I found White Devil captivating from the outset. The author has certainly chosen the perfect setting for a ghost story in the Lot, a house at Harrow school accommodating students. The house itself is quite old, but at its heart is a much older dwelling which would have been in use at the time of Lord Byron, whom the story is crafted around. I was a little apprehensive about this, as it is very easy to slander the dead, but the author has kept his tale true to the known facts about Byron who was, in any case, famously described as `mad, bad and dangerous to know'.
The story develops at a very gentle pace, but when the writing is good that really does not matter. The whole account is very atmospheric and this was one of those books which I found myself taking the time to read word for word as I was enjoying it so much. The supernatural elements are certainly eerie, but from the outset there is a hint of menace and the impression that this is far from a benign spirit. The plot is well thought out and I did not find it predictable so there is always the feeling that there is something unexpected and somewhat threatening just around the corner which keeps you turning the pages.
The story begins with Andrew Taylor arriving at Harrow to join the sixth form. Andrew is an American and has come to Harrow as a last resort after getting himself in trouble in the educational establishment he had attended in the States. Initially he is like a fish out of water but is soon persuaded to be part of a play based on the life of Byron which his housemaster, Fawkes, is writing. Andrew bears an uncanny resemblance to Byron and when he starts playing the part of Byron, the supernatural elements really start creeping in.
I thoroughly enjoyed this gothic tale which is extremely well crafted. I think the author hits just the right balance between keeping the story moving and creating the atmosphere needed to make a successful ghost story with plenty of suspense.
on 18 December 2011
Once I'd got to the end of part one (page 157 in my copy) I became interested - it took that long and I genuinely felt like abandoning it many times before that. The only character I really felt was developed consistently was that of Piers Fawkes, who is Andrew's Housemaster. I couldn't visualise the characters at all, despite the extremely detailed information about them. Written in a literary style similar to that of some 18th and 19th century novels, there are passages upon passages of long-winded descrption which at times I felt detracted from essentially a great plot. I thought the setting in the novel was good - it added some atmosphere - and Justin Evans used his own experiences to present the location well enough for those who have never been there. I also didn't feel that the explanations for those not involved in this culture drew the readers' attention away from the developing story.
I'd been looking forward to reading this as I loved the idea of the link with Byron and this really did work. The ghost story aspect was good but not chilling in the way I'd been hoping for. I had visions of feeling like I did when I read 'The Turn of the Screw' by Henry James for example but it didn't sadly. If it hadn't plodded along so slowly and had picked up the pace then it would've been 4 stars and having said that if it had flowed better it might even have been 5 stars because I did like the story. It isn't one I'd recommend to my friends unless I was certain they didn't mind the long-windedness of it.
When seventeen-year-old Andrew Taylor gets into trouble at his school in Connecticut his parents decide to send him to Britain's prestigious Harrow School to finish his education. On Andrew's arrival at Harrow, people begin to remark on his resemblance to the poet, Lord Byron, who also attended Harrow two centuries earlier. This makes Andrew the perfect choice for the role of Byron in the school play, which is being written by his housemaster, Piers Fawkes. But when Andrew witnesses the death of one of his new friends and starts to experience terrifying visions and ghostly sightings, he becomes convinced that Harrow is haunted and that the death is connected with something that happened during Byron's time at the school. With the help of Persephone Vine, the only girl at Harrow, Andrew and Fawkes begin to investigate, but can they discover the truth behind the hauntings before someone else dies?
I was excited about reading The White Devil as it really sounded like a book I would enjoy. And I did enjoy it, though maybe not as much as I was hoping to. I would describe the book as part ghost story, part literary mystery (though not a particularly scary ghost story, in my opinion - while it was certainly very atmospheric and unsettling, the scenes where Andrew encountered the ghost didn't scare me very much). The Byron element of the novel was what really interested me and the main reason why I wanted to read this book. I admit I wasn't sure exactly how much of this story was based on historical fact and how much was pure fiction, but I did enjoy watching Andrew and the other characters researching Byron's life and attempting to solve the mystery surrounding him.
I also loved the Harrow setting, which was very vividly portrayed, and the descriptions of the old buildings, fog and rain gave it a slightly gothic feel. Justin Evans himself spent a year at Harrow and this obviously helped to make his descriptions of the school feel authentic and believable, with insights into many aspects of life at a boys' public school including school uniforms, traditions and slang. And in making Andrew Taylor an American, this allowed the author to draw on his own experiences to show how Andrew had to adapt not only to a new school but also to a new country and culture.
The one thing that disappointed me about The White Devil was the lack of strong, well-developed characters. The only character I really liked was Piers Fawkes, who had once been a famous poet and now suffering from alcoholism and at risk of losing his job at Harrow. Persephone, as the book's main female character, never really came to life for me - and apart from Andrew himself, none of the other boys at Harrow had any depth either. If the characters had been stronger I think I would have enjoyed this book more than I did, but it was still a good, atmospheric read.
on 1 September 2013
I love ghost stories and so I had high expectations when I bought this. Unusually, I read the paperback and not on my kindle so I wanted good value if this book was going to take up precious shelf space. I wasn't disappointed; I loved the setting of Harrow and the feeling of the main character, Andrew, being a fish out of water.
I felt that Andrew's character and his housemaster, Piers Fawkes, were the most interesting, as was the librarian. I did get irritated with Persephone and I wasn't rooting for her at the end. The setting itself was brilliant; I really enjoyed learning more about this closed community and that of Byron's life as well. It was the school that made it for me, the nooks and crannies and the ghosts of boys who had been there hundreds of years before.
Of the ghost stories I've read recently, I liked this a lot. However, I do think it was a bit long and Persephone needed to be more sympathetic.
on 6 May 2013
The White Devil wasn't very scary. However, it was compelling. A good debut novel, but I was disappointed as I thought it would be a lot scarier. Fairly well-written, with interesting characters keep you turning the pages. Overall, good but not brilliant.
on 2 September 2015
This is really hard going. I am so disappointed, as it had been on my list to buy for probably over a year.
The style is boring, and the characters ghastly. By the end of the book, the only one I half-know is Fawkes. I know nothing about Andrew. And is he dead or not at the end? I was speed-reading as I was so bored, and the end was a dreadful jumble.
Why do editors let authors use the same names? Reg the workman and Reggie the academic. Reverend Peter and Roddy's father Peter. The cast isn't that large. Couldn't different names have been used?
But the worst thing of all is this: Byron's young gay lover considering his "street smarts".
Do I need to go on?
on 14 March 2012
I wish I liked this more than I did, after reading the blurb I thought I would have LOVED it!
An interesting concept, a well thought out literary mystery with an excellent moody, atmospheric feel but I just couldn't take to the characters. The lead, Andrew, I never felt as if I got to know him, I couldn't stand Persephone Vine. I felt that some of the characters were trying too hard to be English eccentrics. Some chilling set pieces that worked really well but ultimately I felt the characters let the story down and it never lived up to the hype.
Still worth a read if you like spooky,gothic, atmospheric novels.
The premise of The White Devil - like most ghost stories - doesn't look all that promising in outline, but, like the best of its kind, the key to its success lies in the detail of the writing. It helps if the author is able to make the story eerily unsettling and at least half-way convincing, but it's even better if the author is able to make the haunting meaningful in a way that connects it with the present day and touches on some dark indefinable fears within the reader. Justin Evans achieves this well in The White Devil, managing also to make an intelligent use literature and tradition as a way of linking the secrets of the past with the present.
It seems unlikely that The White Devil is going to achieve that from the opening pages, putting an American teenager into an English public school that appears to be haunted. Expelled from a top US academy for an episode involving drugs and the death of another boy, Andrew Taylor is enrolled into Harrow by his rich, aspirational and authoritarian father. It's his last chance, but his reputation has followed him, and when a boy at Harrow dies in mysterious circumstances and is discovered by the American boy soon after his arrival, the possibility of Andrew fitting in seems remote. Since his arrival at the school moreover, Andrew has been subjected to terrifying visions that hint at murder and even darker goings-on in the past of the prestigious public school.
There's a reasonably good bit of correlation between Andrew's state of mind and his ghostly experiences, finding himself an outsider and at odds with the world around him. Where The White Devil takes some risks, and ultimately succeeds all the more however, is in the strong connections the author manages to forge between past and present. Andrew bears a strong resemblance to a youthful Lord Byron, who himself attended Harrow, and his troubles prove to be the inspiration for the Fawkes, housemaster and resident poet/alcoholic at the school, who is writing a play about Byron and wants to cast Andrew in the role. That's a bit of a stretch and it's difficult to imagine how Justin Evans could make it work convincingly, but he does, somehow making a privileged American teenager with a drugs history at an English public school genuinely sympathetic, but also creating some strong and entertaining supporting characters, such as Fawkes.
It helps that the author himself spent a year as a student at Harrow, and his descriptions of the teenage boys and their behaviour has a clear ring of authenticity to them. Founded on reputations and traditions that are unthinkingly practised and accepted, Evans finds a rich seam of dark horror to be found in the experience of abuses endured by young men at a public school, taking in questions of class, snobbery and social aspirations both from a historical and a modern perspective. At the heart of the novel and the horror however is, surprisingly, love and it gives further depth, meaning and originality to the story. Superbly orchestrated then, creating meaningful historical and literary connections between the past and present, The White Devil manages to hit those nerves and sense of youthful vulnerability that gives rise to fears of dark forces beyond our control exerting a powerful influence that will either make or break us.
on 23 February 2013
Gripping and unpredictable. A great read for anyone who likes a shivery read. It makes a very good Winter read.
on 29 November 2015
I caught wind of this by way of a review in Black Static magazine a while back. The visuals are vivid, there's a strong sense of place (within the school system), and a stronger sense of intrigue and supernatural menace. If ghost stories are your thing, be sure to add this well-crafted work to your collection.