Monday 13 August 2012

Book Review: The White Devil by Justin Evans

The White Devil
by Justin Evans
Horror/Ghosts/Literary Fiction
Orion Books
3 Stars
Library Copy Reviewed

An elite public school. An outsider. Rumours of a haunting.

Fleeing expulsion and the death of a close friend, Andrew Taylor is sent by his father to spend his final year at the prestigious public school Harrow. It is an eccentric place, a rambling ancient building filled with the sons of the rich and famous. Shortly after he arrives, the other pupils notice Andrew's striking resemblance to Lord Byron, a former pupil of Harrow, and Andrew is persuaded to play Byron in the forthcoming school play.

This is where his troubles begin. Before long Andrew senses a malevolent presence. His fellow Harrovians joke about 'The Lot Ghost' but when a classmate dies, the haunting becomes all too real. Soon another classmate falls ill and Andrew discovers old letters hidden in a bricked-up basement. Aided by his housemaster Piers Fawkes - a once famous poet turned alcoholic - Andrew realises he must discover the secret history behind the letters to prevent further deaths.

The ghost mystery plot is well done. Who is the ghost? What does he want? Why is he being drawn to Andrew most of all? Why are people getting ill and dying? The reader finds out these things at the same time as Andrew, so we feel drawn into the story and relate to the characters. I also loved finding out more about Lord Bryon too.

I really enjoyed it right up until Persephone Vine appeared. I thought to myself, are you really going to go there? Really, Mr. Evans? To the most clichéd love interest ever? The only girl at an all-boys school, daughter of one of the teachers, who disapproves of Andrew, of course? That was where you lost a lot of my attention. I've seen that too many times for it to interest me.

I did read and finish the book because I wanted to know what happened with the ghost, but the love story parts between Persephone an Andrew just seemed shoehorned in. It was as if the author had written the book, then realised he hadn't written a girl and needed to go back and put her in somewhere. Since the blurb mentions it was an all-boys school, I wasn't expecting any girls to be there and wouldn't have been disappointed with that, rather than have the stereotypical trope that we actually got. It would have been all right if I could sense Persephone as an individual character, but she just seemed a placeholder for Andrew to fall in love with, no other reason for her presence there.

Set an all-boys school, this could have been a good gay coming of age story (there is a lot of gay subtext in the book), but instead we got a clichéd love story which came across as rather lacklustre.

It was interesting, but not one I'd re-read.

Reviewed by Annette Gisby.

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