Die Softly by Christopher Pike

(No Series)
Young Adult

Herb just wanted to photograph the cheerleaders in the school showers. He planted his camera high in the corner where no one could see it, and rigged it to a special homemade timer. He did that Thursday night, and he hoped that by Friday night he would have an exciting roll of film to develop.

But a girl dies Friday afternoon. On the surface it appears to be nothing more than a tragic car accident. But when Herb finally does collect his roll of film, he develops a picture that shows a shadowy figure sneaking up on the girl who has died -- sneaking up on her with a baseball bat.

It makes Herb wonder if the girl was dead long before the car accident.But unfortunately for Herb, he doesn't wonder if the murderer knows he took the picture.

Christopher Pike generally creates plots that are different enough to enthrall, with his other real strength lying in creating compassionate, genuine characters. In this case we have stumbling, bumbling Herb, being the typical teenage boy in that he's 'horny', yet being unique because of actual tenderness.

Die Softly is one of Pike's darker stories, ending with a twisted finale that leaves one depressed and stunned. There are so many curves in this road it should be blockaded. It never stays stagnant, popping up continuously with new nail-chomping situations. Was the girl he's been in love with for years involved more than she says? Is she being framed by his best friend, jealous of his relationship with her? Did the best friend do it? Is it because of his love's demented, drug addicted friends? Did one of them turn on each other? And what is the deal with his other best friend's brother's car accident a year earlier? You get the picture.

It's one of those novels that starts at the end, with Herb telling it how everything went to hell to a surprisingly amicable detective. From there out it's a mystery where you get a good idea, but just aren't sure. There is an inkling of blood, but suspense isn't focused on. My attention was grabbed and I hated putting it down. The powerful ending wrapped it up perfectly. Bad points? Well, the middle did lag a bit, even if things were happening. Herb was a 'great guy' but the circular actions grew slightly - and I said slightly - tiresome. The beginning could have been sped up also. The dream sequence was useful and did interest, but it went on too long and became stale. My mind drifted a few times, but thankfully in the end Pike's words brought me back home.

Like most of Pike's books, while labeled as young adult, the very grown-up themes shine through. I was left thinking about how far some people go for people they care about, even when they know better. It's not the general story of the protagonist trying to figure out whodunnit before it's too late, but a different animal altogether. A book that leaves me thinking, even if it's depressing, can never be a bad thing.

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