ISBN: 9780061728273; ISBN10: 0061728276
On Sale: 5/10/2011
Trimsize: 6 x 9; Pages: 384; $24.99
Ages: 18 and Up; BISAC1:FIC031000
Beginning when I first discovered the writings of Rebecca DuMaurier, Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart, I have been a lover of gothic mysteries and was delighted to get a review copy of Justin Evan's new novel. Many thanks to Harper Collins for the opportunity.
Harrow on the Hill is a perfect setting for this tale of mystery and horror, its geographical history one of ancient pagan worship. The boarding school, Harrow, was established in the 1500's and counts among it's famous alums a certain romantic era poet, Lord Byron. And one must have a haunted, shadowy old castle or boarding school coupled with gloomy, cold and wet English weather to write the perfect gothic mystery.
Literary scholars have well noted Byron's sexual appetite and preferences and Evans has certainly done his homework in this regard. So when the teenaged protagonist, Andrew Taylor, senses there is something dark and evil about his new school, a ghost who might be connected to Byron, you just know the creepies are about to begin.
And they do: early on in the story, Andrew witnesses a gruesome sexually-charged murder:
"Twenty paces down the path, a man straddled another man," Evans writes. "The one on the bottom lay almost flat. The man on top was the source of the noise. He was wearing a long black frock coat with tails, which hung on him baggily and bunched at his shoulders. With both hands he thrust his weight upon the other man, smothering him. He snarled from the effort. … The eye sockets were shrunken; the eyes protruded, a vivid blue; his flesh was morbid gray. Long blond hair — almost white, albino-looking — hung over his eyes."
Yep, the creepies are in full swing. Add to the fact that young Andrew strongly resembles Lord Byron and has uncanny links to the poet, including landing a lead role as the poet in a school play - toss in some teen angst and peer-bullying, a budding first-love romance, and you have the ingredients of a terrific tale. Oh, and did I mention a killer strain of a nasty gurgly lung disease?
Like all good authors, Evans pulls you into his story and instills the need to learn more about the subject matter - in this case the Harrow School and Lord Byron. I found myself jumping on the internet after only a few pages to refresh my meager knowledge of Byron, the man and the poet. (Alas, high school English class in the early 1970's never examined more than a refrain, a stanza or that darned pesky iambic pentameter of poetry. Too taboo to discuss sexuality or hidden motives of the romantic poets.)
Thoroughly enjoyed this book, even with the couple of flaws other reviewers have noted: some unrealized plot elements and a rather forced/contrived ending. Nonetheless, if you're a fan of the macabre writings of E.A. Poe and excellent gothic ghost stories with a historical hook,The White Devil is a must-read.