First published back in September of 2000, US author Douglas Clegg’s novel ‘Mischief’ formed the second instalment into the author’s four part ‘Nightmare Chronicles’ series. Although the novel is linked to the first book - ‘Nightmare House’ (1999) which was originally published as a free online story, ‘Mischief’ is set considerably later than the events that take place in the first book, and as such can be read as a standalone novel.
Harrow Academy is a plush private school for boys that overlooks the Hudson River, just outside the town of Watch Point in upstate New York. In the past the foreboding mansion had been left empty over a number of decades, but now it is once again buzzing with the life of the young boys that are educated within its towering stone walls.
And it’s here that fifteen-year-old Jim Hook finds himself embarking upon a scholarship. After his father and brother were both killed in a tragic car accident, Jim feels that he should carry on with their family legacy in attending the prestigious school.
It’s Jim’s first year at Harrow Academy and he is determined to succeed at the school. In doing so he feels he will do his mother proud by following in the footsteps of his now deceased older brother Stephen. And the pressure on Jim is becoming immense. So much so that Jim associates the stress with the troubling hallucinations that he is becoming subjected to. And so, in a moment of weakness, Jim tries cheating in an exam. But he’s caught in the act, and things are suddenly looking incredibly bleak for the young student.
Harrow Academy has a strict honour code that all students of the school must abide by. Any deviation from the honour code will be met with immediate expulsion. The humiliation and utter shame of this would be unbearable for Jim. He can’t let down his poor mother in this way. Not after everything that she’s gone through to get him into the school.
But before Jim can go on trial for his cheating, he is approached by a secret fraternity calling themselves the Cadaver Society. They want Jim to join their secretive ranks, promising him that the case against him will be dropped if he does.
In realising the powerful influence of this mysterious cabal, and against his better judgement, Jim decides to accept the offer and begins the initiation process. But there quickly appears to be more to the secret society than Jim originally thought. The history of the fraternity runs deeper than he would have dreamed it would. And the bizarre initiation tests that he is being subjected to are quickly turning increasingly vile.
Jim Hook’s beginning to wish he had never agreed to join the Cadaver Society. But the real horrors have only just started...
For Clegg’s second ‘Harrow Academy’ story, the author has gone all-out for a strong coming-of-age tale set upon the eerie backdrop of a supernatural horror premise. The principal protagonist of Jim Hook is an instantly likeable young lad who is purposefully made easy to identify with. Yeah, he makes some fundamental mistakes and is far from the golden child, and it’s perhaps these factors that make him so real.
Jim’s blossoming relationship with a young girl named Lark from a nearby all-girls school is one of the elements that sticks out from the novel the most. Here, Clegg successfully paints a vivid picture of young love, pulling on the readers’ heart-strings at every opportunity.
The link between Jim and his sadly missed older brother Stephen plays around with a major factor to the supernatural thread of the storyline. Although only hinted at for the majority of the tale, Clegg gradually uses their brotherly love to draw in a slowly creeping horror threat that carefully builds in the background until the heart-pounding final quarter of the tale, where all hell should be unleashed.
Clegg basks in the fun of uncovering dark and secretive rituals from within an out-of-date academic establishment. In particular the initiation rituals that Hook is put through are each delightfully ghoulish, adding plenty of ‘horror scare’ to the whole charade.
However, above all else the characterisation is the key to the tale. And it’s here that Clegg has truly excelled. Jim Hook feels like a living, breathing person, with firm bonds built between the reader and this principal character. Likewise, his sassy girlfriend Lark makes the reader think back to their own experiences of first love and plays along with such wistfully emotive memories from the past. And finally Hook’s best friend Trey Fricker adds that much needed guiding-hand between school friends that really enhances the whole coming-of-age scenario.
The most disappointing flaw with the novel is its downright half-arsed ending. So much potential is wrapped up in the escalating sequences that all lead up to the tale’s finale. The characters are each given their own important roles into the final direction that the storyline takes. It’s all been building up to this moment, whereupon Clegg sadly throws together what seems to be a fistful of vaguely suggestive thoughts that wrap the whole shebang up in nothing short of a washed-out finish.
This ending to the story is a real shame. However much you don’t want it to, it does still detract somewhat from the excellent storyline that proceeded it. But it does all still come together, and the ending is formed (however weak it may be).
The novel was followed on by the third instalment in the series entitled ‘The Infinite’ (2001) as well as the final forth part entitled ‘The Abandoned’ (2005).
The tale runs for a total of 359 pages.
© DLS Reviews