By Nona Nelson
Series author R.L. Stine, who has enjoyed a long and successful career writing books that scare the wits out of kids, now turns his attention to adults.
The result will give a new audience of readers more than goose bumps.
In “Red Rain,” Stine has crafted a nightmare-inducing yarn about orphaned twins who wreak horror and havoc in their new Sag Harbor home.
Lea Sutter is a travel blogger visiting an isolated island off the coast of South Carolina named Cape Le Chat Noir. Her timing is unfortunate as a hurricane is bearing down and it’s conjuring up creepy stories among the locals of a similar storm that leveled the island in 1935.
After witnessing a bizarre voodoo ritual that supposedly revives the dead, Lea hunkers down to ride out the storm. The hurricane is as devastating as predicted and, with apparently no evacuation plan, Lea witnesses death and destruction across the island.
Alone on a beach, she finds Daniel and Samuel — 12-year-old, blond-haired, blue-eyed waifs — who tell Lea they have lost their home and family in the storm. Without hesitation (or checking with any authorities) she scoops up the seemingly sweet twins and takes them back to her family in the Hamptons.
Lea’s husband, Mark, a child psychologist, is dealing with his own problems. He is getting backlash from readers and colleagues over his recent parenting book and has a sexy assistant with more than work on her mind.
He and the couple’s two children, Elena and Ira, are not crazy about the idea of taking in the orphans, but Lea will not be deterred.
It’s not a big spoiler to say that even before they leave Le Chat Noir, readers know there is something sinister about these tow-headed twins. It takes the other characters a lot longer to figure it out.
Once the pair make themselves at home in Long Island, they slowly begin a reign of terror against their adoptive family and the town, with crimes that range from petty theft to a pair of brutal murders that implicate Mark as the killer.
Stine has written a briskly paced page-turner that is complex in its gruesome action and yet simple in its plot. This novel’s weak point is characterization. As protagonists, Mark and Lea are barely sympathetic as working parents who do not pay enough attention to their kids. As antagonists, brothers Samuel and Daniel are pure evil; only a glimmer of empathy resides in Samuel, where Daniel is a no more than a psychopath.
The sub-plot about Andy, a romantically challenged cop, does little to propel the story — and his repetition of the chorus of a country song as he prepares to face the twins is just plain silly — but the banter between Andy and his fellow cops does provide the reader with the only comic relief amid the grisly happenings.
There is a moral to this story. Laced among the mayhem wrought by these children, Stine challenges the reader to answer the same questions Mark and Lea face: How much supervision do kids really need, and when should parents step in to enforce rules and provide structure?
He also works in a couple of wicked “Goosebumps”-like twists at the end.
If you are looking for a chilling read that may make you want to sleep with the lights on, “Red Rain” is a fine choice.
But beware: This is a novel for adults that includes language, sex and violence that would make a film deserve an R rating. If you are looking for a spooky tale for the kids this Halloween, stick with “Goosebumps” or “Fear Street.”