It's funny that author R.L. Stine's first adult novel, Red Rain, still has two, single-mindedly evil, murdering kids at its center and dumbfounded adults on its periphery. Usually his Goosebumps scares come from good kids caught up in bad things and dumbfounded adults barely paying any notice, so not much has changed. Stine does add a short but memorable sexual encounter and describes the entrail spilling and throat ripping with clinical precision; however the pacing of his short chapters (2 to 7 pages mostly) and the slicing of the novel into 4 smaller parts, allows for too much breakage in the momentum once it actually gets going.
Lea, an amateur travel blogger visits Cape Le Chat Noir off the coast of South Caronlina, ahead of a potentially devastating hurricane. Her attitude is neither here nor there as to the danger (she's from Long Island), which perfectly suits her amateur status, but part of the allure for her are the mysterious stories told about the Cape's enfatuation with reviving the dead. Over a cup of tea she listens to how the dead were raised to help rebuild Le Chat Noir after the hurricane of 1935. Later she witnesses a Magic Hands ceremony and becomes spooked by her brush with the supernatural. Stine hustles through all this, eschewing suspense-building for expediently setting up context for the next chapter.
Of course, to be fair, another possible scenario is that Stine's editor took a hatchet to his longer prose and removed Stine's more carefully crafted work. For instance, compare Peter Straub's 416 page Double Day edition of A Dark Matter with his unfettered and more artful longer version, The Skylark, from Subterranean Press. Whatever the case may be for Red Rain, the book as it stands reads more like a second or third draft, leaving us with intriguing inferences of otherworldly things instead of making us experience them more fully; and the gist of horror is in the experience of it.
Beginning with a promising hint of magic and death, Stine doesn't provide enough backstory to spook us as much as Lea was. The chapters follow this same approach: a tippy toe's worth of depth, then out of the pool and into another scene. There are very effective moments of terror, but there are also many lackluster moments in-between, especially when the adults talk. His adults don't speak as well as the kids do, and when he reverts to the usual buddy cop banter, it never reaches beyond the locker room, towel snapping level.
Not surprisingly, his kids, both evil and victimized, are the strongest characters in Red Rain, with the evil blond-haired twins, Samuel and Daniel, taking the horror-edge lead. They appear out of the hurricane that Lea didn't fear enough, walking through the carnage and death, appearing to her like blue-eyed angels. In a smartly daring move (or neglectful one, take your pick) , Stine pulls out a gruesome killing-ability-gimmick for Samuel, which balances the whole tone of the novel between 1980s exploitation-cool and 1950s courageousness. The balance tips almost into absurdity when the evil twins plot to take over their new home and school, drawing blue arrows on themselves and those they convert over to their world-domination plans. It's silly, it's grotesque, and clearly a signature element of Stine's stories, which he uses quite well.
Given more pages describing the eerie background for Le Chat Noir, more of the destructive hurricane of 1935, more of the bizarre Magic Hands Revivification Ceremony (which, if tourists like Lea can so easily attend it how much of a mystery can it be?), and more on the origin of the twins' evil nature (here's a hint: Wake Wood), this novel would be more of a nail-biter. Instead, Stine holds back much and explains only enough to provide his plot points movement to get us to the next short chapter. For Red Rain, the goosebumps do not come often enough, but when they do, Samuel and Daniel make the most of them.
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