White Devil by Justin Evans. HarperCollins. 2011. Personal copy. Part of my Holiday Reads for Grown Up series; and what better book to pick than one that is not just a ghost story, but is a haunted boarding school story?
The Plot: American Andrew Taylor has been sent to an exclusive British boarding school, Harrow, for his final year of schooling. He’s under strict orders from his father not to mess things up like he did at his previous high school.
Harrow is old — and anything old has ghost stories, right?
Things are looking up when Persephone Vine (the only female student at the school) approaches Andrew about playing Byron in a play being written by Piers Fawkes, a poet and Andrew’s housemaster.
Then Andrew finds the body of a fellow student. One of the few who had been friendly to the new American. It’s quickly determined to be death from natural causes, but it’s enough for people to give Andrew a wide berth. There are even whispers of drugs.
It’s even more complicated because Andrew something someone — something — no, someone, by the body of the dead student. Who’ll believe him?
As Andrew learns more, he begins to believe that there really is a ghost at Harrow. But if the ghost is real, who is it? What does it have to do with the dead boy? And is anyone else in danger?
The Good: Let’s be honest. Ghosts aren’t scary.
What’s scary is what ghosts does. What’s scary is never knowing where a ghost is. The way you can’t trust your eyes or ears. Not knowing what a ghost will or won’t do. Not being able to stop the ghost.
Andrew realizes not just that there is a ghost; not just that it’s killing people; but also, that it has something to do with Andrew. This isn’t something random; and it’s not something that has been going on for ages. It’s something old and dark and dangerous but perhaps scariest of all, it’s about Andrew. People are being hurt because of him. But why? And how? Andrew researches the school’s long past, with the help of Fawkes. Fawkes is haunted by something entirely different. As a young man, he’d shown promise and won awards and accolades for his poetry. Now, he’s a has been, his agent doesn’t return his calls, and his drinking is an open secret. He’s not the best person to handle the sudden unexpected deaths of people around him. What he is, though, is the best person Andrew has, and one of the few people Andrew can trust. And yes, this was scary and full of tension but I couldn’t help but love when Andrew starts looking into the history of the school and doing some in-depth research and reading original sources.
I have a bit of a soft spot for underdogs: Andrew, Fawkes, and Persephone are all underdogs. The lone American, the drunk, the girl. One of my favorite types of tragedies is the underdog so scarred that he becomes the villain. This is what happened here with the ghost — it is love turned to hate, want turned to destruction.
So — you have a ghost. You have a ghost who is killing people. You figure out who and why. And it’s all super scary and reading with one eyed closed. And now comes the real problem: can you stop the ghost?
This book was super scary; and it became even creepier when I read at the author’s website that Harrow is a real school. And while I don’t want to give away the ending, it was unexpected yet perfect and had me putting down the book because I couldn’t believe it and pacing around the room then picking it up again.