My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Piper is a gothic horror story in the tradition of The Turn of the Screw, where on the surface everything seems fine, but scratch and a dark, sinister underbelly is revealed. After a creepy prologue, we meet Helen, who is visitng her Grandad Peter in a nursing home for his birthday. When Helen tells him in passing that she has signed up for a school trip to Romney Marsh, her grandfather forbids her to anywhere near the place. He tells her it is dangerous, and starts rambling about Daisy and how they had both seen too much. Helen has never heard him speak of Daisy, so she asks Peter to tell her more, and the real story starts to unfold…
Peter and his little sister Daisy were part of the mass evacuation of London prior to the beginning of WWII, called Operation Pied Piper. When they arrive at the billetting centre, Peter and Daisy are selected by Mrs Beesley, housekeeper at Sheldon Grange, a propery set next to Romney Marsh. It’s a desolate journey in the cart as darkness starts to fall and this helps to create a feeling of unease that holds fast right through the book. Mrs Beesley and the farm hand, Adam, are at great pains to return to the Grange before dark, but neither will really say why. As they draw closer to the Grange, Peter and Daisy hear strange flute-like music but Mrs Beesley and Adam do not acknowledge it and deny it exists. Peter does not like it at all, but Daisy is captivated. On the very first night Peter has a disturbing dream about drowning and music and dancing. He is confused by it, and more than a little scared. Daisy begins talking to the dolls in the room she has been given and the music they heard on the Marsh can be heard by Peter and Daisy every night – growing louder each time. The children meet Sally, the eight year old daughter of the owner of the Grange, Mr Sheldon. Bedridden, but chirpy and well-read, she and Daisy become fast friends. Peter starts to feel more and more uneasy as one of the dolls becomes Daisy’s constant companion and she is drawn more and more to the music of the night.
On a trip into town with Adam, Peter encounters Professor Lowell, who is shocked to hear Peter has a little sister living at the Grange. The Professor tells Peter a terrifying tale about the history of the house and a curse that has hung over the Sheldon family for generations. After Adam tries to ensure he and Peter stay in town overnight, Peter realises his sister is in grave danger and races against time, and the malevolent Mrs Beesley, to save her. The moment when Peter bursts into Sally’s room and realises where the clanking noise he has heard at night is coming from is a gasp-out-loud moment.
I really enjoyed the classic “spookiness” of this story. Peter is a believable protagonist and the other characters are well drawn too. I found myself glued to this once Peter had the full picture – I just had to find out what happened as quickly as possible. Hopefully you will find the same.
Recommended for ages 12 and up – spooky and scary!