The moment is drawing ever nearer, when your friendly neighbourhood blogger frees up enough time to do some blogging, but for the next few days you’re stuck with reviews from the back catalogue.
This one originally appeared in Black Static #7, hopefully in a state not too dissimilar to what’s posted below:-
The Perils & Dangers of This Night (Virgin paperback, 262pp, £7.99) is the fifth book out of the Virgin stable, and the first that isn’t a reprint of a title previously available from a small press. I’m not familiar with author Stephen Gregory’s past work, but he has an impressive pedigree, with an earlier novel that won the Somerset Maugham Award.
The setting for Perils is Foxwood Manor, an exclusive prep school in Dorset, where 12 year old Alan Scott is left in the care of headmaster Dr Kemp and his wheelchair bound wife one Christmas, while his feckless mother enjoys herself abroad. Kemp is fixated on bringing out Alan’s musical talent (the boy has perfect pitch), regardless of the holiday season. But then matters are thrown into confusion by the arrival of old boy Martin Pryce and his girlfriend Sophie. Their car apparently breaks down and, with Foxwood Manor snowed in, the couple invite themselves to stay, but Pryce has an agenda of his own.
This is a short book, but it packs a considerable punch, with not a single word wasted. Gregory effectively sets the mood in the first half, with his picture of the vast Manor house, all its winding corridors and endless rooms, set in an empty tract of countryside, far from any other habitation, and with the blanket of snow emphasising this isolation, so that Foxwood itself almost becomes a character in the story. The characters are perfectly drawn – Alan with his feelings of loss and abandonment, the tyrannical Dr Kemp, with hints that there is something more unsavoury than a mere bully about the schoolmaster, and his wife who acts as both peacemaker and foil for his bad moods. Into this volatile mix comes the wild card that is Martin Pryce. Suave and arrogant at first, a fun loving rebel who seeks to win Alan over and turn him against the Kemps, Pryce soon reveals a dark side to his nature, growing increasingly crazy as the book progresses, until nothing seems beyond him. Driven by a tragedy that occurred to his brother, also a Foxwood old boy, and which may be purely imaginary, nothing more than a justification for his own actions, the monstrous Pryce dominates the story. His transformation from borderline sane to outright psychopath is seamless, with no way to tell at what exact moment the line is crossed. Secrets from the past are revealed and schemes for revenge put in motion. There follows a tautly written and tense fight for survival, with escalating atrocities and changes of fortune, as Alan uses his superior knowledge of the school to advantage.
By using Alan as the narrator, or rather the adult Alan trying to get back inside the mind of the twelve year old, Gregory adds another frisson to the story. Everything is seen through a child’s eyes, with events such as sexual encounters, which an adult might take in his stride, given a more disturbing cast. The end result is a book that reads like somebody thought it would be a good idea to introduce the characters from If to the setting of The Devil’s Backbone (yes, there is a hint of the supernatural, but only a hint) and then get them to play out the plot of Die Hard. And yes, that does sound like a horrendous fix-up, but it works marvellously well, and the end result is one of the best examples of literary horror I can recall reading recently.