Monday, 9 August 2010
Review: Raggy Maggie (Invisible Fiends) by Barry Hutchison
Billy is a horrible bully. So Kyle could almost find it funny that Billy's childhood invisible friend was a little dolly named Raggy Maggie.
Almost, but not quite.
Because now Raggy Maggie is back, and she wants Kyle to play a game: find where she's hidden Billy – or Billy dies…
Barry Hutchison is back with Raggy Maggie, the second book in his Invisible Fiends series, and let me start with a warning - you better have a spare pair of underwear to hand when reading this book as it is poo-your-pants scary!
In the first book in this series Mr Hutchison terrified us with the eponymous Mr Mumbles, a hulking brute of a character that at the time I likened to the monsters from such classic slasher movies as Halloween and Friday 13th. In his new book the scares come from a very different kind of character. I'm thinking the minds of Hannibal Lecter and every serial killer that James Patterson and Jeffery Deaver have ever written about all packaged into the mind of a little girl in a dirty white dress and poorly applied make-up. For Caddie, the owner of the titular doll Raggy Maggie, is evil personified; the way she tortures and hurts her victims is part of a huge game to her, a game that if they lose they pay the ultimate price - wth their lives. And never have the words 'Peek-a-boo, I see you' sounded so chilling!
I LOVED Mr Mumbles (the book, not the monster I hasten to add) and I wondered just how Barry was going to be able to follow such a fantastic series opener. However, in a conversation with Tommy Donbavand, author of the Scream Street series and good friend of Barry Hutchison, I was reliably informed that Raggy Maggie was both better and more terrifying and so ever since I have been avidly waiting to get my hands on a copy. So much so that when it arrived from the kind people at HarperCollins I dropped everything to read it, although sixty pages in I did put it down...... and then finished it late at night, all alone in the house, in order to get the most from the horrors within it. For your own sanity please do not try this at home!
In my opinion Caddie is one of the greatest ever creations in children's horror literature. She is so totally deranged the reader just does not know what to expect from her next. Whereas with Mr Mumbles we always knew he was going to be very much relying on brute strength and his apparent invincibilty, just as we have seen in the past from the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees, Caddie, however, is just a child. She is small and frail, as little girls are, so surely she should be a relatively minor test for Kyle, the boy who defeated Mr M in such style? Definitely not - underestimate Caddie and it will probably be the last thing you ever do. First of all, Caddie is super-fast; one moment she is there, the next she is gone. Secondly she has powers; boy does this girl have powers. She can take over the minds of adults to use their greater physical size to aid her, turn every day toys like teddy bears and dolls into mankillers with needle-like teeth, and she can turn innocent playground activities like skipping into a game of death where you could literally lose your head. And just when you think you may have had a lucky break and got the better of her...... enter Raggy Maggie herself!
Barry Hutchison also carries on where he left off by slowly revealing hints and snippets of back story that leave the reader completely tantalized. There are already so many questions that need answering, and he is an expert at giving us just enough information to have us trying to guess what will happen next, and why. Why is Kyle's father so bitter and intent on changing the world, or 'making it better' in his words? What is the story with Ameena, who disappeared out of Kyle's life shortly after the Mr Mumbles episode, but then suddenly reappears just as Kyle needs her help the most? And just how is it that Kyle can 'leap' between his world and the Darkest Corners? I am sure that all of these answers will come eventually, but that Mr Hutchison will not make the wait easy for us in the process.
Raggy Maggie hits the reader on a psychological level in ways that the gore-ridden output of the likes of Darren Shan just cannot manage. Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of gore just as much as the next boy, but these chills are oh so much better. I once taught a pupil who had a phobia of clowns - she was terrified of them; I have a feeling that in a few years time I could be teaching whole classes who suffer from pediophobia, the fear of dolls, if this series becomes as popular as Shan's work as it certainly deserves to.
I have one message for HarperCollins that I want to add to this review - please, please, please can we have some Invisible Fiends action figures?! I can't think of many characters in children's horror fiction that deserve them more.