cover image The Night Class

The Night Class

Tom Piccirilli. Bereshith/Shadowlands, $34.95 (227pp) ISBN 978-1-930595-01-9

Piccirilli's predilection for emotionally scarred protagonists embarking on soul-searching quests (The Deceased; Hexes) runs amok in this hyperventilating horror mystery. Caleb Prentiss, upperclassman at an unnamed northern college, returns from Christmas break to discover that Sylvia Campbell, an 18-year-old student with falsified transcripts, was slaughtered in his room during the school break. In his mind, Sylvia becomes linked with his beloved older sister, whose suicide has left him tortured with guilt since childhood. Cal's obsession with investigating a murder that the school has inexplicably hushed up drives him to break into the library basement where Sylvia's effects are stored and to rifle registrar files in search of a clue to her demise. As dark secrets implicating the school's exploitative faculty come to light, Cal finds his life and those of his closest friends in jeopardy. The novel draws on the venerable tradition of stories that plumb the unbridgeable gulf between school learning and life lessons, but Piccirilli goes overboard in his efforts to give events philosophic weight. The text is freighted with unmerited allusions to faith and forgiveness and with snips of brooding song lyrics that are more pretentious than profound. Most of the major characters are prone to martyrlike behavior: a perfectionist premed student gives her body to keep her grades; a voluptuous ethics student works at a strip joint; and Cal himself's hands develop stigmata every time a murder occurs. All but Piccirilli's most devoted fans will find their interest in this tortuous tale out of school to be purely academic. (Dec.)