Author: Mendal Johnson
Publication Date: 12/1/84
Publisher: Golden Apple
Blurb (GR): Surely, it was only a game. In the orderly, pleasant world Barbara inhabited, nice children -- and they were nice children -- didn't hold an adult captive.
But what Barbara didn't count on was the heady effect their new-found freedom would have on the children. Their wealthy parents were away in Europe, and in this rural area of Maryland, the next house was easily a quarter of a mile away. The power of adults was in their hands, and they were tempted by it. They tasted it and toyed with it -- their only aim was to test its limits. Each child was consumed by his own individual lust and caught up with the others in sadistic manipulation and passion, until finally, step by step, their grim game strips away the layers of childishness to reveal the vicious psyche, conceived in evil and educated in society's sophisticated violence, that lies always within civilized men.
More than a terrifying horror story, Let's Go Play At The Adams' is a compelling psychological exercise of brooding insights and deadly implications
I like to be shocked. I like that feeling when I’m reading a book and I think to myself, “there’s no way the author is going to go there…oh, my gosh…he’s going there, OH MY GOSH, WE’RE THERE, so far past acceptability.” That’s why I’m trying to make way through a list of books that readers have told me are “the most disturbing book they’ve ever read.” Let’s Go Play At The Adams’ by Mendal Johnson made nearly every list I’ve looked at so it was an obvious choice for me. Comparisons are made between this work of fictional horror and Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, which has a very similar plot structure but is based on a true crime. Ketchum’s novel horrified me in so many ways—it was graphic and it felt over-the-top, but I just couldn’t stop reading it. Let’s Go Play felt stronger in terms of writing but I’m just going to say it: I was rather bored. This is the part of the review where most of you are going to think I’m a lunatic, but I guess I was expecting there to be as much graphic torture in this one as there was in The Girl Next Door, and there absolutely is not.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a few sections that many readers might find hard to read—there is a sexual abuse scene that was rough and a section near the ending as well, but overall, I spent more time learning about the mundane trials of having a captive than I did being horrified. Oh, they tied up her ankles instead of her thighs this time. Oh, now she’s on a chair instead of the bed. So now they are taking her to the bathroom and giving her a bath. I understand the reasoning for this deliberate tactic of the author—what started out as a game was no longer fun. Part of the allure of staying up late and eating whatever you want as a child is seeing if you can get away with it. When there is no one there to keep it hidden from, it becomes dull. But imagine if you went to see a horror movie when someone got kidnapped and then most of the movie was spent feeding the captive chicken sandwiches and Coke, switching up the ropes, and the captor wondering if he would get away with it. Who would pay to watch that kind of horror movie?
While I know crimes like this actually do occur, I felt like the nonchalance of the children was not very believable. Ahh, might as well just do this or that. They seemed to have no regard for or understanding of human life. I know that the value of a life is something foreign to many young children but these “children” were more early to mid-teens. One of them was nearly 17—and the babysitter was only 20. I suppose I was just surprised because the children in The Girl Next Door were heavily influenced by an absolutely unfit mother or other family situations that might make them more likely to keep things hidden or to partake in abuse. Here, no one’s family life is really mentioned. All the children seem to come from regular families and live in large houses on the water. Maybe it is more disturbing when there seems to be no backstory. I mean, I’ve seen enough of those news reports where flabbergasted neighbors go on about how that nice man could never have done something so horrific. Yeah, right.
So, in sum, if you’re thinking of taking a trip down horrific lane, I’d start with this one before reading The Girl Next Door. If you can’t make it through this, there is no way in hell you could make it through that.