In Johnson’s debut thriller, a 13-year-old boy and his next-door neighbor investigate an evil house.
In the summer of 1996, young Derek Hall has just moved to Tanner’s Ridge, N.C., with his divorced mother, Elaine. He’s instantly intrigued by his pretty neighbor, 13-year-old Alex Kramer, but after he befriends her, he feels the wrath of her jealous boyfriend, Tony Warner, who torments him at school. As a result, Alex breaks up with Tony, which only fuels his fury, and she and Derek become girlfriend and boyfriend. The two explore the House on Dead Boy Lane, a creepy local structure with a history of violence. Numerous people have died or disappeared within its walls, yet they and other local teens, including Alex’s friend Valerie; Valerie’s boyfriend, Dan; and Derek’s best friend, Chucky Wilson, can’t resist its pull. Alex cuts herself during a visit to the house, leaving traces of blood behind, and she’s soon beset by increasingly bizarre nightmares—as if the house is reaching out to her. The book begins well, chronicling the house’s history and spotlighting the curious subbasement where a young boy was once butchered; unfortunately, the prologue spoils what might have later been an effective reveal. Derek’s mom adequately fills the role of clueless parent, and other characters are entertaining, such as a quirky bus driver who claims to make beef jerky using “the meat of kids” he’s run over. However, despite several unsettling events involving his girlfriend, Derek goes on about his life, watching scary flicks, listening to cool music and playing video games, when he should be more frightened. The story pulses with suspense in the last few pages, but readers may find the final resolution disturbing and depressing. The book’s excessive references to works by horror masters such as Stephen King and filmmaker John Carpenter also detract from the pacing and overall tone.
An initially promising horror tale that unfortunately lacks suspense until nearly its end.