The college winter break is over, and Caleb Prentiss faces yet another semester of higher education. Struggling with alcoholism and frustrated by his irrelevant classes, Cal seeks solace in the arms of his scholastic-conscious girlfriend and in somnambulistic conversation with a mystifying college radio DJ. But Cal’s ennui is shattered when he discovers evidence of a murder which occurred in his room over the Christmas recess. Obsessed with unearthing the particulars of this gruesome and haunting event, Cal wanders down the grotesque hallowed halls of a university gone mad. Run-ins with the two hard-nosed campus security guards, relationship hurdles with both friends and lovers, and enigmatic signals from the Dean’s icily eminent wife force Caleb to question his place in the bizarre night classes of higher education. Even as he gets ever closer to the truth, Caleb is plagued by the supernatural occurrence known as stigmata: his hands bleed in imitation of the wounds of Christ whenever someone close to him dies. And Cal’s hands are bleeding a lot these days.
Thomas Piccirilli was not an author I was familiar with back when I ran into the paperback edition of the book The Night Class while perusing the pittance that is the book section of the local Wal Mart back in 2002. It was the cover of this just-released mass market edition of the book that caught my eye, and the blurb on the back deepened my interest, so I bought it and gave this a shot.
As it turns out, The Night Class happens to be the only novel I’ve read of his. Out of respect for the dead (Piccirilli died of cancer at the age of 50 back in July of 2015), I’m not going to rag on him too much; and really, only reading one novel out of the rather prolific output he’s managed since 1990 isn’t the best way to judge likability. The Night Class, however, was his eighth published novel, so it’s not like I picked up his first attempt at writing to go off of.
The style of the story in The Night Class can be best described as “Noir Horror”. At its core is a murder mystery that has a dark surreal psychological underpinning that lends itself to some bending of reality, so to speak. When it works, it works, as the tone and atmosphere is nicely dark and dreadful. The first part of the novel builds up pretty well; it’s when we hit the mid-part is when things get a bit sluggish, especially when all the flashbacks start happening. At some points, I had to start over a section just to remember if I was reading the present or if we were once again in a flashback. The behavior of the characters, and some of the dialog spoken is supposed to invoke some surrealistic dread, but it was executed rather poorly, in that it instead invoked more than a few “huh?” moments. By the time I got to the end wrap-up, I’m afraid I didn’t react very strongly to the big twist.
I read The Night Class, and that was it. I haven’t looked up any further titles from the late Tom Piccirilli since then (I have run into a couple of his short stories in a couple of horror fiction anthologies). It’s not entirely bad, but not something I would recommend outright.