My second creepy story for Carl's RIP III challenge is a Young Adult spine chiller, The Vanished by Celia Rees. I happened to spot this in our local Oxfam shop, liked the sound of it and bought it. I'd not read anything by this author before, although I had heard of her... I just can't remember where or why. I've since discovered via her FantasticFiction entry that she's actually quite a prolific writer of young adult novels, mainly, but not all, in the horror genre.
The story revolves around three older teenagers, Cassie, Fraser and Jake. Cassie, aged somewhere around 17, is the editor of her school newspaper - a newspaper that is not doing very well at all. Fraser is a new boy who you immediately learn has problems, but not what they are. He volunteers to write for the newspaper on his first day and immediately takes an interest in some photos Jake - the paper's photographer - has taken. They're rather weird studies of various abandoned tunnels or water culverts, all over the city, but when asked Jake has no idea why he felt driven that morning to go out and take these photos.
It's Fraser's idea to increase interest in the paper by getting pupils to send in their experiences of weird goings on in the school, hauntings and so on. Cassie thinks there aren't any and thinks it's a bad idea but is soon proved wrong when they are inundated with replies. It doesn't make any sense. She starts dating Fraser and finds out that there are things about him that don't make any sense either. A young girl has gone missing and the teenagers soon realise that a boy known as 'Billy', that everyone knows and has seen at the school, is not a pupil at all and that he has something to do with the disappearance. Who is he? And what has the children's poem about seven steps that descend from the woods, where no one goes alone, into an underworld of tunnels, got to do with all of this? Cassie makes the discovery that the missing girl is not the first to go missing and then Jake's eight year old sister disappears...
First of all, I thought the three teenagers who were the main characters in this story were very nicely drawn. I liked Cassie a lot for being someone who is focussed, not only on her newspaper, but on her future career as a journalist - but at the same time is a normal teen who falls in love and so on. The boys felt real to me too... I love the way Jake, a year younger than the others, just can't make girls out at all. He adores his little sister but is quite resigned to the fact that at 12 she'll become someone he simply won't understand. This is all nice characterisation, in my opinion.
I think I must be a bit fascinated by underground worlds with lots of creepy tunnels and caves, in fact I know I am. There's quite an element of that in this book and it's incredibly well done - creepy and quite disturbing. The haunting element is likewise excellent and quite adult in content really, despite it being a book for *young* adults.
In short, I was very impressed by Celia Rees and this novel of hers that I bought on a whim. The writing is pacey and the book a page-turner. It was sufficiently creepy to have me looking around the bedroom when I was reading it late at night! Nice one. I'll be checking out the library to see if they have anything else by her *and* keeping an eye on the charity shops of course.