Teenager Marvin Summer writes bestsellers. His latest series of thrillers, The Mystery of Silver Lake, has taken the country by storm, and the public waits for the final book with fevered anticipation. Marvin is feeling the pressure, although nobody around him would be able to tell: he writes the books under a pseudonym — Mack Slate — so no one, save his younger sister, knows he’s actually rich and famous. Much to his chagrin, at times. If his schoolmates knew, he could surely get with any of the girls he frequently lusts over, and the arrogant jocks and overbearing teachers that look down on him would turn to idolization instead. But that’s a fantasy Marvin must entertain at least until he turns eighteen, lest his abusive, alcoholic father find out about his fortune and exploit it. So Mack Slate remains a secret.
Until one day Marvin finds a letter in his postbox proclaiming to know his secret, words that start a chain reaction that will turn his already complicated life upside down as the intrigue and murder that fill his fictional stories suddenly bleed out into the real world.
Master of Murder by Christopher Pike was trash of the highest caliber — and I mean that as a total compliment. An outrageous, but ultimately fun ride. This read like Fear Street by way of Twin Peaks, where the central question was not “who killed Laura Palmer?” but “who hurt Marvin Summer?” instead. (The fact that the book felt Extremely Nineties only added to my enjoyment.)
This was my first Pike book! I tend to read mysteries and thrillers around this time, and seeing as how The Midnight Club adaptation on Netflix was one of my favorite things I saw this past Hallowe’en, I thought one of his books would be the perfect transition between spooky season and murder mystery month. The man wrote a mean and compulsively readable book, although at times it very much read like a first draft affair, partly due to all the unusual names that seemed more like placeholders than anything (Quade, Triad, Sesa, Pella — you know, traditional Pacific Northwest names), but also due to the prose itself, which was sometimes very clunky and decidedly juvenile. (Although maybe that last bit was meant to be intentional, seeing as how this was a story about a teenage author hopped-up on raging hormones.) Also it’s good that not much is known about Pike himself, as he rarely does any press, because Marvin Summer reads like a self-insert if there ever was one — and it’s not a flattering portrayal at all.
Still, I had fun with it. I just hope The Midnight Club gets another season, because Mike Flanagan and company could spin wonders out of this angsty adolescent murder mystery.