Monday, August 15, 2011

The White Devil by Justin Evans

AND thou art dead, as young and fair
As aught of mortal birth;
And form so soft, and charms so rare,
Too soon return'd to Earth!
~by: George Gordon (Lord) Byron (1788-1824)

To continue with my creepy ghost-story theme, (see Don’t Breathe a Word and The Raising), I read a gothic thriller, The White Devil, by Justin Evans.

Andrew is a seventeen year old American who’s seemingly worn out his father’s patience. After a brief but disastrous flirtation with heroin, he’s been placed in a school of last resort, a British boarding school where his father’s money outweighs Andrew’s poor record. Within a day of arrival, Andrew witnesses what seems to be a murder, when a gaunt wild figure with bulging eyes strangles a fellow student in the historic graveyard. The problem: the figure completely and utterly disappears, and autopsy finds the student has died of a pulmonary sarcoidosis, a rare lung disease, not strangulation.

Andrew’s visions of this pale-haired figure don’t stop; dreams and peripheral sightings haunt him until he wonders if he’s going insane. Despite that, he’s drawn into the life of the school. The headmaster’s daughter, Persephone, who is the one and only female student, takes a liking to him based on his striking resemblance to Lord Byron, the Romantic poet. She arranges for him to be cast in a play about Lord Byron’s early years which has been commissioned by the school because Byron was an actual student there, 200 years before.

Soon, Andrew realizes his strange visions tie into Lord Byron’s history-- and so does the deadly outbreak of tuberculosis in the school. When Persephone contracts the disease, Andrew must solve a 200 year old murder and put a ghost to rest.

The White Devil is a stay-up-too-late kind of book, suspenseful and creepy. The setting is perfectly gothic and evocative, and the plot is enriched with some (rather embroidered) history of Lord Byron. I didn’t realize until after I read it, but the school in the novel, The Harrow School, is real, and Lord Byron did in fact attend it from 1801-1805.

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