A cold hand on a shoulder, a haunting nightmare, a gunshot that rings through a still forest. So sharpen your senses… and look over your shoulder. You’ve got A Date With Danger.
Every once in a while, I come across a book so strange that it almost defies description. This week’s title came to me in a package of books from my friend Gretchen, and I must both thank and congratulate her on her eye for the bizarre!
Technically, this is a book of eight mystery-short stories. Only they don’t really contain a mystery. And they’re not really stories, so much as brief descriptions of some things that happen.
The real mystery is the one of the provenance of the book. All of the stories are credited to Jane McManus, and a cursory search of the internet turns up only one other title by that author, also published by Mahwah, NJ’s Watermill Press, a publisher which also seems to have disappeared into the ether. And then there is the cover:
I was also unable to turn up another example of this cover, so whether those red dots are freckles, measles, or if the previous owner took a Sharpie to the cover will remain unsolved.
The Dummies That Saved The Day
Rose falls asleep in the “lounge” of a department store waiting for her chronically-late friend Anne to meet her. When she wakes up, the store is completely dark and locked up for the night. She thinks she sees a night watchman with a flashlight, but then she decides it is a burglar, so she hides from him by pretending to be a mannequin in the display window. Rose gets the attention of a police officer patrolling the neighborhood who arrests the burglar and Anne finally shows up and is all like “I’ll take you to the police station in the morning, if I remember to wake up on time, ha-ha!”
That summary is basically as long as the entire actual story.
It’s Not Hunting Season
Tess is cross-country skiing when she is almost shot by a hunter poaching deer off-season. She hears the hunter fall into a ravine, and sees that he has broken a leg. She decides to get help instead of leaving him to die:
She was glad she had helped him, even though he had almost killed her.
“This has been the most exciting day I’ve ever had!” she said.
The Perfect Place For a Murder
Tess (the same one from the last story? Unknown.) is visiting her wacky Aunt Jean, a mystery writer, who promises to show her the perfect place to commit a murder. Aunt Jean takes her to a remote pier where two hit men are in the midst of killing a woman and making it look like a drowning. Aunt Jean rescues the woman and they take her to the hospital. She decides to find a different place to set her next story.
The Bad Dream
Julie is staying with a family friend while her parents are out of town. After watching a movie with a plane crash in it, she has recurring nightmares about a plane crash. Then a plane crashes behind the house. Julie runs for help. In the only thing that even approaches a twist in this entire book, it turns out that the pilot had also been having nightmares about a plane crash.
Jeff and his friends have started a summer business salvaging and clearing away trash from a block that had been completely destroyed in a fire. Look, I guess that was a thing kids could do in 1983, don’t ask me! A creepy loiterer seems to take an interest in Jeff’s friend Nan. Nan finds a skull underneath part of a collapsed building and the creepy guy tries to stab her because he murdered six people and then burned down the building to cover it up.
Nan’s friends and the police are somewhat nonchalant about rescuing her:
“I’ll be back to dig up the other bodies,” the officer said. He got in his car and drove away.
“We couldn’t let anything happen to you. You’re the hardest worker on the crew,” Jeff joked.
Then they all went back to work.
That Clown On Roller Skates
Meg is on her way home from practice for the school’s roller skating show, when she sees the local antique store being robbed. She pretends not to know how to skate so she can repeatedly fall down and observe the burglars. She gives a detailed description to the police who easily solve the crime.
Critter’s Quite a Retriever!
Danny’s pet dog rescues a neighborhood toddler who wanders out of his yard into the surrounding woods. Notable only because the suburban development is SURROUNDED BY A FORREST FULL OF HUNGRY WOLVES!
That Was Some Trout You Caught!
Without fail, the last story in any of these collections is going to be the best/weirdest. And this one delivers a sort of grade-school version of The Crazies.
The army was transporting a “bottle of poison” that has the ability to wipe out an entire town if opened or jangled. Apparently they just threw it in the passenger seat of a jeep, and when the jeep crashes the bottle falls into the local river. The army, lead by Sgt. Scott, converges on the town to search for the bottle. Sgt. Scott comes across Timmy O’Brien fishing in the river and realizes that Timmy has caught the bottle on his fishing line. Sgt. Scott doesn’t want to wade out into the river and untangle it because he might get his walkie-talkie wet. So he orders Timmy to reel in the bottle, reminding him:
“If someone opens it or if it breaks, many people will die. If you can land it safely, you’ll be a hero.”
“I don’t want to be a hero, “ Timmy said.
Sensible boy, that Timmy.
Timmy has to wade out into the river anyway, since Sarge won’t put down his damn walkie-talkie for one second, although he helpfully reminds Timmy:
“If it breaks, you’ll die.”
Timmy succeeds, although he loses his fishing pole in the process. Sgt. Scott assures him that the President will buy him a new one.
“Well, I ought to be able to catch a trout with a fishing pole from the president,” Timmy said.
Then he lay back on the grass. He looked up at the sky and smiled.
And then it turned out that Timmy had been infected with The Crazies anyway and went on a chainsaw spree and killed all of his neighbors.
Ok, not really, but still: WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? What was any of that?
Accompanying these baffling stories are some equally baffling illustrations. While all are credited to a single artist, they vary wildly in terms of style, ranging from the traditional dreary, druggy 1970s vignettes…
…to more whimsical Peter Max-style graphics…
…to a pile of random cross-hatching…
…to what is clearly just a traced publicity still of John Wayne in The Quiet Man:
I offer no explanation nor draw any conclusions about any of this.