Review: “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” By Natasha Rhodes (Novel)

First of all, sorry that it’s taken me so long to review this novel (mostly due to hot weather at the time of writing). Anyway, I thought that I’d re-read at Natasha Rhodes’ 2005 horror novel “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” today.

This novel is an original spin-off novel based on the brilliantly creepy “Final Destination” horror movie series. I first read this novel in 2005/6, during my mid-late teens, after a friend at sixth form recommended the series to me. And, after finding my old copy of this novel a few days before writing this review (and feeling a bit nostalgic), I decided to look online for books in the series. To my surprise, they were (at the time of writing) almost all expensive out-of-print collector’s items. So, I decided to re-read this one.

So, let’s take a look at “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 2005 Black Flame (UK) paperback edition of “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” that I read.

The novel begins in Los Angeles. Nineteen year old rock musician Jess Golden has just stolen someone’s wallet and is on her way to an underground nightclub called Club Kitty. After fooling her way past the doorman with a fake ID, she joins her band – The Vipers- one minute before they are due to play. Needless to say, they aren’t exactly happy about this.

Even so, the concert starts off well… until Jess notices a crack in the ceiling. Within minutes, she sees the dilapidated nightclub collapse, killing all of those inside. However, a second later, Jess finds herself back in the middle of the concert. It doesn’t take her long to realise that she’s had a premonition of an impending disaster. So, she stops the show and urges everyone to flee.

Needless to say, this doesn’t go over well and she gets thrown out of the club, shortly before a few other people leave. Seconds later, the club collapses. Not only does Jess quickly find herself under suspicion for the accident and on the run from the police, but the other survivors suddenly find themselves in danger from a mysterious unseen force that tries to cause bizarre, deadly accidents…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it is a good spin-off novel, it is also a novel that is “so bad that it’s good”. Although the novel is fairly true to the spirit of the “Final Destination” films and contains some really good suspense, horror, fake-outs and other cool stuff, it is let down somewhat by the characters.

As a horror novel, this story works reasonably well 🙂 The premise of the “Final Destination” films (eg: people who have cheated death being chased by death itself) is inherently creepy and the novel is very true to the spirit of the films. In other words, the characters find themselves in lots of suspenseful dangerous situations, with so many near-misses and fake-outs that you’ll never quite know which character will die next or when. This suspenseful horror is also complemented by some moments of gory horror which, whilst not quite as gruesome as a classic splatterpunk novel, are about on par with the splatter effects in the films the story is inspired by.

The horror highlight of this novel is probably a wonderfully macabre nightmare scene (featuring the grim reaper and a grotesque ladder made from the souls of the dead) during one of the later parts of the story. Unfortunately, it’s a relatively short scene and I really wish that more scenes like this had appeared in the story. Seriously, the brilliant mixture of imaginative horror and dark comedy in this one scene reminded me a bit of a classic Clive Barker novel or something like that 🙂

Likewise, the story’s suspenseful elements also help to turn the novel into a bit of a thriller novel too – especially since Jess also spends several parts of the story on the run from the police for various reasons. Even so, the novel wasn’t really as gripping as I had hoped for – thanks to some of the story’s “so bad that it’s good” elements.

The most noticeable of these is probably the characters. Basically, many of the main characters are the kind of cheesy stylised characters you’d expect to see in a teen horror movie. Although Jess is a reasonably well-written main character, some of the other characters include two idiotic frat boys, a vapid “valley girl” character, a handsome “popular” guy (who owns a vintage car) and an “alternative” nice guy character. And the characterisation is, well, cinematic. But, whilst this would work well in a cheesy Hollywood horror movie, I’d expect more from a novel. Likewise, the main characters also spend a lot of time arguing with each other too, which gets really annoying after a while.

Even so, there are some wonderfully unusual background characters who really help to add a bit of extra personality to the story. Such as an ex-stunt driver who works as a taxi driver and conveniently shows up to help Jess during two scenes where she is being chased by the police. Likewise, although the series’ famous mortician doesn’t show up, he’s replaced by an eccentric homeless man that the main characters meet a couple of times.

But, if there’s one thing to be said for this novel, it is a fairly cool piece of mid-2000s nostalgia. Everything from the focus on rock music (including several classic rock/ heavy metal references), the lack of smartphones, the tonal similarities to Hollywood horror movies/teen comedies from the time, the slightly “edgy” tone etc.. is wonderfully reminiscent of the time the story was written. Even so, this is also one of those novels that could have easily come from the 1990s too – which isn’t a bad thing.

As for the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is reasonably good. This novel is written in a fairly informal and readable style, which helps the story to move at a reasonably decent pace. Even so, some of the dialogue and character-based scenes are quite literally “so bad that they’re good”.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At about 385 pages in length, it’s a little bit on the long side for a cheesy horror thriller novel. Likewise, although the story has quite a few suspenseful and fast-paced moments, it is occasionally bogged down by things like annoying arguments between the characters and stuff like that. Even so, the novel gets slightly more gripping as it progresses.

All in all, this novel is “so bad that it’s good”. It’s a cheesy late-night horror movie in novel form. Yes, it has some rather cool moments and some excellent suspense, but it also contains some cringe-worthily annoying arguments, characters etc… too. Still, if you’re a fan of the “Final Destination” films, then you’ll probably enjoy this book, since it’s fairly true to the spirit of the films. But, given how expensive second-hand copies of books in this series have become, I really can’t recommend getting a copy of this novel these days.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.