Sweet Valley Twins #109: Don’t Go Into the Basement

Sweet Valley Twins #109: Don't Go In the Basement by Jamie Suzanne
Sweet Valley Twins #109: Don’t Go In the Basement by Jamie Suzanne
Sweet Valley Twins #109: Don’t Go In the Basement by Jamie Suzanne (American Cover from Liz)

Title: Sweet Valley Twins #109: Don’t Go into the Basement

Tagline: Principal Clark is hiding something…

Summary: When Jessica Wakefield started a house-sitting service with her twin sister, Elizabeth, she never imagined their first client would be Mr. Clark, the school principal.

Elizabeth is nervous, but Jessica is psyched. She wants some juicy gossip about Mr. Clark’s private life, and snooping around his house will be a great way to find it.

But Jessica finds more than she bargained for: a butcher knife in the hall closet, and a long lock of hair in the dresser. Then, in the cobwebs of Mr. Clark’s dark, damp basement, something makes Jessica’s heart stand still. Could her principal be a murderer?

Initial Thoughts

Child porn? Oh, wait, murder. I suppose either are likely in the Sweet Valley we’ve built via recaps, though murder tends to be more Jessica’s thing than anyone else.

Recap

Oh god, there’s now a computer game based on Amanda Howard books. Howard is, as you probably (unfortunately) remember, Elizabeth’s favourite mystery writer. (Which really makes her Elizabeth’s only favourite writer, because we’ve seen plenty of times that Elizabeth may or may not read anything else, depending on what the plot of a specific SVT book needs.) [Dove: More often than not, Elizabeth “loves reading”, but in the same breath, throws a tantrum because the only books she likes are by Amanda Howard. She has written off pretty much anything else.]

This is clearly inspired by the Nancy Drew computer games and, I have to be honest, those things are fucking great. I have never played one I didn’t like. They’re cute, and funny, and some of them are even kind of creepy.

Normally I’d be making a terrible face at having something so big in common with Elizabeth, but I enjoy Nancy Drew in all iterations enough that I’m more delighted than anything. I hope this bodes well for the rest of the book. (Knowing my luck, this will be the only mention of it and I’ll hate everything else.)

They tease each other over how expensive their tastes are (Elizabeth’s game is $50, Jessica’s blouses are a “bargain” at $75 — while I have paid $50 for a game, it is rare for me to do so, and I certainly didn’t have my parents spend that kind of money on games or shirts when I was there age), and we get same but different, parties, writing, boys, books, but they sure do look perfect.

Jessica wants to get a blouse in purple because it would make Lila and Janet jealous, and we get this great exchange:

“Do you have some money saved up?” Elizabeth asked.

“Money?” Jessica raised one eyebrow. “What’s that?”

Spoiled white kids. Perfection.

Oh, good, we’re back to them needing a raise in their allowance. Alice and Ned have apparently said there would be no more raises until their 13th birthday [Raven: So basically never.], and when Steven recently asked for a raise, they told him to get a job. He’s 14, but he can go mow lawns (…oh, wait, no he can’t, he sucked at that), or walks dogs (…oh, wait, no one should trust a Wakefield with any pet), or baby-sit (…oh, wait, no one should trust a Wakefield with a child, either) — okay, I can’t actually think of something he would both be able and allowed to do [Dove: Hey, remember when he worked at a fast food place for like three seconds? No? Well, neither does this ghostie.].

Of course, Jessica points out they are only 12, what kind of jobs can they get, and she, also, remembers what a bad idea it is for a Wakefield to baby-sit, though Elizabeth seems to have forgotten about the whole Riccoli fiasco that happened only a few weeks ago. I would have guessed much longer ago than that, but rolling with it. [Dove: I do like that they actually bring up the Riccolis by name, and kind of explain the plot of that book… far better than the four-book miniseries actually did.]

[And this seems like a good place to bring it up: big shout out to @mummysim at Twitter, who provided pages 3-6 of this book to us here at the site, because FUCKING BANTAM PUBLISHING COMPLETELY MISSED THEM OUT. No joke. Those pages are just simply missing. They really didn’t give a fuck about this series by this point, did they?]

Dog-sitting is also off the table (as it should be), but when Elizabeth suggests house-sitting, that’s suddenly the best idea ever, it will be super easy and they’ll be great at it and people should totes trust their homes with 12-year-olds.

Look, I can understand kids that age baby-sitting and dog walking and mowing lawns and delivering newspapers (oooh, that’s a job Steven could try to do), [Dove: Melissa McCormick’s brother, Andy, delivers papers. Sweet Valley is kind of small. Maybe there’s only one route!] but house-sitting is fucking ridiculous.

They decide that it should be called Wakefield and Wakefield, Professional House-Sitters.

Good god, can no one name anything in Sweet Valley?

They put together a flyer with all the things they’ll do (including watering plants and bringing in mail), but three days into it, they haven’t had a single call.

Then Mr Clark calls Elizabeth down to his office right in the middle of her English class, so she’s worried that she’s done something wrong. What a fucking waste of class time and also needless stress for the student. God, Sweet Valley adults suck. [Raven: #preach #factsarefacts.]

Of course, he’s been suddenly called out of town and he wants to hire Elizabeth to do it, though he’s worried about whether Jessica can be trusted. You fucking know she cannot, sir, the fuck is wrong with you.

He doesn’t really listen while she tells him all the ways Jessica is helpful and trustworthy and good at following directions (THE FUCK) and how they’ll never have a party (riiiiiiiight) and of course they should get the job. So they do, though there’s no timeline on how long he’ll be gone and no other information besides vague list of things to do, and, oh yeah, don’t go into the basement, it’s not safe.

Well okay then. One chapter and we’re off to the main plot at least.

Jessica is incredibly smug that she has a job house-sitting for Mr Clark. That is, uh, not exactly the kind of job Janet would think reflected well on the Unicorns, but okay, Wakefield, whatever you say.

And yet, somehow, this is a good thing to them because she’ll get to see inside his house. Why do they care? This makes no sense to me. I zero percent believe that they would be interested in anything he does at home (or, shit, at school for that matter). They don’t care about classes or teachers or anything like that. [Dove: I don’t know, I think there could be a interest in peering behind the curtain. Like in Mean Girls when Janis says seeing teachers outside of school is like seeing dogs walk on their hind legs.] [Raven: Agree wholeheartedly. I still remember seeing teachers doing their big shop in a supermarket and thinking “wow, Teacher eats FOOD!”]

Jessica and Elizabeth are surprised by how nice Mr Clark’s house is and decide he must have hired a professional decorator. What, Alice isn’t the only one in Sweet Valley? I don’t believe it. [Dove: Maybe he’s not into oatmeal and pecan as a theme?]

(Also, they’re impressed by a living room done in mauve and gray and how everything, including the knickknacks on the tables and the pictures on the walls match — that is not impressive at all, people.[Raven: *looks around mish-mashed and clashing room* Erm…)

A grandfather clock scares the shit out of them, which did make me laugh even though it is a very standard type of jump scare.

Second jump scare comes from Mrs Collins, from next door, looking for Mrs Clark. Mrs Collins is surprised that Mr Clark left in the middle of the school year and wants to know where they went. [Dove: MR COLLINS?! Amiright, SVH readers?] Not really your business, dude, nor should the girls know, necessarily (though actually, they probably do need to know, at least how to contact the Clarks while they’re gone in case something happens. Yet another detail Mr Clark overlooked); apparently she has a package for Mrs Clark that was misdelivered to her house.

Mrs Collins has been out of town, so the package was delivered three weeks ago, but it was sent overnight and Elizabeth wonders why Mrs Clark didn’t start looking for it much earlier if it was important enough to be sent overnight. [Raven: Well, someone will need a new kidney transplant now.]

That’s a valid question. Maybe we’ll get some decent plucky girl detectives out of this!

The girls have to go looking for Mr Clark’s fish, and Jessica snarks that maybe Elizabeth should have asked him for more details when she talked to him. Which is a fair point! And a good reason as to why these two should not be trusted to house-sit for anyone. Ever.

They manage to pretty much immediately knock the fishbowl off a shelf. There are four goldfish wriggling on the floor. Dying on the floor. First of all, a fishbowl? That’s not what people actually use for fish most of the time. Second, four goldfish in a fucking fishbowl? That’s bullshit. That’s not nearly enough space for even one of those poor fish, much less all four of them.

Elizabeth takes too long finding something to use as a replacement fishbowl, so Jessica puts the fish in the toilet.

I mean, that’s not a terrible plan. They need water. The toilet has water. I would have gone for the sink myself, but that would have taken a few seconds to find a stopper and fill it, so I’m not judging Jessica for what she did. [Dove: Uh, wouldn’t the little fishies go into shock? You’re supposed to float them in a bag of their own water to aclimatise to the temperature of the new water, otherwise they die.]

Elizabeth took the time to find a fucking crystal punch bowl. As if she couldn’t have briefly put them into any sort of basic bowl easily found in a cabinet or, for that matter, a fucking mug or two, at least long enough to find something better. Good god. [Raven: I was legitimately worried for the fish, the writer was so cavalier with the descriptions.]

Jessica refuses to reach into the toilet because she cut her hand on the broken glass and might get a deadly infection (I love you, drama queen); Elizabeth decides instead of reaching into it, they should go find a net. Of course, the fish supplies aren’t kept, you know, visibly near the fucking fish, but whatever.

Instead, they find a bloody knife in an old green and brown army shirt. After a needlessly dramatic cliffhanger chapter ending (this is only the end of chapter 2, remember) worthy of R. L. Stine, they decide it’s a fishing knife, in a fishing shirt, and so that must be fish blood. [Raven: Yeah, and having fish blood in the section about dying fish? Not helping.]

That’s — that’s not what I would think of when I saw a shirt like that. A hunting shirt, maybe. (It sounds like a camouflage shirt.) Even more than that, though, good lord, Mr Clark, learn to clean your tools better!

They don’t find a net, but they do find Mr Clark’s black rubber rainboots and decide they can use one to get the fish out of the toilet. I … do not really see that working as well as they seem to think it will.

Of course, it works perfectly fine, because Wakefields.

Jessica carries the punch bowl of fish into the dining room, and since it magnifies things, she is able to see a clump of hair in one of the door hinges and three dime-size spots of blood on the kitchen floor right in front of the basement.

They cannot imagine why there would be blood in the kitchen, despite people, including the twins, allegedly cooking in the Wakefield house.

Jessica thinks the hair is an exact match for Mrs Clark’s hair in the photo, and then immediately jumps to the conclusion that something must have happened to her and that’s why she never called about her package.

Elizabeth calls her out on it sounding like a made-for-tv movie, which is true enough, and is perfectly believable of Jessica. I love you, you overly-dramatic kid you.

The next day, Mrs Knight asks Elizabeth for a number where Mr Clark can be reached. Because, uh, he wouldn’t give that to anyone at the school? And, of course, Elizabeth doesn’t have one and only then realises that it’s a little weird for no one to have a number.

Mrs Knight calls Mrs Clark’s place of work (Lakeview Nursing Home, which I assume is actually located where it has a lake view, because creativity in naming in Sweet Valley sucks) [Dove: OMG, we’ve just found out why concerts at Secca Lake start at 3pm! The nursing home next door objects to the noise! FINALLY, ANSWERS!], and they not only don’t have an emergency contact number for the Clarks but Mrs Clark hasn’t worked there in three weeks. Mr Clark was the one who called in and said she was taking a leave of absence, too, not Mrs Clark.

The day Ostrich thinks he’s going to call in and tell my work something — well, that day would literally never happen because he respects my autonomy, and I his. The fuck is this bullshit.

(I think at least a good percentage of the letters sent to Ask a Manager are fake or exaggerated, but I’ve read more than one asking whether a partner can contact work to try to make things better there. NO, people. While there may be exceptions [e.g., it’s a family-owned business and it is your family owning it], in general, DO NOT DO THIS. Take care of your own shit.)

[Dove: Yeah, that generally doesn’t fly over here either. If Raven called my work and told them I was taking holiday, they would just ignore him. Obviously they would listen if it was an emergency, but holiday? Nope. I remember several jobs of mine actually specifying that unless the circumstances were dire/super important, if you don’t call in yourself to report an absence, you are marked as an unauthorised absence, as if you just didn’t show up with no warning. Also, I don’t think a workplace would be allowed to give out this information, even in the 90s, they would be limited to “Mrs Clark is not currently at work, can someone else help?” and nothing more.]

Jessica and Elizabeth get another visitor when they’re at the Clark house that afternoon; David Jeffries, the paperboy, is collecting for two months of deliveries, not just one. This is interesting to me; I’m not sure, at the time, paper deliverers would have been collecting the money in a town like Sweet Valley. Ours didn’t even a few years earlier than when this was published. The image of a paperboy collecting subscription fees feels very old-fashioned to me.

(I delivered papers for awhile, and I used to get the most amazing tips at Christmas. A surprisingly large amount of money [I was very precise in making sure the paper was placed exactly where they wanted it, and I threw the papers from the road (sometimes from a car and not just the sidewalk), I didn’t walk them to the door. I loved that kind of physical challenge] but also excellent homemade baked goods. You know, back in the day when no one really thought through the threat of that. [Though this was after the idea of the poisoned Halloween candy/razor blades in apples/etc. had already spread, so probably there should have been more worry. Small town, I guess.]) [Raven: I too delivered papers when I was younger, but in the UK it’s very different. Each paper has to be posted though the letterbox of the individual house, with all the bike dismounting and gate opening and yapping dog dodging that entails. None of this “chuck the paper in the vague direction of the house” as you cycle past nonsense, dear me no. #driveby]

Anyway, David heard the Clarks yelling at each other the month before when he stopped by to get paid and he was too embarrassed to ring the doorbell. Fair enough, kid.

He’s shocked to learn they’ve gone out of town and haven’t cancelled their paper, which is, again, a fair point, especially because they apparently cancel even when they’re going to be away just for the weekend. That’s some strong planning there.

Jessica demands to know what they were yelling about, but David didn’t really know. (Elizabeth flat out says it’s none of their business, which is fucking rich coming from her.)

Jessica decides that she cannot wait any longer, she must learn more about why the Clarks left so quickly. She leaves Elizabeth to water the plants (shocking) and goes exploring. Their bedroom is a mess; they’re either slobs, she thinks, or they left in a complete hurry. Well, we know Mr Clark, at least, was in a complete hurry at school, so…

Jessica is super impressed by all the clothes in the closet (though not by Mrs Clark’s underwear, a detail that made me cackle for some reason). She’s not distracted for too long (though a purple dress does catch her attention for awhile) because then she notices that all of Mr Clark’s clothes are gone. Of course that means he’s left town and never plans to return.

Elizabeth has Jessica answer the phone when it rings, and that’s complete shit. It’s highly likely that the Clarks have an answering machine at this point, but even if they don’t, the house-sitter has no need to answer the damn phone. All that does is let people know for certain that you are gone and the house is empty most of the time. Good lord, people.

Anyway, the caller is Harry who is “willing to do the, uh, work he asked about.” Well that’s not awkwardly phrased or anything.

He’s very put off that Mr Clark is out of town and says he can come do the work on Friday at 4 p.m. as long as someone is there to let him in. Jessica is actually leery about letting a complete stranger into the house (which surprised the hell out of me; her survival instincts aren’t always so logical), and asks what kind of work he’s to do. Some stuff in the basement, he says, but won’t go into any detail.

Jessica gets distracted thinking about that and agrees that someone will be there on Friday to let Harry into the house to do the work.

She then takes another stab (completely intentional) at explaining why something terrible is going on and something has happened to Mrs Clark, probably done by Mr Clark himself: bloody knife, leaving without warning, blood by the basement door, no one allowed in the basement, argument, no contact information, clump of hair, etc. etc. etc. etc.

Elizabeth finds this ridiculous, of course, though she does admit there are a lot of unanswered questions. Murder cannot be the answer, though, she’s adamant that Mr Clark isn’t the type to murder his wife.

Jessica, in a completely Jessica move, points out that is exactly what people say on murder shows: I never saw it coming from him.

Which is true. [Raven: It’s always the quiet ones.]

Jessica decides that they must go into the basement to figure out the truth, but the basement is locked. I’m sure that will stop her. (Elizabeth actually does believe it will stop her, because Elizabeth has apparently never met her twin before.)

Jessica tells the Unicorns about her theory, which is enough to put Lila off her food at lunch the next day. She does have an example, though; she saw a story on Unsolved Crimes (awww, I miss watching Unsolved Mysteries as a kid) about a principal who murdered some of his students and then skipped town. I love you and your apparent murder love, Lila.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is also telling her friends about Jessica’s theory, though she is still looking for a logical explanation. Maria isn’t quite as convinced that murder is off the table; she works in the office during third period and she (also?) heard that Mrs Clark hasn’t worked there in weeks. (I could have sworn Elizabeth already knew this from earlier, but perhaps I misread. I’m not going back to check, though! Wing’s living on the edge.)

Ooooh, Caroline Pearce turning up in the gossip chain! Feels like it’s been awhile since we saw you. She tells Bruce that Mr Clark killed his wife and is now on the run, which is surprisingly on point for the gossip that has been spreading. You’re not usually quite so on top of what’s actually being said, Pearce!

Bruce is all set to disbelieve her until he learns she heard Elizabeth talking about it at lunch. If it was Jessica, it’d be unsubstantiated gossip, but Elizabeth now, she’d never gossip. *eyeroll* [Dove: I may not like this entitled asshat, but I do appreciate his logic there. Though it’s not sound enough to point out that Caroline cannot be trusted either.] [Raven: Bruce Patman’s appearence in this book is so damn random. Like, he’s literally a name out of a hat.]

Jessica goes searching for a key to the basement door, but doesn’t find one. Doesn’t matter, though, she’s determined to prove her theory. She’s certain she has all the facts she needs.

Elizabeth disagrees, but can’t seem to logic her way to a more reasonable explanation. Really? Not a single one? Maybe they’re divorcing. Maybe Mr Clark wears his wife’s clothing. Maybe they’ve robbed a bank and run away. Maybe they killed someone together and have now fled to a non-extradition country. Maybe maybe maybe. [Raven: At this point, I thought Mrs Clark was in rehab.]

Elizabeth tries to think like Amanda Howard’s books. In Murder the Old-Fashioned Way, the killer murdered his wife and buried her in the crawl space, but hired someone to look after his home when he left town to make it look like he was going to come back. Obviously the Wakefields have been hired to be Mr Clark’s cover. Obviously.

Elizabeth goes over to the Clark house just after midnight, alone, under the full moon (needs more werewolves), because she’s an idiot. Jessica will be real unhappy if you get into the basement without her.

She’s jumpy the entire time, startled by birds and the wind, etc. She’s close enough to Maria’s house that she could go ask her to come with. UH. Your sister’s room is next to yours. You share a bathroom. She’s obsessed with this story. It is after midnight. You never thought to ask your goddamn sister and not your friend? The fuck?

Elizabeth actually throws pebbles at Maria’s window to wake her up. Maria proves to be just as ridiculous (and yet extremely loyal) and joins Elizabeth on this terrible idea. [Dove: Given that Liz has never done this before, I wondered if Maria was absolutely bricking it that someone was throwing stones at her window, and whether she considered waking her parents/older sister for reinforcements before looking out of the window… or maybe, that she might see a burning cross on the lawn. I know it’s Sweet Valley, and therefore perfect, but that would’ve freaked me out as a tween.]

They find a car parked in front of the Clark house but it takes off before they can see who might be in it. Elizabeth decides it must be a neighbour, even though it’s so late. Maybe they work a night shift, Maria suggests.

Once the car is gone, they decide to explore the house. Maria swears she sees a beam of light in the bedroom window, but it’s gone when she tries to point it out to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth leads Maria upstairs and they start to explore. The first room is nearly empty and smells of something like paint; there’s a locked trunk in it, but conveniently the key is also there. They find only sheets inside, though. [Raven: AAAAAAH THE TRUNK IS FULL OF GHOSTS!]

They’re headed to the door to try the next room when the door handle turns under Elizabeth’s hand. OH NO.

It’s Jessica, of course. And Mandy. Good to know that the Wakefields don’t believe in, you know, talking to each other about this.

Despite it being the middle of the night, the phone rings, and we learn the Clarks do have a damn answering machine. This caller is Guo Li from Beijing about finding the wallet on the train and sending it to the American Embassy in China.

… how would he get a phone number out of a wallet? Did people keep a written list of numbers that included their own home number in their wallet when traveling? That seems unlikely and not at all how I remembered. Did he call information from China? This is weird. [Dove: In the pre-mobile era, I did keep a list of phone numbers in my wallet, but not my own phone number, and not my closest friends’, which I had memorised. Mostly, it was emergency contacts, like my aunts or whatever. My mum keeps a laminated sheet of paper in her car that says “In case of accident, call daughter (name and number). CAT ALONE AT HOME – PLEASE FEED!”, which I find genuinely charming. Protect your pets, people.]

Of course, Jessica decides this is absolute proof that Mr Clark killed his wife and fled to China. Maria points out that it takes time to get shots, a passport, whatever else you need. Jessica claims this is why he waited three weeks.

Uh. He could have already had a passport, and if he didn’t and was trying not to draw attention to himself, likely it would take longer than three weeks for him to get one. (Which reminds me, I need to renew mine. Not that I’ll be traveling any time soon, but that just means it’s a good time to send everything off.)

Mandy wants to call the police, but Elizabeth is hesitant. She admits she does believe Jessica’s theory now, but all they have is circumstantial evidence. Not that I (a) really advocate for calling law enforcement most of the time and (b) expect anyone in Sweet Valley to be competent, but it’s not really your job to collect evidence, Elizabeth. [Dove: Given that they’ve solved crimes several times, I think Liz should have a friend on the force by now. It grated that she didn’t consider calling any of the police officers she’s already met after solving crimes. Of course, each crime was a different copper because continuity can get to fuck in this series.]

They decide they’re going to come back during the daylight and take the basement door off its hinges because they need the truth.

Back at home, though, Jessica and Elizabeth freak themselves out because they’ve never seen a dead body. (That’s a goddamn lie, Jessica Wakefield, and we all know it.)

More gossip at school, this time among the boys (Brian Boyd and Aaron Dallas and Jerry McAllister — Brian is apparently the last person to know). They talk about how Mr Clark has a temper (they know this because the boys spend quite a bit of time in his office in trouble), which is sort of new information, but otherwise, we don’t get a lot from these gossip asides. [Dove: Except for Aaron, actually, that’s fair. Jerry is one of those gobshite boys who can’t shut up and behave, and Brian is the reformed Nazi who was beaten up at home and spread his angst throughout the school before Elizabeth saved him. It’s completely plausible they’ve been in Mr Clark’s office a lot. Aaron… not so much. Kind of like him being Jewish, it’s just come out of nowhere.]

However, somehow they don’t feel like filler. They’re fun, if not funny, and I like seeing the way the story spreads through the school. (I’d like it even more if the gossip was mutating as it spread, the way gossip does, but this isn’t terrible.)

Mandy invites the rest of the Unicorns to come with them to check the Clarks’ basement, but the girls won’t go. Jessica is a delight over this: Typical Unicorns, Jessica thought with disgust. I’m the only one who can stand to get her hands a little dirty.

I love the hell out of you, Jessica Wakefield.

That afternoon, the girls try to plan how to get the hinge out of the door, but it proves to be more difficult than they expected. As they’re working on it, though, the doorbell rings and it’s Harry, that workman who called the other day. He has a toolbox and a two-wheeled dolly with him. [Raven: I mean, this guy is sketchy as fuck. Why the hell are they letting him in? They’re the house-sitters, they literally have one fucking job.]

He tells them to stay out of the way and there won’t be any danger. Elizabeth points out that the basement is locked, but he has a skeleton key. UH. I’m not sure I believe he’d have a key that actually opened the basement door, but you know what, I’m going to run with it. Sure. Why not. How convenient. [Dove: This annoyed me. Today Elizabeth has never heard of a skeleton key. But literally in the previous book, she commented that Christine Davenport always uses a skeleton key, rather than picking locks. FFS, Jamies. Get it together.]

Harry won’t let them go into the basement with him, so they listen to him bang around and then open and close a door. Jessica is certain that Mr Clark hired him to dispose of the body. Mandy wants to call the police now, but Elizabeth still says they don’t have any proof.

That’s, uh, that’s their job, Elizabeth. THEIRS.

Harry brings a huge metal box out of the basement on his dolly. I find it hard to believe one man really brought a huge metal box up basement stairs, dolly or no dolly, but again, sure, why not, let’s keep rocking through this.

He tells them not to go into the basement because it won’t be safe for a good 24 hours.

When he’s gone, Jessica points out that Mrs Clark must have been in that box, and Elizabeth realises they should have called the police after all. Of course, they can’t call them now, there’s not enough time, so instead they’re going to follow Harry.

On the one hand, plucky girl detectives! On the other hand, idiots!

Harry doesn’t seem to notice a handful of girls following him on their bikes, because why would he? They end up at a hazardous waste dump, and we get a great moment from Mandy when Harry comes driving back down the road: Just act casual, Mandy instructed. Like we always bike alongside a hazardous-waste dump.

I love you, Mandy Miller, in all your ridiculousness. [Dove: No way on earth there’s a hazardous waste dump in Sweet Valley. Big Mesa, sure. But not Sweet Valley.] [Raven: I love the thought of Jessica Wakefield seeing the Hazardous Waste Dump site, picturing the Merrcandy Backyard, and thinking “lightbulb!”]

Harry notices them this time, and tells them that following him was a really stupid thing for them to do. They, of course, take it as a threat and leave their bikes behind so they can run up a hill toward a little white house. I mean, it’s not like you can take your bikes off the road or anything.

Harry leaves them alone instead of chasing them and they run up to the house so they can call the police. The house, of course, is empty and has been for awhile.

They’re worried that Harry is lying in wait for them somewhere and Elizabeth is certain they need to get the police (WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN CALLED ALREADY BUT FOR YOU), and so what they need to do is split up. Two groups have a better chance of making it to the police station than one.

Though both groups have jump scares with vehicles approaching them, nothing actually happens and they all make it to the police station a few short paragraphs (or fifteen minutes in universe, whatever) later. They decide Elizabeth should do the talking because she’s a writer and always knows what to say.

That — that does not always translate to being able to talk to people, though, and you should damn well know that, Mandy. [Raven: A better excuse is because Liz’s favourite books are  Plucky Girl Detective yarns with, presumably, some albeit fictional police interactions.]

Once Jessica finally gets the officers’ attention, the girls spill the entire story, talking over each other and giving all the details. Officer Larson listens to them and decides that first thing they need to do is check the house, and he’s going to take the girls with him, though he then says he needs a warrant and backup.

Erm. Are you trying to teach them some sort of lesson here? Because this has gone completely ridiculous. They would not just get to ride along, especially if you need fucking backup.

Jessica, of course, thinks about how this must be a dangerous situation and maybe they’ll get medals and be honoured at the policeman’s ball. I am utterly charmed.

Of course, when they get to the house, Mr Clark is there, in utterly convenient and unbelievable timing. And so is Mrs Clark.

And Officer Larson has apparently been taking the girls seriously, so he brought children with him to a house where he suspects a murder took place and where he needed actual full backup.

Fucking Sweet Valley adults.

And, of course, the Clarks have a little girl with them.

A child they adopted in China. I’m going to not touch the complicated ethics of overseas adoption for white American families and instead point out that since Mrs Clark had been in China for the past three weeks working through the paperwork, there is literally no reason for Mr Clark to leave as dramatically as he did, literally in the middle of the day in the middle of the week in the middle of the school year. [Dove: Also, I still find it weird that he called her work for her. Did she have some kind of standing agreement with HR that at some point she would need to go quickly to another country to adopt, and that her husband may call on her behalf? But it’s not like care homes are ever closed. She could have surely called in herself?]

They’ve had a really hard time trying to adopt, and their story makes everyone quite sad for them.

The basement was off limits because of lead paint in the basement which is hazardous to children so they needed it removed. Removed in a lead box. A lead box that was already in the basement just waiting for Harry to do the removal. That makes total sense.

Though the girls told the officers about their murder theory, they tell the Clarks they thought Harry was stealing from them, and the officers don’t give them away. Okay. Sure. This all makes total sense.

Other explanations: Mrs Clark ran with scissors in her excitement after getting the first call and hurt herself, hence the blood and hair. Mr Clark doesn’t clean his fishing knife very well and he’s going to have to learn to put things away better now that there’s a toddler in the house. (Fair point.)

Mr Clark forgives the girls for dragging the police to his home because he’s so happy to have his little girl. Which, sweet and adorable, but also, the fuck?

It’s not until later that night that Elizabeth realises that everyone at school is going to think they’re stupid for being so mistaken — but also that everyone at school now thinks Mr Clark is a murderer.

I CANNOT WAIT. Except, in seeing how much of this book I have left, I know nothing great will come of it.

The boys flat out confront Mr Clark about needing to be in jail. Elizabeth and Jessica try to talk their way out of it and actually manage to do so by talking about Janelle and how happy Mr Clark is to have a daughter now.

I can’t believe this bullshit works. Mostly it works because they suggest having a baby shower at school to celebrate Janelle, which, baby shower maybe not, but party, sure, that’d be distracting.

The Unicorns give Jessica a lot of shit about her murder thoughts, which is hilarious considering they’re pretty close to being murdered themselves now.

We do get this excellent exchange out of it:

“Hey, it’s not my fault if everyone thought Mr Clark killed his wife based on one little thing I might have said.”

“What you said was, ‘Mr Clark killed his wife’,” Ellen pointed out.

GO ELLEN GO. I love your snarky little heart. [Raven: Proper LOL there.]

The Unicorns are excited for the baby shower (… I guess), the shower goes well, everyone loves Janelle [Raven: I’m unsure if the ghostie didn’t inappropriately mention Anna Reynolds at the baby shower because of cutural sensitivitiy or because of the lack of continuity research] , no one cares about that whole Mr Clark Murdered His Wife thing, and we get a setup for the next book when Elizabeth and Mrs Clark talk about Mrs Clark’s cute earrings, which she made herself and now Elizabeth is interested in making jewellry herself.

That sounds thrilling, and I say that as someone who has done that in the past.

Final Thoughts

Surprisingly fun, kind of adorable, love the over-the-top theories and Jessica dramatics and Mandy and Maria team-up with the twins. That ending, though, fell flat. Not sure how I would have ended it, so I guess I can’t really complain much about the ghostie not sticking this one. I’m still not going to touch interracial, international adoption (especially when used as this weird throw-away reasoning here). Overall, I’m rather happier with this book than I have been for a few now.

[Dove: It was a silly romp and I don’t think I liked it as much as Wing did, but it was fun. It was engagingly written, but the story wasn’t my cup of tea. The mountain out of a molehill books aren’t my favourite, although it was lovely seeing the subversion of the Plucky Girl Detectives trope. I like seeing them get things wrong, but this relied on a lot of… questionable choices. Still, didn’t suck. Bonus points for a complete lack of Steven.

But I am still bitter that my copy of the book is missing pages 3-6. Also, you can only buy this book in the UK in a 3-in-1 book, with the geocities covers, which also makes me bitter, so thank you to Liz is a Fat Virgin for supplying the covers so that we are saved from the lazy fug covers.]

[Raven: I wasn’t really feeling this one, to be honest. It felt a little “here are some pages of interminable setup, followed by some pages in which a man moves a metal box, followed by some pages of Adoped Baby Plot Explanation.” The setup stuff was decent enough, but there was very little actual “action” as such, with random jump scares and weird “let’s wake up my friends after midnight and go search a possible murder scene even though we’re twelve” nonsense. Even the “tell the school Mr Clark is a murderer ” subplot felt random, and was solved in an unsatisfactory way. But there was some sass, and it rattled along, so it’s not all bad, and it’s likely to be infinitely better than the next fucking book.]

I am the evil twin. I'm in a feud with R.L. Stine, but he hasn't found me here yet. Every story needs more werewolves.