First published in May of 2010 (US) and October 2011 (UK), ‘The White Devil’ formed US author Justin Evans’ second novel to see publication following on from his debut with ‘A Good And Happy Child’ (2007).

DLS Synopsis:
Andrew Taylor is on his last chance.  After being expelled from his previous school in America for drug use, his father pulled all the strings he possibly could to secure his son a place in the prestigious public school of Harrow in Greater London.  A school immersed in history, tradition and most importantly – success.

However, upon his arrival at the school, Taylor begins to feel an eerie presence in the musty air of the age old building.  Vivid dreams begin to creep into Taylor’s sleep.  Stories of ‘The Lot Ghost’ whispered to him by his fellow classmates and the school’s matron, don’t exactly make life any easier for him.  And then early one morning, Taylor witnesses his newly acquired friend, Theodore Ryder, being strangled to death by a haunting blond-haired individual who simply disappears into thin air after the boy dies.

Harrow school for boys is quite understandably shook up pretty bad by the ordeal.  Rumours begin to spread around Taylor’s connection with the dead boy.  Even after the pathologist announces that it was a natural death, still Taylor is deemed an outcast and one to be watched.   And through it all, the dreams continue to haunt his night-time hours.  But they’re becoming too vivid to be just dreams.  There seems to be something more in them.

When another classmate named Roddy Slough becomes struck down with similar symptoms to the deceased young boy, Taylor realises that the haunting is much more serious than he had originally judged.  Soon enough people begin to pick up on Taylor’s uncanny resemblance to the great poet of the nineteenth century – Lord Byron who himself attended Harrow.  With the help of his housemaster Piers Fawkes, the school’s resident archivist Dr Judith Kahn and his blossoming relationship with Persephone Vine (the only girl attending the school), Taylor begins to uncover the connections between the haunting, Lord Byron and Byron’s mysterious young lover - John Harness.

The truth is there, locked away in the depths of the history behind the great school of Harrow.  A hidden stash of letters to Byron opens the doors wider to the painful past that was suffered in the very halls of Harrow.  A love that was extinguished by a perverse jealousy gone sour.  A cruel revenge that to this day lingers in the dank depths of the school’s basement.  A memory that simply won’t die…

DLS Review:
The tale is set in very English surroundings, steeped in a wealth of history and tradition, with an instantly recognisable American viewpoint to these surroundings.  This is in no way a bad thing.  Indeed, Evans has recognised this, and used it to his advantage, with the principal protagonist being himself from America, allowing Evans to infiltrate his own first-hand experiences into the writing, without disturbing the very British setting for the book.

The author’s personal experience in the school (Evans attended Harrow for a year) adds an instantly captivating realism to the story and its setting.  Although somewhat slow-paced and verbose in its delivery, the storyline is still continuingly intriguing with its exposure of life in the school for a young lad.

The characterisation is peculiarly hit and miss.  Taylor is centre of attention, and so rightly given much warmth to his character, as well as a continuous development to his strong personality.  The housemaster Piers Fawkes is equally given much time towards his own character portrayal.  However, for the rest of the characters (which includes the principal character of Persephone Vine), Evans merely sketches out their characteristics and personalities and leaves it pretty much at that.  This is a real shame for the novel, which basically relies on what should have been a character rich storyline and little else.

Although there is a very palpable atmosphere lingering behind much of the tale, the overall pace remains very plodding, with events transpiring at a tediously cautious pace.  Evans successfully manages to inject a hefty portion of mystery and intrigue into the tale, which he sustains with a great amount of elaborate intricacies behind the haunting.  True enough, this is a very well thought out and clever ghost story, with an obvious personal element shining through.  However, that alone does not make the tale a gripping and compelling read.

For all its elaborate weaving of the historical complexities behind the haunting, the tale itself does seem to run out of puff time and again.  The uncovering of the truth behind the haunting that is gradually picking off Taylor’s classmates is delivered in a similar fashion to Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (2003) but with an added layer of obvious intellect.  But where ‘The White Devil’ ultimately fails is with the actual delivery of the tale.

All in all, the novel is certainly an intriguing and generally enjoyable read.  It does suffer from too much padding, with not enough emphasis given to the final editing and overall continuation of pace.  Furthermore, too many characters are under developed and mere shells in the tale.  However, the in-depth plot and detailed first-hand delivery of the setting is second to none.   It’s one to read, but not necessarily a novel that will stay with you very long after finishing it.

The book runs for a total of 381 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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