Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Wicked Heart by Christopher Pike (1993)

Hey, guess what, guys! I found another Christopher Pike book from my secret stash, and this one pretty much tops all the other ones in bad descriptions, far-fetched plots, and disturbing violence. I'm talking about The Wicked Heart (1993), the story of a teenage serial killer named Dusty Shame and his chemistry lab partner, Sheila, who helps solve the mystery and bring his story to an end. Let me say that again: Dusty Shame.

I'll just let Pike describe Dusty for you:

He was a handsome young man. His hair was light brown, soft and fine like that of an angel, his eyes green as grass in evening twilight. He was five ten, fit and muscular, but plagued by repeated heartburn. He had a tendency, when in social situations, to be jerky in his movements. But when he was alone, especially when he killed, he moved smoothly and gracefully as a dancer. Always, though, he was quiet. Had he been more talkative, he certainly could have had plenty of dates. And maybe if he had spoken to more girls and listened to their voices instead of the one [in] his head, he wouldn't have become a murderer....

Dusty was in many ways like his nickname, Dust, and viewed everything from the ground level, where the insects that crawled through the mud were the best friends of the flowers that scented the air with their perfume.

Here we go (spoilers follow, but I don't know that it matters much):

As the book begins, Dusty has killed two teenage girls and is about to kill a third. A voice in his head tells him he needs to kill six girls and bury them in an isolated cave in the California desert, where six other old graves already lie. The other girls Dusty killed lived in other towns, but for this third murder he picks Nancy, a girl from his chemistry class, who was talking about how her parents were going to be out of town for a couple days.

When Nancy doesn't show up for class the next day, her best friend (and Dusty's lab partner) Sheila, is worried. Sheila is also upset because her boyfriend Matt recently broke up with her. She runs into Matt after school and starts crying so hard that he offers to drive her home, but she insists that they stop at Nancy's house to check on her. When there is no answer, Matt breaks into the house and they notice nothing out of place except that Nancy and her purse are gone, and there is a white card with a hand-drawn swastika on the bed. They call Nancy's parents and then the police. Eventually they get put in touch with Lieutenant Black who has been tracking the other murders.

The ridiculousness level amps up as Lt. Black entrusts Sheila with details of the ongoing investigation and asks her for help in understanding how the Einstein computer network works (an adorably described Prodigy-like creation), since it appears that the killer finds his victims using the message boards. Sheila doesn't know much about Einstein, but her lab partner Dusty does! Uh oh! Dusty and Shelia go to Lt. Black's house and meet his cute teenage daughter Dixie. Uh oh!

Then things get really improbable:

Lt. Black sends Sheila out to another city to talk to a retired police officer named Gossick who has a theory about this case. She decides to take Matt with her and they hear the guy out. Here is the outline: Back in Nazi Germany, Heinrich Himmler had a girlfriend named Frau Scheimer. They were both empty evil beings without humanity that fed off of the suffering of others. Gossick was present when Himmler and Scheimer were caught and Himmler killed himself before being interrogated. Frau Scheimer and her young daughter (uh oh!) were released and ended up going to California. A similar set of murders of young women started up and Gossick started investigating. Through a deep meditation regimen, he connected in with the mysteries of the universe and realized that Frau Scheimer was responsible for the killings. Things happen, Gossick ends up shooting Scheimer, burying her in a secret grave, fostering her daughter for awhile, and then getting fired from the force, and losing custody of the daughter, who he had grown to love. The daughter's adopted parents end up dying and she changes her name and has a son of her own. She loses her mind to Alzheimer's when her son is a young man, but the evil voice of her mother is still able to talk to him and tell him to commit horrible acts. That's right: Dusty Shame is the grandson of Himmler!

And now he has Dixie and is driving her out to the desert with Sheila hot on their trail. Gossick and Matt are trying to find them! So is Lt. Black! What will happen!

So, this one was satisfyingly ridiculous, but also one of the worst written of all of Pike's books. The dialogue is horrible, the descriptions clunky, and the plot ridiculous. This was written in the heyday of Pike's career (it was the fourth book he published in 1993) and it reads like a poorly edited first draft. It is much much darker than other Pike books, but the ridiculous plot and poor writing do little to help the violence and tragedy to coalesce into anything suspenseful or engaging. If you love to hate Pike books, this is the one for you. If you are looking for a good murder mystery, then you should probably stay away.


Corie said...

Okay, yeah. Wow. There are so many things to love about this review, but I'm going to try to stick to just a few. First, that cover is awesome. Dusty appears to be Helen Slater and Scarlett Johanssen's evil, angelic-haired love child. Second, I particularly like that Dusty's heartburn is part of the description. Does that lead to some important plot point? Was Himmler known for heartburn? Why does Pike tell us about that? Similarly, why does he feel the need to state that Dusty has the totally surprising nickname "Dust"? Third, Himmler? Really?

To sum up my feelings about this review - Wow.

Spacebeer said...

The heartburn is never mentioned again, so yeah, it's an odd detail. Maybe it shows how stressed out "Dust" is? Also, no one ever calls him Dust, they just call him Dusty, so Dust isn't much of a nickname. Finally, isn't Dusty already a nickname for Dustin?

This book is totally heading to you and R. next so that you can enjoy the full experience.