Sleator did so well with the medieval haunted house Blackbriar (KR, 1972) that it's a shame to see him fumble in an attempt to inject some contemporary relevance into a well paced suspense melodrama. Fifteen year-old Lillian, scared by the prospect of spending a few days alone in her family's isolated summer house, manages to convince two young cyclists who are caught in a rainstorm to stay overnight. While one of the boys, Mark, frets about moving on and Lillian and Jerry enjoy cooking lunch and tasting a bottle of wine snitched from the cellar, evidence that the house is being watched begins to accumulate -- a missing radio, a mysterious shape in the bushes, a midnight intruder who apologizes for scaring Lillian. So far, so good. But when the trio does surprise the stranger in the act of stealing an electric saw, the thief returns and launches into a remorseful confession -- he's "not a real criminal at all," just an addict trying to support a 150 dollar a day habit. Without denying that addicts are victims, this particular junkie's irregular method of operation (why does he steal one item at a time, and how does he dispose of them?) and his immediate rapport with the three young people seems farfetched ("you're beautiful," he tells them, when he learns that they haven't reported their suspicions to the police). And his death minutes later at the hands of a suburban lynch mob turns the thief into a martyr, the neighboring property owners into hysterical murderers, and leaves the children filled with regret that they didn't call the kindly police chief at the first sign of trouble. In the rush towards a dramatic ending, somehow an innocuous message about irrational fears and sympathy for the underdog turn into a liberal guilt fantasy, and Sleator's inability to give speech or substance to non-middle class characters -- whether junkie or cop -- becomes painfully obvious.