Thirteen year old Kit Watson has moved back to his ancestral town of Stoneygate, an old mining town in northern England. His grandmother is dead, and Kit’s parents want his grandfather’s last years to be happy. The grandfather was born and raised in Stoneygate and had worked in the old mines of the town. It is the only place where he feels at home and he wants to die there.
Kit being a “new kid” struggles to make friends at a school where he does not know anybody. He manages to make friends with a gang of misfits whose leader is the frightening John Askew. Kit is encouraged to attend nocturnal meetings in the seemingly haunted mines of the town. At first he is reluctant and afraid, but he eventually succumbs to the peer pressure and the natural allure of the mines. In the mine they smoke cigarettes and play the terrifying game of death. As the story unfolds frightening facts about Kit and John Askew come to light.
The book does a very good balancing act. There is wonderful dialogue between all the main characters and an interesting plot full of excitement and action is maintained to the fullest extent. The characters that appear in the book, with the exception of Kit’s parents, are all very round, well developed and above all credible. The book also contains very strong messages about peer pressure. When Kit takes drags of the cigarettes it is made clear that he does not like it, and he only smokes to fit in with the rest of the gang. Similarly it is John Askew who puts Kit under a lot of pressure to join the nocturnal meetings of the gang.
There is also a strong message about the importance of family in the book. Kit has a very strong relationship with his grandfather and feels that he can confide in him. Meanwhile Askew comes from a broken family (his parents are very abusive) and has no one to turn to, so he becomes very bitter and twisted. Some may be concerned about the meetings that Kit and his friends attend: they are clearly meant to be some kind of seance. However it is made clear at the end of the book how dangerous it is to dabble in these things. On the downside, the game in the mines is a game of death, and the gaping entrance to the darkness of the mines stands in a way for the passage from life to death.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.