Set at the exclusive English boarding school of Harrow, The White Devil by Justin Evans is part coming-of-age tale and part ghost story and Gothic suspense. The story begins with young American near-do-well Andrew Taylor’s entry into Harrow as an exchange student. This is Andrew’s last chance to clean up his act or be disinherited, or so his father threatens.
Andrew Taylor’s arrival at Harrow turns dismal with the sudden death of the first person to befriend him at the school. The death is followed by more illnesses and suddenly Andrew is seen by his classmates as the culprit. And Andrew isn’t so sure he’s not responsible as he keeps seeing a pale, white haired boy who seems to be a portent to misfortune.
Unable to seek his father’s guidance, Andrew turns to his dormitory housemaster, Piers Fawkes, for help when he fears he is loosing his mind. Fawkes has his own issues that include bouts of drunkenness, indifference, and pathos. Andrew and Fawkes work together to weave the story of Harrow’s past meshing out a 200-year old mystery, which possibly involves one of Harrow’s most infamous alums, Lord George Gordon Byron.
Justin Evans skillfully pulls together a contemporary story interwoven with historical facts. Despite its slow beginning, The White Devil is a novel worth the reading effort. The first few chapters tend to drag a bit and I didn’t like the characters or the setting, at first. However, Evans seems to understand mystery and he builds his story with increasing tension and suspense.
With a coroner’s explanation to an apparently mysterious death, the story picks up speed. The mystery deepened with hints of horror as Byron’s sordid past becomes entangled with the present-day story. By the end of The White Devil, I grew to like the characters and even felt sympathy for their personal struggles. Whether read for the coming-of-age angle or the Gothic horror, The White Devil is a story of substance with lingering appeal.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.