall we. First of all, you basically abduct her in the library, then you drive her into a thick wood, then you chase after her and pin her to the ground. Gee, what’s not to love about this guy.

Storm calms Trish down, and for some reason she agrees to go see ‘his special place’. It’s an empty ghost house in the woods. Wow, will this guy’s incredible calming techniques never end? I sure know who I’d want to hang out with if I was of a nervous disposition. This house has some stupid legend attached to it that echoes Trish’s own story, blah blah blah. Storm makes a lunge for Trish and kisses her hard. Thankfully, she slaps him in the face and makes him take her home.

Skipping forward past some pointless stuff: Trish decides to go back to work (umm why). She picks up her fixed car and, and finds a mystery cassette inside it. On the tape is Athan’s whispery womanish voice, saying “you’re a naughty girl Trish…a naughty girl. I told you not to tell anyone...I did try to warn you, didn’t I? But you wouldn’t listen. So now…now I have to show you how serious I am. You’d better be at the mall today Trish” OK, this stalker is officially my hero, he gets top marks for imagination and thinking outside the box.

At the mall, Nita gives Trish back her flashlight. I don’t remember when she borrowed it in the first place, but im guessing its going to be important to the plot so I’m clumsily shoving it in here, much like RTC did in the original.

At the end of Trish’s shift, one of her co workers passes on a message to Trish – a girl tried calling her who sounded like Imogene with a cold, but she’s hung up now. The message is:

“something about – I don’t know – a matter of life and death?...And she said for you to hurry - …She didn’t say where – she just said….’tell her to come now – before it’s too late.’”

Are you KIDDING me you dumbass. What the hell kind of a message is that to just pass on to someone, that’s like if you called somebody up going “fire! there’s a fire! I’m trapped in a fire and my head is on fire and I’m going to die from being burned alive in the fire!” and they’re just all , “ugh, well I can certainly pass on .the message.” WHAT. THE. FUCK.

Anyway – NOT IMPORTANT. Trish goes down to the creepy loading dock to find Imogene, but all she sees is a bloody hand reaching round a corner and holding an icepick. Scared that the murderer is attached to the hand, Trish hops back into the lift, and a chirpy little interlude follows that I like to call ‘The Elevator Diaries’. Here is a brief synopsis.

The elevator goes up.
The doors won’t open.
The elevator goes down.
The doors won’t open.

Repeat x 10. I am not joking. At first, I was like, whoa, this is seriously creepy, she’s trapped in an elevator. By the end of ‘The Elevator Diaries’ I was like, seriously, what is it with Point Horror writers and overkill? The monotony is finally broken when Bethany The Bitchy Boss’s corpse is stuffed through a gap in the elevator (don’t ask). She was killed with an ice pick, and there's a note attached to her neck saying "you're lucky this isn't Imogene." Oh okay, what was that phone call about then? I guess that will have to join my list of Life's Great Mysteries.

Then the elevator starts hurtling down and Trish gets sad that she’s going to die but I know she’s going to live because there’s still about 30 pages left.

She does black out though, and when she wakes up (and gets out of the elevator hurrah!) the mall is totally empty, and it’s night time. Trish ends up in Nita’s store, where she finds a panel missing from one of the changing rooms. Wyatt shows up and Trish throws a bunch of paperweights at him thinking he must be the killer before escaping through the hole in the wall. Oh, Trish, you still have so much to learn.

She follows a passage way for many many words until she reaches a tunnel. Hey, I wonder what the technical difference is between a passageway and a tunnel? She walks for many more words until she reaches a massive door. Inside the door is another door. I know I said this before, but sometimes I really do get the feeling that these Point Horror writers are just padding to reach a minimum word count.

So, Trish goes through the second door, and inside is a room filled with cobwebs and huge spiders. The spiders run all over Trish and even down her throat (gross). Trish grabs onto something – argh it's a foot, relax it belongs to a mannequin,. She notices the whole room is filled with mannequins, more mannequins than you would ever want to be in a room with. I really HATE mannequins. Also in the room: a candlelit table, a wedding cake and a “a huge wooden bed with white canopy and snowy bed curtains”

Her stalker turns up – and guess what, it’s not Wyatt. It turns out that Athan is actually Roger. You know, Roger. Remember Roger the security guard? No? Me neither. Oh my God, I cant believe RTC went and did this, after all the faith I put in her – I promised you she wouldn’t make the baddie turn out to be some random guy we haven’t really heard of. And what did she go and do? She turned me into a liar.

I’m sure you can guess what Roger/Athan’s intentions are. He tells Trish that he’s got rid of the competition, eg killed Storm with an ice pick, and leaves Trish to slip into her wedding dress whilst he goes to take care of some business. Luckily, Wyatt arrives to rescue her. For some reason Wyatt gets Trish to help him put out all the lights in the room instead of just, y’know, escaping.

The door opens again, someone else enters and there’s a but of a tussle, a gun goes off and Wyatt is all “Stop! Police!” And the other guy is all "get off me doofus", and it turns out the other guy is actually Storm and he and Wyatt are undercover police officers who’ve been following Roger. Storm has been hurt by the ice pick, but as we learned in The Train, ice pick injuries are not always fatal.

Anyway, fuck all that, how old are these dudes? Wyatt helpfully informs us that Storm is “much older than he looks.” This makes the whole kissy face scene at the ghost house in the woods take on an even more sinister turn. See what I mean about RTC and inappropriate relationships? I think somebody has some Daddy issues.

So, Roger busts in as well, and grabs Trish, but she remembers that handy flashlight and uses it to escape from Roger's clutches by shining it into his eyes, so Storm and Wyatt can shoot Roger dead.

Storm and Wyatt sheepishly admit that they’ve been following Roger for a while and they basically used Trish as bait. Nice. Roger had been kidnapping and killing girls for years, the reason nobody heard about it was because there was never concrete enough evidence to put him away and “the mall wanted to keep it quiet.” That’s pretty gross.

The book ends with the happy threesome waiting for back up to arrive and Trish and Storm flirting in a way that frankly makes me feel slightly uncomfortable.

I was pretty disappointed with this book by the end, it had so much potential. I had all these crazy theories the whole way through about there being a kind of Morlock-y race of people living in the mall, or the perps being weird evil shadow versions of real people. When Trish found the mannequin room I started praying that Athan would be turning humans into mannequins, even though I knew I only had a few pages left to go. So when it turned out to just be this one dude we’ve known about from the start, it left me kind of…flat.

Oh well, over to Amazon. A worrying number of readers want to know more about Trish and Storm’s relationship, there are even calls for a sequel to be written concerning this. May I recommend reading ‘Lolita’ instead.

I like this description of The Mall a lot, I think it really does it justice:

“This book is about a woman that thinks that she is not pretty, and she works in a mall that is haunted. There are strange things happening like: the manager of the store got a call in the morning when the mall wasn't even open. There is a guy that is foolowing her, everywhere she is, there is him watching her. He whispered her name in the crow, his eyes are looking for her evrywhere. That man at first he was just a customer, but then he appears everywhere. With his thousands faces making her crazy. He knows everything about her secrets. “

I don’t think any of this stuff actually happened – a) the mall isn’t haunted, b) what’s with this phone call stuff and c)he whispered her name in the crow? That’s clearly a typo but I can’t even begin to guess what it might mean. Having said that, this sounds like it would be a hell of a lot better book than the one that RTC actually wrote. I’m going to go to sleep now, and I’ll dream of someone whispering my name in the crow.

Next time: I thought I’d break free of this RTC/Ho/Cooney cycle I’m currently trapped in, and go with Sinclair Smith for Amnesia.


Anonymous said...

This makes me remember why I liked Point Horror.

LongWinter said...

Why don't more books take place in malls? I love malls - creepy, dead malls are my favourite thing. The ones full of abandoned storefronts with who-knows-what going on behind the papered up windows. I saw an ad for The Mall in the back of an old Christopher Pike book recently. It was like: "Shopping FOR MURDER!" or something equally predictible and cheesy.

I agree with you that it would have been better if the guy was forming a mannequin army in the bowels of the mall!!

BeefChief said...

when are you going to do The Cutter? That gives me the willies...

Anonymous said...

The... Cutter? From the title alone I must second this request.

BeefChief said...

I think it's called that. It's about these little wooden figures that kill people in a forest. Was it so scary I can't even remember the name of the book?

The Babysitter said...

I hate to be a party pooper but I think you're thinking of The Carver.

Anonymous said...


Yohe the Eskimo Hobo said...

pretty sure the amazon reviewer meant crow(d)...but i definitely prefer crow.

Sati said...

I'm going with crowd, unless reviewer thinks Athan / Roger was actually Brandon Lee.

I got this book in the mail today, read it tonight - Halloweeeeeeeen! Eek! - and have spent the last hour being seriously disturbed. It was so...unrelenting. Most of the RTC books are creepy (I find) but still have moments of happy comfortableness. But you made me laugh instead, so thanks.

The guys were kind of douchey. Sexy, but douchey. The age thing didn't bother me - I figured Trish to be 18, and the guys maybe 23-24 - but the whole woods scene did. Oh well, I guess another Conor was too much to hope for.

And I'm REALLY not feeling those last couple paragraphs. Way to ruin a happy ending, RTC.

All in all though, I didn't find this one too bad. I certainly liked it more than the majority of the (31!) that I've read in the past fortnight.

Anonymous said...

Screw you. This book is awesome and should've been made into a film.