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A quietly creepy horror debut about the calamities brought to a stodgy English public school by a rebellious student and his adoring chum. Jonathan Palmer just wants to fit in with the other 14-year-old boys at the elite Kirkston Abbey boarding school. Smart, conscientious and respectful to tyrannical teachers, he remains ashamed of his provincial Yorkshire accent and common middle- class origins. Though he has friends—like the odd twin brothers Michael and Stephen Perriman, and stalwart Nicholas Scott—Palmer is intrigued by his handsome, Byronic classmate Richard Rokeby. Rokeby, the dashing scion of a well-to-do family, doesn’t study, mocks his teachers, effortlessly passes exams, and doesn’t seem to want anyone’s friendship. When Rokeby inexplicably helps Palmer with his Latin and then defends him from the sadistic bullying of snobby James Wheatley, the two become buddies, sharing a brief vacation at the Rokeby estate, where Palmer learns that his friend is estranged from his father, who remarried after Rokeby’s mother died. The boys start playing with an old Ouija board that Rokeby found among a distant relative’s belongings, and Palmer begins to have nightmares that prove eerily prescient. Back at school, Rokeby vows to punish those who have tried to hurt Palmer. Of the oafs who bullied him, one suffers a crippling injury on the athletic field, another is taken out of school, and James Wheatley slips into paranoid delusions that lead to a supposedly accidental death. Afraid that Rokeby is evil incarnate, Nicholas Scott and kindly history teacher Alex Stewart try to intervene; then Stewart and others on the staff find themselves afflicted by unseen blackmailers while seemingly incidental misfortunes culminate in more deaths. An unusually gripping, character-driven tale with low-key violence that’s even scarier than the gore-on-the-floor more common to the genre. ($150,000 ad/promo)

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-7868-6552-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1999