Morbidly Beautiful

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“Save the Last Dance for Me” is a soapy serial killer thriller set in the glamorous, competitive, and deadly world of…ballet. Seriously.

Well now, wasn’t that one hell of a blast from the past?!

Given that I didn’t start seriously reading scary books until roughly 1988, I generally missed out on a lot of these paperback “classics”. King and Koontz were the big draw authors at the time, and I got fully ensnared by their offerings, along with various and sundry fantasy, science fiction, and action novels. Of course, I was also very young and didn’t have a job yet. So I was beholden to whatever my mom was willing to buy for me.

Funny how all these years later my basic book tastes really haven’t changed. Sure, I’ve added a few more genres to the reading repertoire. But when in doubt, I always default back to my fabulous foursome (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and action).


Save The Last Dance For Me (STLDFM from here on out) was released by Pocket Books in 1981, and from what I can tell was author Judi Miller’s first published work.

At that time, readers were still obsessing over V.C. Andrews’ runaway smash Flowers In The Attic, which is evidenced by it being mentioned not once, not twice, but THREE times within STLDFM. Once on the cover, with a blurb from V.C. Andrews herself, and then twice at the end of the book where other Pocket Books are compared to Flowers (which was also published by Pocket two years prior).

STLDFM is essentially a serial killer tale with a madman the press dubs the Ballet Killer stalking ballerinas in 1980 NYC.

The printed price, from the original 1981 publication date for the first edition, is $2.75. It is 383 pages long and features a rather cool die-cut gated cover with main character Jennifer, in her ballerina attire, being held by a somewhat frisky skeleton. I actually miss these kinds of book covers, as they were enticing in a way that most modern books just can’t emulate.

In a rather strange twist, aside from a few cultural references and technology mentions, this book doesn’t necessarily stand up and scream the ’80s. There are quite a few modern books that actually throw more 80’s references in them than STLDFM.

That said, there is a handful of glaring “you just dated yourself” moments. One of the biggest was the casual mention of Master Charge! This was before it was changed to MasterCard, back in the offline days when credit cards were swiped on manual imprinters with a solid KA-CHUNK! (when the credit cards themselves had embossed characters that showed up on the carbon copy receipts).

Of course, the story has mentions of cassette recorders, Andy Warhol, and a decided lack of phones not attached to cables (and frequent busy signals!). But that’s really about it.

That’s not to say that the book doesn’t feel nearly 40 years old, because it certainly does. There are multiple head-hops, omnipresent cigarettes (seriously, nearly everyone smokes), not-so-kosher callouts and nicknames for African Americans & Asian Americans, and the overwhelming popularity of the ballet.

It all points to a radically different time.

So, while the book may not necessarily have the full 80’s vibe, it definitely fits within the standard storytelling patterns of the time — and feels very much like an 80’s soap opera in literary form.

Photo Credit: @TonyTheTigersSon via Twenty20

In fact, Judi Miller would go on several years after publishing STLDFM to write another serial killer thriller, set in the world of…you guessed it…daytime soap operas! If only she had gone on to write a murder mystery taking place on the tennis courts. She could have had the complete 80’s trifecta.

The main character is Jennifer North, an up-and-coming ballerina for the New York Center ballet company. She has an apartment in New York City (not terribly far from the performing arts district), an orthopedic surgeon boyfriend (Richard, or as I call him, Dr. Dick!), and is set to go on a European tour to support the triumphant return to full-length ballet productions of one Mr. Zolinsky.

Mr. Z is the Artistic Director of the ballet company and a world-renowned ballet wunderkind. Which makes him kind of a big deal. Unfortunately, Jennifer has failed to mention to Richard that she is going on this fast-approaching little trans-Atlantic trip, even though they now live together in her apartment.

This initial little lie by omission essentially sets the wishy-washy tone for her character throughout the novel. And that tone is of a character who, at the end of the day, I really didn’t mind seeing strangled with her own leotard.

I get that she’s nineteen, impetuous, and beautiful. And she is fully invested in an environment that caters towards that beauty over intellect and/or compassion — an environment in which she thrives. It