June 07, 2014

Christopher Pike: "Die Softly"

Title: Die Softly [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Thriller/Mystery
Year: 1991
Age: 12+
Stars: 2/5
Pros: Believable depiction of a male teen...up to a point. Photography makes for an original plot device.
Cons: Unlikeable characters. Not particularly engaging prose. Some paragraphs could have benefited more editing.
WARNING! Some gruesome deaths. Sex is mentioned/implied; drugs are heavily featured.
Will appeal to: Those who love a classic teen thriller '90s-style...only a lot darker than average.

Blurb: Herb just wanted to photograph the cheerleaders in the school showers. He planted his camera high in the corner where no one could see it, and rigged it to a special homemade timer. He hoped that by Friday night he would have an exciting roll of film to develop. But a girl dies Friday afternoon. On the surface it appears to be nothing more than a tragic car accident. But when Herb finally does collect his roll of film, he develops a picture that shows a shadowy figure sneaking up on the girl who has died with a baseball bat. It makes Herb wonder if the girl was dead long before the car accident. But unfortunately for Herb, he doesn't wonder if the murderer knows he took the picture. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: Well, yes, this isn't one of my favourite Pike books - obviously. I'll state my reasons for that in a moment. But one thing needs to be said in advance...even when YA was still in its infancy, Pike never shunned the darkest angles of human psyche, nor the most gruesome outcomes of human emotions. In a way, this book is mature YA, right because of that. On the other hand, it's still a kid of the '90s, in what it lacks sophistication and conciseness. The best teen novels out there nowadays would never spend pages describing the wiring of a camera to a tape recorder and their location on a ledge, or the development of a roll of film. Not cool ;).
But my main problems with this book are the characters and the tone. I'll get to the characters in a few lines...but I'm starting with the tone. The story is told in third person by Herb, an eighteen year old "nobody" (that's how he thinks of himself) with one single talent - photography. The chapters alternate between the past, when death struck Herb's small clique of friends and acquaintances, and the present ("In the End"), when Herb is on the phone with Sergeant Fitzsimmons, recounting the events. The book ends with an epilogue. Now, Pike's typical style is made of short sentences, on the descriptive side. While it works for his most interesting stories (especially those told in first person), it tends to get a bit dull and simplistic here. I get it that we are in Herb's mind, so the writing style probably mimics his mental processes quite accurately, but it also sets a flat tone on the whole. [...]

Next, the characters. It honestly sounds like Pike tried his best in order to populate this book with unpleasant ones. And I don't mean the usual "characters you love to hate". Either their physical aspect or their personality traits (and in some cases, both at once) seem to have been designed to distance them from the reader. It probably adds to believability, but it's also overdone - and a bit distasteful. E.g.: Herb: "His brown hair was long, unkempt, and he couldn't run a comb through it without tearing clumps out"; Sammie: "She dressed like an ex-convict, a male ex-convict [...] Somewhere inside, hidden beneath the rolls of fat, was the real Sammie [...] She had bangs that had grown into tangled strings that spent most of their time collecting sweat". [Note about the "rolls of fat": I honestly don't think that the author meant to lash out at an overweight person, but his choice of words was unfortunate at best...]. Also, Herb is a believable character in terms of your hormone-loaded, averagely-brained teenage loser...but when he ostinately refuses to see what's in front of him, or tries to make excuses for unwarranted things...well, I tend to lose my patience just a little *rolls eyes*. Of course, the whole book has its foundation in Herb's, umm, naivetè (and hormones). But still.
On the other hand, Herb succeeds in framing the killer in the end, though...well, let's say he doesn't get to celebrate this particular event. I like what Pike did with the ending - another instance of how he isn't afraid to make a startling move.
Mention of honour: Herb does have a mother who cares for him and tries to keep him out of trouble. With very little results, but not for lack of trying. At least someone still has functioning parents (or one of them) in teen lit...
Well, if you like your YA dark, with strong images and mature themes (see the "WARNING!" section), this one can be your cup of tea; on the other hand, you have to put up with the problems I pointed out, and they might taunt your reading experience. If such issues tend to bother you, then it's a case of having to weight your options...

For more Christopher Pike books click here.

A more recent and apter (not to mention, less cheesy) Paperback cover...
...though the figure with the baseball bat shouldn't look like a grown man

10 comments:

  1. I remember this Christopher Pike book well. It wasn't one of my favourites either but I remember liking the ending and the fact that Pike did not go for the usual standard denouement.

    Great review - you really summed up the issues I had with this book years ago but wasn't mature enough at the time to verbalize!

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    1. Thank you! I saw you have an 80s-90s feature on your blog. For those who might be interested...
      it's here ;).

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  2. Excellent review! I have not read any Christopher Pike yet, but I don't think I will be starting with this one. Have you read anything else by him that you would recommend?

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    1. As far as YA titles go, my fave Pike ever is Remember Me, an afterlife/mystery crossover...you can click on the title for my review :). There are two sequels too, which I'm not crazy about (the links to my respective reviews are at the end of the Remember Me article). I also like Weekend, Last Act, See You Later (my review here), Spellbound, The Midnight Club, Red Queen (my review here)...some of them are better than the others, but I tried to offer you some variety here, from mystery to fantasy to time travel.
      I love his Thirst (formerly The Last Vampire) series, even though I'm not overly fond of vampires...but this one is rather unique. You have to be a horror fan though :).
      Pike wrote a few great adult titles as well. Try The Season of Passage and The Blind Mirror - but as usual, beware...they're really dark.

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  3. I always struggle with unlikable characters. On one hand there are unlikable people out there so it's real and I like to see more of that but on the other side it's not always pleasant to spend that much time in their head. It doesn't sound like Pike struck the right balance either. But yay for being bold with a YA story.

    Nice review Roberta!

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

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    1. Thank you :). As a rule, I don't mind unlikeable characters that much...but this was a rather depressing bunch :(.

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  4. Oh well, I will probably try this book. Maybe I will like it, I don't know. I mean I like it when some characters are not the usual heroes, and it's a challenge to put up with them. I just read Remember Me (I couldn't resist the urge) and I noticed his books have this 90's feel, which I love. Maybe that's what made me read his books (oh and a certain girl who had created a Christopher Pike Room in her blog). When I read his books, I have a certain deja-vu. Then I remember I was obsessed with these 90's books a long time ago, for example L.J.Smith with "The Forbidden Game", even though her books are not that weird. Hey, by the way thanks for introducing me to Kate from Midnight Book Girl. I asked her about audio books, since I want to try them and she responded with a super long comment explaining everything, haha. And also I finished my book analysis, which I should say it turned out to be a rant about Romeo and Juliet's love. Oh well, sorry for all this long comment. I guess I missed you and your awesome reviews. I read them for fun, because you explain everything so well. I'm ending this comment with a big hug, and you're gorgeous!!! Ciao!!!

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    1. *blushes deeply*
      I hope you liked RM as much as me...I feel responsible for convincing you to spend your money on all these books LOL. What about the sequels? Were you able to enjoy them as well?

      Kate is an amazing person. I'm glad the two of you hit it off!

      A rant? Go figure ;). I'm really, really surprised this book ignited the rant fire in you haha. Talk about instalove and all the stuff.

      And BTW...never be sorry for posting super long comments. Also because, after all, I post super long reviews...;)

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  5. I remember crying hard at the end of this book, but I also read it when it first came out (the benefits of being a tween and teen during Pike's more productive years. I did like Herb, and I saw his blindness to a particular character to be pretty typical of a teenage boy. Even by today's standards, the ending is pretty shocking, which I love about it. I've re-read this many times, and in a way I feel like Herb was a precursor to Marvin in Master of Murder.

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    1. The likeness between Herb and Marvin struck me as well. On the other hand, Marvin is a real badass compared to poor Herb LOL.
      It's fun though...I feel that Pike writes his female main characters better than their male counterparts. Or at least, he still has to come up with a powerful, really tridimensional main lead. Then again, he did write his Shari and Sita in 1st person, which always helps.
      It's not that I don't like Herb...but I don't really like him either...if I'm making sense!

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