The White Devil

The day after protagonist Andrew arrives at Harrow, a centuries-old boarding school on the outskirts of London, he finds the only boy he's made friends with dead outside the school grounds and a skeletal figure with a cough that "combined the bark of a sick animal with a wet, slapping sound" standing over the corpse. That figure mysteriously vanishes, and it's determined that the boy died of unusual but natural causes. However, Andrew's dreams have been invaded by a similar apparition, bringing with it visions of violence and desire rooted in the school's past.

Meanwhile, the school's lone female student has set her sights on Andrew, noting his eerie resemblance to the young Lord Byron (a 19th-century “Old Harrovian,” as the school’s alumni are termed). She touts him to headmaster Piers Fawkes, commissioned to write a school play about Byron's life. Andrew, cast as lead, learns that his role appears to be connected to his menacing dream invader. He confides in Fawkes and the school librarian; unfortunately, the headmaster’s initial reaction is to string the situation along, hoping it will stir up enough drama to revitalize his dwindling literary career.

Evans ratchets up the suspense expertly, although his grip on the novel's voice occasionally falters. Most of the story is told from Andrew's or Fawkes’s perspectives; when Evans brings in other points of view, they almost always derail the otherwise precisely calibrated tone. You'll need a high suspension of disbelief to accept how Andrew's supernatural tormentor asserts itself in reality, but gradual revelations about ghostly motivation dispel those doubts. Once the story kicks into full gear, The White Devil becomes an authentic page-turner that may well be devoured in one sitting.--Ron Hogan

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