The Bookworm: The Deadly Fire

The Deadly Fire, by R.L. Stine. 147 pages. Pocket Books. October 1995.

Don’t worry, William. I would not think of playing favorites. I will give them all their chance — and I will get you in the end. Wherever you go, wherever you hide. Don’t you know that you never really get rid of the moon? (p. 26)

It’s raining, which is a great thing since we have not had any rain all month. However, it prevents me from taking a peaceful, late-afternoon stroll to clear my mind and admire the colorful fall foliage. That means I have time to write about the last book in The Cataluna Chronicles series, The Deadly Fire.

If The Deadly Fire were instead call The Deadly Beef I could say, “Where’s the beef?” But it’s not so I have to say, “Where’s the fire?”

After the seventeenth and twentieth century storylines collide at the end of The Dark Secret, Catherine’s soul transmigrates into the Cataluna and her evil continues to take innocent lives in 1995. Rumored to have killed a dozen people without getting a single scratch, the Cataluna is bought by the McCloy’s, a storied racing family in Shadyside, who hope to cash in on “The Doom Car” notoriety. The first time the McCloy’s race it, the Cataluna makes them part of its infamous legend.

Despite its horrible history, and his dad’s insistence that his sons stay away from it, Buddy McCloy is drawn to the Cataluna. He’s not the only one. A mysterious, but attractive, new neighbor wants Buddy to take her for a spin, and a boy Buddy has never seen before is not only trying to steal Buddy’s girlfriend, but he also wants to race Buddy in the Cataluna. The boy’s name, by the way, is Will.

Much as Catherine Hatchett’s soul transmigrated in the twentieth century, did William Parker’s soul do the same? If so, where did it go? Is William Parker the boy who badly wants to race the Cataluna? We do not know until later in the book when William Parker reveals himself and desperately tries to avenge the deaths of his father and brother and kill Catherine.

This dénouement of The Cataluna Chronicles is much better than either of its predecessors. The writing is much better and the story has much more substance. It is, dare I say, believable. Perhaps it is a rub-off effect of Stephen King’s Christine that makes the story of a possessed car seem convincing and plausible. (I have never read Christine, but the movie is decent — hurried, but decent.) The book follows a number of different characters, so it offers all perspectives to provide motives for everyone, but the story of Buddy McCloy fades into the background at the end. Eventually, though, all the stories in the series fade away. They are, I should say, “erased from existence.”

Today is the day before Marty McFly arrived in the future so, fittingly, let’s talk about time travel — Fear Street style. It is revealed at the end of The Dark Secret that the Cataluna travels through time. That is how the seventeenth and twentieth century storylines collide at the end of the second book — the car travels into the twentieth century with Catherine and William inside. It had traveled back in time, too, but I want to avoid spoilers for anyone who will actually read the series. I won’t reveal how or why the Cataluna travels through time because, frankly, I’m unsure about both. Not much make sense and, as is typical for Fear Street novels, a lot of loose ends are not tied. Throw in something as complex and mindboggling as time travel and you get a hot mess that looks like the inside-out baboon in the remake of The Fly. When you put your mind to it, you cannot make sense of The Deadly Fire’s conclusion. Even Doc Brown would be stumped because the book’s resolution and its consequences do not add up — at least for me.

(Speaking of Back to the Future and continuity issues related to time travel… A long time ago, when I was bored and not busy at work, I stumbled onto an early draft of the Back to the Future script online. I did not read the whole thing, but I read enough. It’s pretty lame and I am very happy the movie turned out the way it did. I also stumbled onto the official Back to the Future FAQ page, where Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis answer questions and respond to possible paradoxes in the franchise. It’s an interesting and fun read. I love the second possible answer to whether or not Doc Brown in 1985 remembers everything that happened in 1955: “The 1955 Doc suffered a memory loss sometime after his adventures with Marty (maybe it was from the drugs he took in the 60’s as Reverend Jim!).”)

(I just realized that the version of the trilogy I have has framing errors. Damn it!)

So where’s the fire? Much like The Dark Secret, The Deadly Fire’s title is pretty misleading. A car did burn in the book, but not the Cataluna. And the fire wasn’t deadly. So what was the deadly fire? Does it have something to do with time travel? Maybe, but it could only have been a short reference. The cover art is also misleading — nobody in the book runs hand-in-hand from the flaming Cataluna. Frankly, the prospects of that story seem scarier that what actually happens in the book.

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