This short novel that is told with almost fable-like simplicity: Matt Harper is a first-time counselor at a boy’s summer camp when he witnesses a casual brutality that leads to murder. The bullying, gluttonous headman Ed Nolan (who has “reduced Camp Pleasant to a microcosm of the Third Reich”) is portrayed as one stereotype that the reader is not sorry to see killed off. Instead, all of our sympathy is reserved for the possible suspects: Merv Loomis, the homosexual counselor Nolan humiliates into quitting; the troubled ten-year-old Tony Rocca; Nolan’s meek wife, Ellen; and several others. The setting and tone have the distinct feel of the early 1950s, but a casual reference to actress Catherine Deneuve places the action in the mid-60s or later.
In other hands, perhaps this minimalist plot would be inadequate, but Matheson, author of Somewhere in Time and Hell House as well as classic Twilight Zone teleplays, has such a command of his craft that reading this book is pure pleasure. The simple writing style brings to mind Hemingway. “It was a Wednesday night and there were movies down in the lodge so I sent my boys there and stayed in the cabin, packing my trunk.” Occasionally, Matheson waxes poetic: “I lay there staring at the wall, feeling my heart thud slowly in my chest like the fist of a dying man on the wall of his prison.” Readers will find in Matheson’s book a deeply engaging story with a clear writing style that is a pleasure to read.