What could be worse than knowing it’s the last summer you’ll spend with your closest friends, as well as the last one before you get hit with the innocence-destroying horrors of high school?
A lot, actually, as Jacob, the 14-year-old hero of Summer’s End, discovers. Jacob just wants to enjoy the scant few months before his friends scatter to other schools and, in one case, another country. But darn it all if the abandoned mansion he stumbles across while exploring a spooky island with his best friend, Ichiro, doesn’t turn out to be haunted by the ghosts of slain children – and their still-active murderers.
Joel A. Sutherland is working in very familiar territory in his new novel. Not only is he the author of a number of instalments of Scholastic’s Haunted Canada series, he is also a librarian in Ontario’s cottage country, where Summer’s End takes place. (Not coincidentally, the local library plays an important role in advancing the novel’s plot.)
After Jacob and Ichiro discover the run-down mansion while trying out Ichiro’s canoe, the creepy sights and sounds they encounter within become an obsession. A deep dive into the library’s microfiche collection – the librarian hasn’t finished digitizing the newspaper archives yet – reveals the home was built at the turn of the previous century by a doctor and his wife, who treated children with tuberculosis, and who later died in the front hallway in an apparent murder-suicide. Jacob and Ichiro convince their friends Hannah and Hayden to return to the island with them, where they do battle with the killer ghosts and try to help the unquiet spirits of the victims.
Sutherland doesn’t break any new ground here, and his narrative is visited more than once by the baleful spirits of Convenient Coincidence and Suspiciously Informative Exposition by a Minor Character, but he is very good at creating an eerie mood. Many of the scenes of the kids hanging out in town feel oddly flat, but every time we get to the island and the haunted mansion, Sutherland turns the screw very effectively. When it gets to the spooky business, Summer’s End is tense and unnerving in all the best ways.