Zebra Summer—Item #3: Chain Letter by Ruby Jean Jensen

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In Zebra Summer, Zakary McGaha (author of Locker Arms and Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast), chronicles a very specific portion of his summer reading-schedule: horror novels published by Zebra Books.

I’m a fan of Ruby Jean Jensen; several of her books are among my favorite horror novels in general (which is no easy feat). Sometimes, though…she just misses the mark.

You know an RJJ novel is going to be bad when you recognize her formula right away. In this case, I knew within the first couple of pages in the first chapter (not the prologue) that it was gonna be a clunker.

Fair enough: most, if not all, of Ruby’s books are about kids in dire situations, but this, sadly, allowed her…or forced her, if my suppositions of Zebra editor overlords is correct…into a rut that got super-tiresome. Although none of these books follow the exact same plot, they’re all too similar in my opinion: Wait and See, Jump Rope, Lost and Found, Victoria, and the novel in question: Chain Letter.

All of Ruby’s good novels… Home Sweet Home, Celia, and Annabelle…involve children, as well, but they feel like their own books…they feel like they were written with actual passion, instead of simply churned out, one after the other, in factory-line fashion.

Chain Letter is an okay read, but it pales in comparison to the novels mentioned above. I’ve already forgotten most of it, because, sadly, there wasn’t anything worth remembering…except for what might be the funniest ending in pulp-horror history.

The ending actually made me laugh out loud. I can’t say whether I think it was intentional or not, but damn: it made the book worth reading.

The novel is about a couple of kids who find a chain letter in an abandoned retirement-home/asylum…which sounds like a fun place to wind up in…and then proceed to bumble around while bad things happen to them and their families because they don’t follow the instructions to a tee. Their lives are further complicated because half the letter is missing!

As in all of Jensen’s formulaic works (as opposed to her good ones), some of the kids make it and some don’t. Nothing particularly surprising or inventive happens in this regard; Chain Letter is no exception.

The novel’s principle flaw involves the stale plot that meanders about at Christmas’s pace. Everything you expect to happen does, and it takes forever at that…this excludes the amazing ending, of course…and absolutely nothing cool happens concerning the supernatural aspect of the story. There were multiple ways the book could’ve been made at least cool, but I suppose it wasn’t meant to be.

Perhaps I would’ve enjoyed the novel had I not been familiar with Jensen’s other works. You may be wondering why I continue to read this author if I dislike her “formula” so dearly, but trust me: when she doesn’t follow it, she’s AMAZING.

There’s been talk of Ruby’s books coming back into print in ebook form…there’s a new website and everything; the domain name is simply her name plus a dot and a com…and I seriously hope this happens. All of her books are worth reading, in my opinion, even if some are better than others.

It’s about time her work became easily accessible. Horror fans shouldn’t be deprived.

As far as my “rating” for Chain Letter goes…I’m thinking 3/5. It was at least readable, and some parts kept me glued to the pages. Originally, I gave the book 5/5 on Goodreads, but that’s only because I was still laughing at the ending.

If you’re like me…a mega fan of ole RJJ…then you’re going to read this book anyway. If you’re a horror fan who’s just now getting to RJJ, I’d say go for one of the novels I mentioned above as being her best.

After that, read this one to put an end to your suspense concerning the hilarious ending.

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