"Hey, look, the 'Goosebumps' guy is out with a new book! Perhaps the kids would like it for Christmas ..."
"Red Rain: A Novel"By R.L. Stine
Touchstone, 384 pages, $24.99
"Red Rain" may have some tropes in common with R.L. Stine's best-selling series of scary books for children, but the audience here is clearly readers who enjoy the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Villainous lawn gnomes and ventriloquist dummies are replaced by real people who cause real pain.
The horror is grisly. Stine likes food metaphors to convey the gore: Windpipes ripped out of throats like "some kind of long pasta noodle." A young woman holding her intestines as "a gusher of pink and yellow sausage" oozes through her fingers.
It's not really spoiling any suspense to say Stine has flipped his "Goosebumps" formula and made the kids the villains instead of the good guys. When twin 12-year-old boys Samuel and Daniel are adopted by a travel writer after a deadly hurricane off the South Carolina coast, there are ominous signs that all is not well with the "bruvvers." Readers understand something's amiss immediately, even if it takes the book's characters awhile.
It's a page turner until the end, with short chapters that help increase the pace. Stine enjoys himself writing not for kids but about them.
For parents, there's plenty here to keep you up at night. Stine deftly makes one of his characters a child psychologist whose questions mirror our own: How much freedom of choice should kids have? When do they deserve to be treated like adults? And if you suspect they're up to no good with their friends, how quickly should you step in?
Quicker than they do in this wicked little book, that's for sure.