Something Dangerous by author Patrick Redmond (the original UK title being The Wishing Game) was published in 1999 and was the first book to be published by this author. The psychological horror story is about how weak willed Jonathon Palmer becomes friends with the fearless Richard Rokeby in the systematically oppressive boarding school of Kirkston Abbey, realizing too late how dangerous his new friend is. As Jonathon falls further under Rokeby’s possessive control, the two boys find a ouija board and begin a game that starts to show dangerous and deadly results.
The framing of the story helps to set up the plot. First there is a letter directed to a newspaper deriding the insinuation that the public school system was to blame for the events at Kirkston Abbey. This leads into the prologue where a man meets with a journalist to tell him the truth about the mysterious events of December 9, 1954 and the circumstances that led up to the final tragedy.
“At Kirkston Abbey the first step was an unexpected act of kindness; a patch of perfect blue to brighten the greyness of an October day. In time that blue would dull, turn bad, decay, and spread its infection across the sky.”
So begins the friendship of Jonathon and Richard, and the isolated codependence that the relationship turns into. Many characters become involved as Richard identifies those who he believes poses a threat to his connection with Jonathon, and the wishing game that they have started makes all of them victims of his rage.
As the book takes place in the ’50s at a Norfolk public school for rich, young boys, there is quite a bit of casual prejudice against any exhibiting the non-hegemonic race and sexuality of the time and location, as well as certain gender roles that were expected to be fulfilled. Even with those factors shifted into the classification of “expected for the book’s setting,” this still manages to be the novel that has so far been the most successful in disturbing me without me quite knowing why.
“The closet is opening. Soon all the skeletons will be free.”
Redmond depicts his characters as very flawed individuals, not just in Rokeby’s madness, but in Jonathon’s insecurities, the relationship between the Perriman twins (strained due to familial expectations, but still extremely loving and close), the unhappy marriage of the Latin professor and his wife who loves him but blackmails him into staying with her, etc. In these flaws he makes them unhappy, but believable. None of the characters are really able to fit into a black and white setting of “good” or “evil” after their complete stories are told.
The most eerie thing about this book is that the reader is never really 100% sure that there is anything supernatural going on for the first few parts of the novel. There are heavy insinuations of it, but information to blackmail and psychologically torture people can be found in many different ways beyond summoning dark spirits. It is only at the climax of the book that there is a confirmation, and what a confirmation it was.
“None of us were monsters. That was what so upset the police. They believed the story I’d told them but they didn’t want to accept it. The implications were too awful. The fact that it could have occurred anywhere. It just happened that it was us. Easier to believe us freaks or monsters. Easier than admit the truth.”
The writing of the book is gorgeous, the manipulations done insidiously well, and the creeping dread that sets the tone of the book never wavers throughout the novel. The capitalizations used when characters were enraged could be distracting, but managed to relay the emotion much better than just exclamation points could have. As a twin myself, I did not really appreciate the expected dire fate of the fictional ones, but that does seem to be the thing to do in fiction, and was the only thing that we really saw coming beyond the general knowledge of a tragic ending. While it may only be a personal reaction that makes me fear this book, Highly recommend for anyone who wants a good—but subtle—scare.
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