SHADES OF GRAY by Timothy R. O'Neill


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A West Point ghost story, evocative and chilling, and a noteworthy novel debut for Lt. Col. O'Neill, who teaches psychology at the Point. From the opening scene, when an inexplicable ""fragile tracery of frost"" makes its way across a barracks window in the dead of night, a remarkable authenticity (largely thanks to O'Neill's clever use of his unusual setting) informs this thoughtful and suspenseful novel, based loosely on ghost sightings reported at the Point in 1972. O'Neill renders in brisk detail the insular, particular rhythms of West Point, choosing for his lead character a man who shares his real-life job: Sam Bondurant, a psychologist attached to the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. When a trustworthy and terrified cadet claiming to have seen a ghost comes to Sam for help, Sam hypnotizes him--and the cadet recalls the ghost (""A gray man. So far away, like cold stars""), then hyperventilates until Sam breaks the trance. A stunned but still skeptical Sam decides to investigate further; aided by his colleague, Liam, and his best friend, an intense Eastwood-type named Track, he installs electronic monitoring equipment in the barracks. Meanwhile, Sam's bored but feisty wife, Maggie, devotes herself to digging out records of West Point ghosts, tracing this particular haunting to a tragic fire set by an officer's crazed wife a century ago. Maggie's scholary hunt, and the eerie vigil kept by Sam and pals as several ghosts manifest, are constructed by O'Neill with an emphasis on realism, not sensationalism, and shimmer with tension. Finally, one wild night, the friends exorcise the ghosts, with Track taking an unexpected--and fully believable--sojourn into the unknown. Avoiding stereotypes, O'Neill successfully merges a splendidly realized occult thriller with a serious novel of manners about West Point and the military life. Impressive.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1987
Publisher: Viking