The story of Ten may seem familiar, but the characters, setting and modern twist will not. I breezed through this edge-of-your seat read in a day, although I have to admit when I got to the last 20 pages and it was dark outside, I decided to finish it in the morning. Yes, it was scary and suspenseful, and it will make you think twice about spending the weekend in a secluded house on an island during a terrible storm, if indeed you ever have the opportunity to do so.
Here’s the set-up: A mixed bag of ten high school kids are invited to a private weekend party by popular teen Jessica Lawrence. Meg and her best friend Minnie arrive together on the ferry in the middle of a storm, and they are joined by T.J., Ben, Vivien, Nathan, Kenny, Gunner, Kumiko and Lori. Jessica has been held up and won’t be able to make it until morning, and so the gang settles in for the night. But right away, strange things begin to happen. Ben, who is allergic to nuts, almost dies at dinner when he eats a salad sprinkled with almonds. And a strange home-made DVD is discovered that sets everyone on edge, a DVD with eerie music, disturbing images, and an ominous countdown from ten to one.
When one of the girls is found hanging by her neck from a ceiling beam, things begin to quickly unravel. From this point on, McNeil builds the tension at a steady pace as the party-goers start to drop like flies, and accusations run rampant as the teens realize they don’t know who to trust.
The harrowing story is told through Meg’s point of view in third person, so if you have any sleuthing skills at all, it will not take long to figure out who the survivors will be. But the author has plenty of tricks up her sleeve, and even though I thought I had the murderer pegged early on, I was dead wrong. McNeil delights in setting up interpersonal relationships among the teens that pit them against each other, and as you might suspect there are plenty of “he said – she said” moments that throw the reader off even more. Meg’s best friend Minnie is already on edge, since she is clinically depressed and relies on medications to function. But wait! Someone has stolen Minnie’s meds! Yes, Minnie is slowly losing it, and her co-dependent relationship with Meg adds to the unrest and distrust that is slowly escalating.
A fierce storm acts as a backdrop for the entire story and adds to the danger as the party-goers leave the house to try to find a way off the island. The overall moodiness of a stormy night is a familiar horror trope, but it worked for me. I felt every icy raindrop that lashed down on Meg and T.J. as they tried to get to the boathouse in order to radio for help. But don’t worry, help is a long time coming, and things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.
McNeil’s characters are somewhat stereotypical, and you may get tired of the “dudes” and “totallys” that make up some of the dialog, but the author has a sense of humor and occasionally pokes fun at her own clichés. At one point early in the story, as the characters finally begin to realize what might be going on, Nathan tells T.J. “Well, if this is a horror movie, you’re the first one to go. The black dude’s always the first one to die.” Of course, there are moments where it’s almost impossible to suspend your disbelief, like the appearance of a bow and arrow that the killer uses with amazing skill. But other plot points are truly effective, like the introduction of a diary that gives us a glimpse into the mind of the killer. The possibility of a supernatural element is briefly suggested, but it is the pure evil of a delusional human mind that is responsible for the terror, which makes this book all the scarier.
I recommend a copy of Ten, a nice safe blankie, and a dimly lit room to get in the Halloween spirit. And if the weather is stormy, please lock the doors. You don’t want to get caught outside.