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Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong
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Mischief (1950)

by Charlotte Armstrong

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An early psychological thriller that turns innocence on its head. It was good; reasonably gripping and well-paced, but it suffers for how many times this theme got used after it was published; evil babysitter.

Spoilers.

Modern readers will feel a tingle of dread as Peter and Ruth Jones go out for an evening, leaving their daughter in the care of Nell, the hotel elevator operator’s niece. Nell seems a little off, even to them, but in such a meek and mild manner we know she will go off the rails in a spectacular way. Ruth is slightly apprehensive, feminine intuition, mother’s instinct, whatever it is, Armstrong doesn’t belittle it even if Ruth as a character chides herself for being flighty.

And boy does she come unhinged. Her unmasking is done quite well. Not exactly subtle, but eerie and with a quality of the unknown; what is she capable of? Uncle Eddie muses about her having to come to live with him and his wife after an incident, leaving the reader to wonder what she’s done and why she’s been “sent away”.

More characters are introduced and for a time it’s unclear how Armstrong will inject them into the story. Lyn and Jed are going on a date. They have a fight and both flounce off into the night; Jed to his hotel (the very same one the Joneses are at) and Lyn to home. While sulking that he would have a date that night if it kills him (careful what you wish for), Jed sees Nell in room 807 from across the courtyard. After some pantomime he goes over with a flask and what starts out as a semi-illicit flirtation turns weird fast.

Nell has gone through all the Joneses stuff and put on Ruth’s jewelry, clothes, shoes and spilled her perfume. It's creepy in the extreme. She’s in high flirt mode with a touch of hilarity when Bunny appears; her charge. Jed is floored. With escalating menace Nell manages to get Bunny back into bed, but Jed is trapped and it’s going to get worse.

I won’t go into much more detail, but the way things go isn’t too much of a surprise. Nell is devious, violent and insane. Jed is scheming, cowardly, but wants to be a hero. Bunny catches the attention of more people in the hotel than is good for Nell’s scheme. People come knocking. Ruth and Peter are trying to have a good time, but Ruth’s inner warning system keeps rattling her and eventually she comes back to the hotel early. Shit really hits the fan.

Some of the side plots and inner monologues, especially Jed’s, get a little much at times. He talks to himself over and over about being the hero or taking a stand, but he never does. I did like the fight at the end though. Unexpected. Overall it’s a worthy book, but as I said, the basic plot has been copied a lot so it lacks the punch it must have had in 1950. ( )
  Bookmarque | Sep 28, 2016 |
Good story of an insane babysitter. ( )
  face_at_the_window | Jan 19, 2007 |
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Bunny’s parents should not have brought her to New York City, but her father has an important speech to make in the city, and her mother couldn’t bear to be away from the darling nine-year-old girl. When Mommy and Daddy leave for the speech, Bunny will stay in the hotel with a babysitter, sound asleep and perfectly safe. What could possibly go wrong?

The sitter is Nell, a plain young woman from Indiana whose dull expression conceals madness. She puts Bunny to bed and amuses herself in the other room, making prank calls and trying on the mother’s jewelry. So far all is well, but something is broken inside Nell’s mind. As long she is in charge, the child will not be safe.
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Strange and eerie events in Room 807 and a teen-age baby sitter unnerve Jed Towers.

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