CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2005
The summer holidays find Quinn Hunter and Holly Gates, both 18, flying from Los Angeles to the Hawaiian island of Maui where they are to work as cleaning and desk staff at a resort hotel, Barrington House, before attending university in the fall. The book's mysterious atmosphere begins when the cab driver will not take the pair directly to the door of Barrington House, choosing instead to drop them off at the edge of the highway and then speeding off without even collecting his fare. Quinn adds to the spookiness by describing their place of work as resembling “the kind of house you'd read about in one of your mystery novels” and their employers as looking like they “could be the relatives of the Addams family.” From Edith Barrington, the girls learn that “People around here are superstitious. An ugly rumor gets started and everyone gets crazy....There's no truth to the rumor, and as long as you believe that, everything will be all right.” While Edith does not divulge the details of the rumor, they are supplied by the mail carrier, Jack Trainor, who says, “This place is haunted.” He goes on to explain that the ghost is that of Edward Barrington's orphaned granddaughter, Miranda, 21, who died some two years ago in a fire at Barrington House. Apparently, the rumor is being believed as only four of the hotel's 12 rooms have paying customers. However, among the new arrivals are the Caine family, with one of the three family members being Jaxon aka Jax, who first becomes Quinn's romantic interest and then partner in solving the mysterious happenings at the Barrington House.
The key to writing a good mystery is the inclusion of lots of misdirection, and, with Pretty Pretty, that misdirection begins with the book's title and cover art which together suggest that the book's contents could be an adolescent romance. However, the scary contents of a “Prologue” quickly dispel this first impression. Throughout, Oliver injects details which increase the story's tension. Quinn discovers a hidden stairway to the ostensibly empty third floor, and later she locates some secret passageways. Guests report strange noises and claim that objects are missing from their rooms. Twice Quinn finds the words, “Pretty...pretty,” scrawled on the mirror in her bathroom, words written in her own pink lipstick. Both girls feel they are being watched, and they finally conclude that the person responsible for all of the mysterious happenings is their employer, Mr. Barrington. While Jax wants Quinn and Holly to go to the police with their suspicions, the young women elect to gather confirming evidence, a decision which leads to both Jax and Holly being knocked unconscious by a figure clothed in a black hooded cloak. This person leaves the two of them bound in a sugarcane field where they could die from exposure if not discovered.
Of course, mystery fans know to look beyond the obvious suspect, and so Oliver provides a couple of other suspects, one of them being known only to readers. Numerous italicized interjections from this anonymous character indicate that s/he is responsible for at least some of the happenings, but the individual's motivation remains unclear until the book's conclusion. Oliver also adds tension throughout the novel by having many chapters conclude via cliffhanger sentences, such as “Suddenly, she stopped dead in her tracks, and gasped in shock and horror” or “She chocked back a cry. ‘Dear God, no!'” Departing from the mystery norm, Oliver does not have the guilty party brought to justice at the story's end, and an epilogue chillingly suggests that the person's possibly malevolent behaviors will likely continue.
A good piece of recreational reading.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in literature for adolescents in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.