Kit's family has returned to the ex-mining community to look after his grandad, an ex-miner. Kit, 13, is a good pupil at his new school, swiftly earning the nickname 'Mr Watson'. But he is mystically connected with local bad boy Askew: their names are both on a memorial commemorating boy miners who were killed in a pit disaster long ago. Another friend, Allie, a wannabe actress, introduces Kit to the Game of Death, a 'dare' game played in Askew's den in a piece of waste land known as the Wilderness. Both Kit and Askew can see ghosts and when Askew goes missing, Kit knows he has to find him even if it means risking his life and missing Allie's starring performance in the school's production of the Ice Queen.
The novel is heavily mythic with its cast of beautifully three-dimensional stock characters (the hero, the death force, the life force, and the worm), its repetition of key phrases, its descriptions of winter and the emphasis on the redemptive power of story-telling yet it is hugely realistic with its detailed reporting of the minutiae of school life and its wonderful use of dialect. I particularly loved the way in which the response to "Eh?" is invariably "Eh? Eh?"
It is a beautifully crafted and written powerful exploration of death.
- "You have come into this ancient place to play the game called Death." (1.1)
- "Our ancestors were like that ... Stunted life, pain, then death." (1.3)
- "The evidence of the pit was everywhere - depressions in the gardens, jagged cracks in the roadways and in the house walls. Lamp posts and telegraph poles were twisted and skewed." (1.3)
- "That's the great thing you can say about everything - it'll pass." (2.1)
June 2021; 231 pages