Sweet Valley High Super Thriller: Murder In Paradise By Francine Pascal

Join Elizabeth and Jessica at the Paradise Spa for the chill of a lifetime!

SVH Murder in Paradise

Could you use a respite after a solid month of teen angst titles? I sure could. I don’t plan on pushing into the 1990s often, but spending some time with the Wakefield Twins really seems like the way to go this week.

Background: Sweet Valley High remains one of the most enduring series of its era, leading to numerous spin-off dealing with the Twins at various ages (Sweet Valleys Junior High, Senior Year and University, to name just three), as well as specialized sub-series within the main Sweet Valley High series: your Super Editions, Super Stars, Secret Diaries, and this week’s selection, Super Thrillers.

(A nice intro to SVH can be found here courtesy of The AV Club, but it really pretty easy. Elizabeth and Jessica are twins with matching sparkling aquamarine eyes the color of the Pacific Ocean and perfect size-six figures. Supposedly Elizabeth is the studious one and Jessica is the wild one, but it’s more like Elizabeth is a nagging scold and Jessica is a sociopath. They have about 200 friends, some of whom are “ethnic” and only appear in one book. Elizabeth has a boring but surprisingly volatile boyfriend named Todd, while Jessica has several hundred boyfriends over the course of the series, a worrisome number of whom meet untimely ends.)

The Plot: At this point in the series’ run, the Twins were encountering werewolves, serial killers and murderous doppelgangers (and quadruple-gangers!) with alarming regularity, so the only thing that distinguishes this title from the regular continuity is that it is about 50 pages longer and the first edition includes some pretty great dye-cut gatefold art (like all of these special editions, later printings had plain and boring covers).

The book opens with Liz and Jess and their mother speeding up the pacific coast in a train bound for the Paradise Spa, for which Mrs. Wakefield has been the lucky winner of week-long stay, in a contest that she didn’t even enter. Also along for the week are Jessica’s best friend, poor-little-rich-girl Lila Fowler and her mother; and Elizabeth’s BFF, the mopey and judgmental Enid Rollins.

Enid has just broken up with her boyfriend, Hugh, and clearly no one will ever love her because she has red hair.

“I’ve gained four pounds since Hugh dumped me.” Her green eyes glittered; a tear slid down her freckled cheek. “If I were prettier, if I looked more like you and Jessica, Hugh would have never gotten tired of me.”

Elizabeth continued to shake her head empathetically. Inside, though, she had to admit that there might be a tiny measure of truth to what Enid said.

Classic Liz! She’s all preaching about inner beauty, but thanking her lucky stars that she didn’t have some kind of gross deformity. Like red hair.

Speaking of deformities, Jess and Lila are grossed out when they meet the other Paradise Spa guests waiting for the spa-shuttle at the train station, including the Spencer family and their tubby son Randall, who is at the spa for Fat Camp.

Upon their arrival, they are greeted by the spa’s proprietress, Dr. Tatiana Mueller, who seems both mysteriously familiar and also kind of menacing since half of her face it grotesquely deformed.

There is a lot of set-up. Most of the book is an infomercial for imaginary spa treatments. Liz meddles in the life of Katya, a teenaged employee of the spa, and learns that she has run away from home. Jessica chases after one hunk, who spurns her for Liz, but then ends up with his friend. Despite the fact that both of the twins have boyfriends back in Sweet Valley, it doesn’t stop them from constantly making out with the spa-hunks.

Not being able to attract the attention of anyone other than Fat Randall, Enid finds herself drawn to Tatiana Mueller, who personally supervises Enid’s spa treatments. Clearly, something is up beyond Dr. Mueller being simpatico over also being cursed with red hair. Pretty soon she is performing Manchurian Candidate-level hypnosis on Enid to convince her that she really hates her mother.

Katya turns up dead in the spa’s steam room, and Liz immediately jumps to the conclusion of MURDER, but no one believes her.

Liz makes a call to the editor of the Sweet Valley High school paper and asks for some research to be done on Manford House, a shelter for runaways that Liz found a reference to in Katya’s room when she was totally not snooping through a dead person’s stuff. This is a good time to point out that Liz is really bad at Internet:

A message flashed on the screen: she had received some E-mail! Elizabeth hit a few keys, “opening” her mail.

“By the way, Liz, you can access INFOMAX yourself long-distance by dialing your account number.”

Liz finally stops sucking face with the spa’s golf pro long enough to notice that something is up with Enid. The big tip-off?

“I’d like to do that myself someday- be an aerobics instructor. I mean, wouldn’t that be fun, getting paid to stay fit?”

Enid an aerobics instructor? Elizabeth raised her eyebrows in astonishment. “You’re not the type to-“

GOD, Enid! What are you thinking? You have red hair.

Elizabeth makes everybody get up early to go on a memorial nature hike in remembrance of Katya, which is really all about Liz, and how her latest project-person came to an untimely death.

However, Mrs. Wakefield disappears on the hike, which alarms Liz, but everyone else seems to think that she probably just wanted some peace and quiet.

Then Liz finds her phone line has been cut, despite the fact that Dr. Mueller insists that all of the phones at the spa have gone on the fritz. She convinces Jess to sneak into Dr. Mueller’s office to call their father and leave an extremely vague message on his answering machine, while she sends him an equally ambiguous and unhelpful E-mail.

When he doesn’t write back in 30 seconds, Liz sets out to find her mother herself, and is grabbed and dragged behind a majestic waterfall by an unknown henchman!

Rudderless without their leader, Jess, Lila and Mrs. Fowler spend the afternoon walking around in circles trying to find their missing campers. Eventually they wander back to find an E-mail from Doofus Dad who is all like “Sounds like you’re having fun, you’ll have to tell me all about it when you get home.”

He does shed some light on why Tatiana Mueller seems so familiar to Mrs. Wakefield:

We did go to college with her- she lived down the hall from your mom in the dorm junior year. Everyone called her Tatty Mule because she was homely and pathetic. She worshiped your mother, though, and followed her around like a puppy dog.”

Aaaaaand that is how you make a Bond Villain.

It turns out that Liz was grabbed by the golf pro that she had been canoodling with all week, one of the many runaways that Dr. Mueller had lured to her spa to work for her as hypnotized zombies.

He leads her to an operating room, where Dr. Mueller has been holding Mrs. Wakefield and preparing her for a surgical procedure in which she will fulfill her life-long dream of STEALING ALICE WAKEFIELD’S FACE.

The rest of the Sweet Valley party shows up, Liz gets Enid and the other staffers to snap out of their trances, and they all go Island of Doctor Moreau on Dr. Mueller.

The next day everyone gets ready to leave the spa forever, since it cannot do any treatments without its evil overlord. Also all of the murders and kidnappings had Mr. Wakefield so worried that he thought about maybe driving up there, but then decided not to because, eh, it was probably nothing.

The Sweet Valley party concludes by reflecting on the lessons they learned about inner beauty over the course of the week, and then immediately undermining those lessons.  

“She never saw that it wasn’t just your good looks that made you popular and happy.”

“It’s what’s inside that counts.” Enid contributed.

Good try, Enid, you still have red hair.

Both Elizabeth and Enid turned. Randall was smiling up at Enid, his eyes bright with hope.

Why, he’s actually handsome! Elizabeth noted with surprise. The week at the spa had done Randall a world of good.

I’m sure Liz is admiring Randall’s new inner beauty.

“It’s just a matter of keeping things in perspective, of not forgetting what’s really important in life.” She took Jessica’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Like family and relationships based on love and trust.”

Love and trust and cheating on your boyfriends with golf pros. That is what it all about.

Sign Was Written In 1995 Department: Liz types Enid’s zombie-like symptoms into a WebMD prototype, which returns with a diagnosis of … plastic surgery!

Meta! Department: “Lila have you been reading those junky romance novels again?”

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4 Responses to Sweet Valley High Super Thriller: Murder In Paradise By Francine Pascal

  1. Jen says:

    I could never understand why Jessica didn’t get punched in the face on a regular basis.

  2. Pingback: My First Love & Other Disasters By Francine Pascal | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

  3. Pingback: Nothing’s Fair In Fifth Grade By Barthe DeClements | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

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