I didn’t know this book existed until Joseph D’Lacey wrote about it for a scary books feature around Halloween. It’s out of print and a tough mother to find, but thanks to my friend Louisa‘s tireless efforts, a copy was procured and I was able to find out whether it lived up to D’Lacey’s description of it as “utterly harrowing”.
Oh, it does.
So, the Adams are rich, their parents jet off to Europe for 10 days, leaving their two children in the care of a babysitter, college student Barbara. Along with three friends, the bored almost teenagers take Barbara hostage, because they can, because it’s a fun silly game. Right? When the magnitude of what they have done begins to become apparent, suddenly, letting Barbara go no longer seems like an option and the kids need a new ending to their game.
Johnson hits the ground running, with Barbara taken prisoner in the first few pages. There is then, for the full duration of the novel, no let up in her plight. Johnson gets inside her head and the heads of her five captors brilliantly, the motivations for everyone’s behaviour are all so horribly believable. It makes for a tense and nauseating read, for sure. I found that I was torn between being unable to put it down as it was so gripping and brilliant and almost unable to carry on reading it as it was just so bleak. One of the more unusual reactions I’ve had to reading a book.
Detractors knock the book for its one dimensional characters, for being unrealistic and also for being boring. I can’t quite fathom any of that. Poor tragic Barbara is fully fleshed out, which makes her ordeal even more difficult to read. The five sociopath teens are also given far more depth than you’d expect, some of what Johnson comes up with for them is properly chilling. As for boring, it’s far far from it. It’s not an easy read, nor is it fast paced. There are whole chunks where nothing happens as Barbara tries to think her way out of her predicament. But if you confuse “in depth” with “boring”, then that’s not really my problem.
This book really isn’t for everyone. The unrelenting bleakness of it will be too much for some people, even those inured to the gore and horror and torture porn that is rife today. Let’s Go Play At The Adams’ is a different beast altogether. It gets under your skin and it will stay there long after you finish reading it.