From Publishers Weekly
When 17-year-old Jerry Muller returns to Camp Seneca as a junior counselor in Lehmann-Haupt's entertaining new novel of summertime suspense, he finds he's in for more than the Pennsylvania camp's typical "controlled chaos." This year (the summer of 1952), Jerry has brought along his nine-year-old half-brother, Peter, and an excess of psychological baggage from his divorced parents, a single, alcoholic mother and his remarried father. Jerry hopes to show Peter a good time—and have a good time himself with a pretty new girl named T.J.—but camp owner Woody Wentworth's "character building exercises" take on a sinister tone. Woody's campfire tales leave children in tears; the annual Snipe Hunt (an armed bird-bagging contest) turns survivalist; and the atmosphere grows "savage, like they're preparing for war." More disturbing is the adult administrator, Buck Silverstone, aka Redclaw, who runs the Indian program and has some unorthodox activities planned. The question is not if Redclaw will go off the deep end, but when he does, how gory will it be and how many campers will he take with him? Lehmann-Haupt (A Crooked Man
) builds suspense and delivers the expected cataclysmic conclusion to this scary campfire tale. (Sept.)
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The sophomore effort (following A Crooked Man,
1995) of the former daily book reviewer for the New York Times
is set in 1952 at a summer boys' camp. Accompanied by his little half-brother, Peter, with whom he is determined to forge a closer relationship, teenage Jerry arrives at Camp Seneca with high expectations; however, he immediately senses that things have changed. Known for his wacky philosophy of surprising campers with unexpected challenges, the camp owner has put a sinister spin on routine activities. After Peter emerges from a "fun" boxing challenge bloodied and bruised, Jerry writes to his father and stepmother about his misgivings. Furthermore, the new man hired to teach Native American lore is downright creepy. Although this novel begs to be read as an allegory on the 1950s, it is so awkwardly done that it does not really work. Large amounts of exposition are shoveled into the dialogue, and passages meant to terrify readers do not. The author's name and critical acclaim for his debut may draw some readers, but they are likely to be disappointed. Buy cautiously. Joanne WilkinsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved