The Cataluna Chrinicles #2:
The Dark Secret
© 1995 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Don Brautigam.
While The Dark Secret did reveal some new things, it ultimately stuck to familiar roads we’ve been down many times before. It opened with the most creative kill scene of the book, but overall it was significantly less violent than the first book. I did enjoy the absolutely bonkers explanation of how the Cataluna came to be the death machine we know and love. Lauren and Regina’s story was reminiscent of The Stepsister (in a good way). The only part of the 1995 storyline that bugged me was how it ended. What really didn’t work for me was the Catherine and William story. It was disappointing to see Catherine flip a switch and become a murder-loving always-cackling cartoon villain. William was equally frustrating with his repetition of “cataluna” and “cat of the moon” nonsense. It would have made a lot more sense if he had a clear supernatural ability instead of being just some hapless do-gooder. Aside from the final scene, the whole 1698 storyline felt like a chapter that got cut from the Fear Street Saga for being too repetitive. Their whole dynamic would have improved greatly with a more nuanced approach to good and evil, but that was not what we got. I think it’s also worth pointing out that The Dark Secret also didn’t really have many secrets to speak of. Overall, this book doesn’t give me much hope for the trilogy turning things around with the final installment.
If you enjoy my blog, please consider liking my reviews on GoodReads.
It might not seem like much, but it has a big impact!
Observations & Spoilers
The Dark Secret opens with a prologue about one of the Cataluna’s side quests. A teenage boy in Shadyside gets a new car from his parents for his seventeenth birthday. He noticed something leaking from it in the garage, so he decided to get underneath the car and check it out. If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking that the car is going to crush him somehow. I’ve gotta give Stine some props here because I had not expected the Cataluna to shoot hot oil in the boy’s eyeball, melt his entire face, and then leave his body to be found by his parents lying in a pool of blood and oil. If nothing else, this trilogy is definitely delivering some creative murder scenes.
William chases down Catherine. He’s been following Catherine’s trail of dead crops or something. He ends up at a farmhouse but finds the house is full of the corpses of the family that had lived there. Before he can leave he is bitten by a snake. He falls among the rotting bodies as the poison overtakes him and Catherine changes into a laughing cat. She then leaves him to die. But instead, he somehow wills himself to live and pledges allegiance to Catherine’s death. He goes on to repeat the phrase “Cataluna… Cat of the moon” so many times throughout the book that I refuse to count.
Meanwhile, in 1995, Lauren and Regina’s parents bought them a new car. It’s a Cataluna, and apparently, nobody in Shadyside is ever bothered by the fact that they’ve never heard of a Cataluna before. Regina is the prettier stepsister who likes dating boys and breaking rules. Lauren is none of these things, she doesn’t even wear makeup! They take the Cataluna for a spin and Regina almost runs down a girl on rollerblades. Lauren makes sure the girl is alright but is very disturbed by Regina’s laughing about the incident.
Regina’s parents don’t like her boyfriend Justin, and from what we see of Justin I can confirm that their reasoning is solid. She gets grounded from the car after she gets caught sneaking out with him and lying about it. Lauren accidentally snitches on her. Regina’s driving gets even crazier and she crushes a little boy’s tricycle. Lauren realizes she is becoming afraid of her own sister. Then she’s driving the car by herself and she hears a voice. It’s Catherine’s voice, encouraging her to drive faster.
William tries to track Catherine and ends up collapsing in the woods. He wakes to a beautiful woman named Evie caring for him. Evie lives on a farm with her father Henry and her cousin Jessica. It turns out that they have been having a bad crop season on their farm, which I’m sure has a reasonable explanation. It’s definitely not Catherine’s bad luck again (it is). They tell William that they could use his help since their farmhand died mysteriously a week or so back. Sounds like Catherine did another murder!
Evie has a cat. Could it be Catherine? Catherine. Cataluna. Cat of the moon. Evie also has a cousin who wears her bonnet all the time. Could it be hiding a crescent moon birthmark? Anyone could be a suspect. William agrees to stay and work for Henry. Then they get really excited about chopping wood really fast, and they go on a chopping spree that ends with William chopping off Henry’s hand. William tries to blame it on Catherine, he could feel her driving his hand! Evie and Jessica don’t buy it. They report in the village and a call is put out for his hanging.
Lauren hears about a hit-and-run accident on the radio. A car no one saw smashed into another car, killing the woman inside. Lauren finds paint on the bumper of the Cataluna. She suspects Regina but is in denial about it. Regina begins to act incredibly cold towards Lauren, presumably still mad about the accidental snitching from earlier. After studying at her friend’s house, Lauren gets ambushed by Regina’s shitty boyfriend Justin. Justin, like a true creep, hid in the back of the car and surprised Lauren when she got in. He wants Lauren to put in a good word for him with their parents. Then, to Lauren’s surprise, they make out.
Another hit and run is reported on Division Street. A man was struck and left for dead. Lauren finds blood on the bumper, confirming her worst fear that Regina has been behind it all. Not wanting to be caught snitching again, Lauren cleans it up and hides the rag in a swamp. She thinks she notices someone following her as she leaves. Finally, Lauren tells her best friend Marcy, who’s really into horoscopes, all about her suspicions. They agree that Lauren needs to confront Regina about it. Regina finally agrees to talk, but only if she can drive them away from their house. Lauren reluctantly agrees.
They go to the makeout spot overlooking Fear Lake. Lauren tells Regina she knows it was her doing the hit-and-runs. Regina fires back that she can’t be the hit-and-run killer… because it’s actually been Lauren driving this whole time. What a twist!
William escapes the villagers and hides in an off-season hut used for boiling maple syrup. There’s a snowstorm going but at least he has shelter and a hiding place. That is, until Evie catches him. But rather than call the other to help her, she tells him that she believes what he said about the mysterious Catherine now. Evie finally saw her cousin without her bonnet and she had a crescent moon birthmark! This counts as proof for William. With Evie’s blessing, he sneaks into Jessica’s room and stabs her in her sleep. She wakes up as she’s dying and is very confused. Then William hears evil laughter behind him; it’s Evie. She was Catherine the whole time and she loves murder now.
They have an altercation but Catherine shapeshifts into a mouse and slips away. William follows her into the woods where he finds her with the Cataluna. He’s never seen a car before so he doesn’t know what to call it. Gwendoline’s voice speaks to Catherine from the ether. Gwendoline fled persecution in her own time by driving the Cataluna back to 1698. Now she’s going to send Catherine to 1995 so she can outrun William once and for all. Catherine gets in the car, and William sneaks into the back seat (just like creepy Justin). They drive into the future!
Lauren gradually recalls her memories of driving the car during both of the hit-and-runs. Catherine had been whispering in her ear, guiding her hand. Lauren hears her voice again: she needs to kill her stepsister because she knows too much. Lauren jumps in the driver seat and floors the car trying to hit Regina. I can’t remember if Lauren beat out Catherine at the final moment, or if she just got lucky and missed. Regina jumps clear and Lauren plunges the car into Fear Lake. She accepts her death but then wakes up on the shore. Regina had saved her. They apologize and make up. There are no consequences for Lauren for killing two people. A firefighter comments on how hot the car is as they pull it from the lake.
William is about to go in for the kill and take Catherine out, but she sees him in the rearview mirror. She loses control of the car and crashes into another car head-on. Both of them are killed instantly. A police officer comments on their strange clothing. But William’s spirit survived! His quest to stop Catherine knows no bounds. No snake bike or high-speed impact is gonna slow the spirit of this painfully average Puritan. He just needs to find her again. In Shadyside, 1995. We’ll have to wait for book three to find out how.
Now, I loved the bonkers explanation for how a seventeenth-century witch ghost came to inhabit a sports car. It makes barely any sense but it was bizarre enough that I didn’t care. It was also refreshing to finally have something interesting happen in William and Catherine’s storyline. Their whole bit in this book just felt uninspired. I found myself wanting more nuance between what was good and evil. I really like the idea of two people chasing each other through time and wreaking havoc in Shadyside as a result. Then I found myself thinking of Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed and I really need to finish the Patternmaster series. I’m not saying I expect something like that from a Fear Street book, but I know Stine can deliver on this because he’s done it before and he’s done it well.
This concludes what I have to say about The Dark Secret. If you want more thoughts, I can send you some barely legible Post-it notes I have plastered all over my apartment.
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 strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes
We know how the car got possessed now, but Catherine’s reason for murdering everyone and sewing chaos remains a mystery. Creative things a haunted car can do seemed to run out of ideas, though.
The pacing was decent, and the twist at the end was exciting. It suffered the most from a lack of imagination in dealing with the past storyline.
I suppose Lauren was interesting, but William was an idiot and I didn’t buy Catherine’s 180 becoming a cackling villain who loved murdering without cause.
The book delivers on some gruesome deaths, and I must applaud the creativity of a few of them. Unfortunately, it did little to escalate things from the first book.
The time-traveling car that’s now possessed by a witch from the seventeenth century is pretty bonkers so I’m going to give it credit here. The revenge plot with William felt like a stale rehash of The Fear Street Saga.
Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, The Dark Secret is ranked
21st of 79 in the overall Fear Street series
& The Cataluna Chronicles is ranked 6th of 6 among the Fear Street Trilogies.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
The Cataluna Chronicles #3: The Deadly Fire
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #46: How to Kill a Monster