No worries. With HIGHWAY TO HELL, the third book in the Maggie Quinn: Girl Vs. Evil series, writer Rosemary Clement-Moore brings back most of the elements that made Prom Dates from Hell (Maggie Quinn: Girl vs Evil, Book 1) and Hell Week (Maggie Quinn: Girl vs Evil, Book 2) such enjoyable reads. So once more we're treated to the psychic visions and resulting headaches, the demon-researching and -fighting, the BFF moments, and the snarkiness. The only thing missing is Clement-Moore's biting digs at school politics, and that's because this time around Maggie is on furlough from academia. So get you a hammock in the shade and grab a pitcher of margaritas (if you're of age) and some carne asada - because Maggie Quinn is fighting evil and cracking jokes in southern Texas.
Except that, for Maggie and her best friend Lisa, it starts out as an innocent motor trip on their spring break holiday, until Maggie's Jeep rolls over a dead, ripped-up cow on a Texas highway and there goes the gas tank getting ruptured. So now the girls are stranded in nearby Dulcina, a tiny town seething with mutilated livestock and superstitious dread. And since Maggie is a little bit psychic and Lisa is a lot witchy (and a self-proclaimed "evil genius"), they're soon poking their noses into possibly paranormal shenanigans. The town locals murmur that the mythical El Chupacabra (translation: goat sucker) is behind all this. But Maggie senses that the true culprit might be an even more creepy critter: a demon!
With the current glut of teen fantasy books out there, Rosemary Clement-Moore's stuff is one of the better picks of the pack, and I think it's mostly to do with Clement-Moore's ability to make her target audience (da teens) identify with the main characters. And, also, her sense of humor is wicked and spot-on. She infuses snarkiness in her heroine Maggie Quinn and has plenty left over for Lisa the semi-sinister sorceress, and so the banter remains one of the highlights of the series. Now, the pace of this book tends to slow down at times, as a huge part of Maggie's snooping consists of interacting with the rustics and her learning of the local history and folklore. But the lighthearted tone and the fact that this story is so character-driven keep your eyeballs glued to the pages throughout. And, no worries, Maggie and co. do eventually get to have a satisfying massive throw-down with El Chupacabra, as psychic vision and witch-fu tag-team the rending, ravening Big Bad of the Lone Star State. Although, I can't help but feel that the Big Bad could've been more... well, more. El Chupy ultimately feels kinda lightweight.
If you've read the previous two novels, you'll sense some growth on Maggie's part. Months after her Sight reawakened (in PROM DATES FROM HELL), she's now become more accepting of her weird abilities. So, pretty much gone is Maggie's skepticism, although other insecurities and doubts tend to still nag her. She's not alone in this demon-thumpin' thing, of course. The group dynamic seems to break down to this: Maggie applies her Sight and intuition to probe supernatural mysteries and is the most take-charge of the bunch; Lisa is the sullen expert on spells; and Maggie's goody-two-shoes boyfriend Justin is the theorist (dude's college major lies in the field of mythology). And, with the introduction of Henry, Justin's cool best friend and priest-in-training, I guess now we also get the spiritual angle.
HIGHWAY TO HELL is also a change of pace in that Maggie is taken out of her comfy confines and thrust into a new venue. So, for her, no accessible parental or psychic grandmother support (although Grandma Quinn does show up to dispense advice in Maggie's dreams). Other than Lisa and, later, Justin and Henry, Maggie interacts with dusty leathery twangy-talkin' types, some of whom are quite interesting folks. Old school witchery is represented possibly in the persons of Hector, the friendly old barman who may just know more of what's going on supernaturally (and who reminds Maggie of an actor in ALIENS - and that's a compliment), and Doña Isabel, the secretive and unbending old matriarch of Velasquez County who cannot leave her demesne. And what's the deal with that shirt loaned to Maggie, which seems to have been cast with a protective spell? It's yet another reason Maggie believes that a bruja is hard at work in Velasquez County.
One dude I hope makes more appearances in future sequels is Henry the imminent priest (or as the severely sardonic Lisa calls him: the future friar). As you may guess, some caustic verbal barbs go down between him and Lisa (Maggie also gets in her licks). Speaking of Lisa, it's nice that she gets to indulge in flirty goings-on with the cute heir to the county. After her minimal role in HELL WEEK and her semi-estrangement from Maggie, we get a whole lot of Lisa in this book, and that's good. D&D Lisa may be semi-sinister and may have goofed bigtime in the past, but she is Maggie's best pal, and I can't help but like her irascible self.
This was another fun read, although I don't quite dig HIGHWAY TO HELL as much as I did PROM DATES FROM HELL. But I do like it as much as HELL WEEK. I think Clement-Moore's experiment - to switch things up and wrest Maggie away from the school backdrop - works. One thing I'm waiting on (and I hope it happens soon) is for the demons to have an even larger, more direct presence in the story and to be featured in a tighter, more cohesive continuity. Because so far each of these demons has come off looking like the mere McGuffin of its respective book, each of them strolling in off the wings to play this episode's contrived beastie. Or that's the feeling I get. I'm waiting for things to get even more serious, for the stakes to really ante-up, and then to see how our resourceful, banter-addicted heroine copes. Because I think she'll do more than okay. She's got a magical shirt.