Fall Into Darkness
by Christopher Pike
Christopher Pike is great at twisted plots, and Fall Into Darkness more than delivers on that front. It kept me guessing until about halfway through. I was indifferent to the courtroom drama and creepy lawyer aspect of it. My favorite scenes were the ones from Ann’s perspective. I think he really nailed an archetype with Chad’s “nice guy” character. There was nothing too supernatural or weird about it, which I suppose is what made it easy to adapt to a made-for-TV movie. The second half of the book lost some steam once the central mystery of “that night” was unearthed. I guess you could say I liked but didn’t love this book. When it comes to Pike, I prefer the weird. Despite its twists, Fall Into Darkness didn’t show me anything I hadn’t seen before.
Observations & Spoilers:
Fall Into Darkness does not follow a linear narrative. It starts with our protagonist Sharon being arrested for murdering her best friend Ann. But Ann didn’t push her friend off a cliff. She heard Ann scream “Don’t” just like everyone else, and found that Anne had disappeared over the edge. It was too dark to see below, the body was never found because it was presumably swept away in the river. Now Sharon must depend on a slimy pro bono lawyer to defend her. But what hurts most is that none of her friends believe she’s innocent. Fun side note: Ann’s full name is Ann Rice. I wonder if that was intentional on Pike’s part? If so, one would expect some vampires to show up, but that was not the case.
The story jumps back and forth between the present and the days leading up to the murder. Here we get Ann’s perspective, and her plan to frame Sharon. Ann wants revenge for her brother Jerry’s suicide a year earlier, which she blames Sharon for it. So she takes up rock climbing, coerces her boyfriend Paul into helping, and plots her jump during a group camping trip on a night with no moon. Her plan is to jump, then switch to another rope and lower herself down. Paul will get rid of the hook, and Sharon will make her way to the getaway car. After the murder trial, Paul will come to meet Ann in Mexico where they can start a new life. What could possibly go wrong? Well, almost everything, as it turns out.
When Ann jumps, she jumps out too far, causing her to swing back in and hit the rocks, breaking her arm and giving her a concussion. With the broken arm she can’t switch to the other line, so when Paul pulls out the climbing hook up top, she falls into the river. She survives the much shorter fall, but has to swim with a broken arm to get out. Then she needs to gather all of the rope and other evidence and dispose of it so Sharon can be framed. She makes it almost all the way to the getaway car before losing her balance and passing out. She wakes up to the one thing she didn’t account for: Chad.
Chad is the nice guy, but he’s also the last one picked. Ann wakes up to Chad taking care of her. She quickly learns that Chad planted the whole revenge idea in Sharon’s head from the jump. See, Chad has been in love with Ann for years, but she went and fell in love with his half brother Paul. When Ann’s brother Jerry threatened to tell Ann about it, Chad killed him and made it look like a suicide. Now he plans to kill Ann, too. Ann realizes she fucked up and tries to leave a message for Sharon. I think Pike really nailed an archetype with Chad’s character. The entitled mediocre “nice guy” who thinks he deserves the sex he’s denied. If he didn’t turn out to be a murderer, he’d probably grow up to be a full-blown alt-right “meninist” troll living in his mom’s basement.
Back in court, Sharon is found not guilty and Paul is arrested for the murder. Sharon and Chad return to the scene of the crime to see if they can figure anything out. Chad shows her a creepy partially underwater cave that only he knows about, and then they randomly discover Sharon’s body. They call it into the police, but Sharon keeps one fact to herself; she found Ann’s ring separate from the body and thought it was odd. It was a ring that Chad bought her. Sharon and Ann had a joke about it because Chad got her birthstone wrong but they never told him. It takes Sharon a while, but she finally puts it together that Chad was the one who killed Ann.
Long story short: Sharon escapes from Chad by using bug repellent on a rope that causes him to slip below her. She then proceeds to kick the shit out of his face and trap him on the rocks below her. He realizes he’s beat and opts to jump to his death, and Sharon gets blamed for another murder. Overall, I liked the twisted nature of the story, but I thought it lost steam in the second half because there was no more mystery. I like Pike’s stuff with weird supernatural things going on a bit better. Ann’s plan was dumb, but I liked that she learned a lesson in the end. Even if it was too late to make a big difference. Fall Into Darkness is another solid book by Christopher Pike, just not one my favorites.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes).
The concept was solid. The twists kept me guessing. He even made some of the far fetched stuff work.
After we realize Chad is behind Ann’s death, the story loses steam. The mystery driving the story didn’t have any more answers to offer aside from what Sharon might piece together. There wasn’t anything about the plotting that didn’t work, it just peaked too early for me.
I think he nailed the Chad archetype. Ann was given a dynamic storyline; going from nemesis to regretfully trying to save her best friend. Sharon was a bit bland, but it mostly worked for the role she was put into. And she showed some agency and growth over the course of the book, which is another plus.
Scare Factor: 0/2
This was more mystery than horror. Getting locked up for a murder you didn’t do is pretty horrific, and that underwater cave scene touched on my claustrophobia a bit. But compared to Pike’s other work, this doesn’t even come close.
I’ll give it a point because it kept me guessing, but this story didn’t feel especially original. And that’s comparing it to the author’s other works. It was solidly done, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before.
Body Count: 2
Movie Adaptation – Bullet Review
Fall Into Darkness is Christopher Pike’s only book (to my knowledge) that got a TV or movie adaptation. It’s also one of the only books I’m reading for this Pulp Horror series to do so. It features some late-90s star power with Ashley Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Tatyana M. Ali), Lucas Wolenczak from Sequest (the late Jonathan Brandis), and a young Timothy McGee from NCIS (Sean Murray). Unfortunately, it’s not streaming anywhere but there’s a low-quality rip on YouTube.
• Kudos to having a black female lead in 1996.
• The movie follows a more linear plot than the book, starts before Ann and Sharon are friends and while Jerry is still alive. It also eliminates the courtroom element altogether.
• The opening scene is Sharon driving and seeing Ann stage a jump off a highway bridge. It was awkward in a way that screamed made-for-TV movie.
• Ann and Sharon aren’t longtime friends in this, so it doesn’t have the same dynamic of well-established trust between them. It made Ann more of a one-note character.
• Paul got turned into Nico. Nico also gets murdered by Chad.
• I loved all the hip 90s fashion. It had some very “Clueless, but with murder” moments.
• The added cell phones changed the dynamic, too. The book was written in 1990, the movie came out in 1996. Cell phones saw a huge increase in use during that time.
• They made the detective character sympathetic to Sharon, which was completely opposite from the book. In many ways, he filled the role that the slimy lawyer played in the book.
• They changed Chad’s characterization, too. He wasn’t the nice guy with a secret so much as the quiet creep.
• Chad and Jerry were also not friends in the movie; and Jerry gets killed when he drunkenly reads Chad’s diary. Having the nice guy kill his best friend to keep a secret (like in the book) was a much creepier take than what they went with here.
• I thought Sharon and Ann being long time friends made the dynamic much more interesting and I wish they’d kept it that way.
• The ending implication that Sharon went back and killed Paul was sloppy, which was too bad because that could have been an added bonus.
Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
R.L. Stine’s The Babysitter