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Boy in the Water

3.39  ·  Rating Details  ·  507 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
A masterful psychological thriller, from the author of The Church of Dead Girls.

Another bucolic fall in northern New Hampshire, and the semester is under way at Bishop's Hill Academy. But this year the start of school has been less than tranquil. The new headmaster, Jim Hawthorne, has liberal ideas that the staff find far from welcome. He's also determined to do something
Hardcover, 406 pages
Published June 15th 1999 by Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt and Company) (first published 1999)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 939)
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May 20, 2014 Lobstergirl rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Manny Pacquiáo
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Novelist

I almost stopped reading near the beginning of the book because there was an unpleasantly graphic scene at a strip club, followed by a scene where one low class thug kills another low class thug with an icepick. Neither seemed to have any connection to the promised locus, a New Hampshire prep school for troubled youth. But I stuck with it and I'm glad I did, since Dobyns' writing is many notches above your average thriller fare. As with The Church of Dead Girls, he creates a very sympathetic pro
Jonathan Briggs
If this were a just world, Stephen Dobyns' "The Church of Dead Girls" would enjoy the critical and popular acclaim accorded to "The Silence of the Lambs," while "Lambs" would be a moderately successful potboiler that reaped modest rewards for the moderately talented Thomas Harris. If you like the psychological thrillers, you need to get to "Church." Unfortunately, Dobyns' followup, "Boy in the Water," isn't nearly as accomplished or skillful. We get off to a grand start: a dead boy floating face ...more
Oct 01, 2008 Kelly rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You? We got some work to do now. Oh wait, you mean this isn’t a new episode about that meddling gang from Mystery, Inc and their dog? Well damn, I must have been absent the day that memo was handed out because what we have here kiddies is a true-blue suspense story that must have leaked out from the cartoon network. Crazy, supernatural pranks – check. Murder mystery that unravels as the characters literally stumble upon clues –check. Players that have absolutely no co ...more
Sep 06, 2009 Chana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-thriller
Mystery/thriller set in an isolated boarding school in the New Hampshire forest. The setting lends itself to creepiness and criminal activity, especially with the staff of hostile and homicidal staff that work at the school. Enter Dr. Hawthorne, the new Headmaster, a well-meaning, clueless but ultimately heroic man burdened with guilt and grief after the deaths of his wife and daughter in a fire. The most interesting character is the bad guy, which is not that unusual for this type of book. If I ...more
Mar 23, 2014 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dobyns does a good job of setting up your anxious anticipation and characters that appear simply black and white, but have another dimension, if probed. I had actually read this before but still couldn't remember quite who was involved in what and that there were several "whats" going on. In our mystery discussion group, several people felt that the new headmaster was dense and a poor psychologist, but who expects to be dropped in such a toxic environment? And who could clean it up in 12 weeks, ...more
David Feela
I was intrigued, at first. As a former school teacher myself, I could feel that Dobyns has his finger on the pulse of a school,-- in this case, a private one, but not so far-fetched from the politics and antics of most. And the mystery is both haunting and scary, at first. But (yes, the inevitable but) as the mystery develops, bit by bit, I get the sense that the new headmaster, Hawthorne, lacks the sense to understand his own psychological issues. What's worse, he's a famous psychologist. He be ...more
Sep 24, 2007 Courtney rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller
Thriller that takes place at a prep school for troubled children. Too much focus on developing certain characters and not enough on others. Interesting, but was able to figure it out midway through the book.
Jun 23, 2009 J.M. rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I didn't like this book and couldn't finish it.
John Porter
Well written, but oddly uninvolving.
Poor Dobyns - on the back of my edition, Time Out is quoted...."Stephen King with a PhD. Knowing I am a fan of SK, this book was suggested to me and I looked forward to a stonking good read. I can only think that the Time Out reviewer has never read a Stephen King book, or he would know that whilst Dobyns seems to be a competent thriller writer, he doesn't, on this showing, have the skills in characterisation and mood building, of narrative drive and suspense building, that SK can wield before b ...more
Jun 17, 2015 Roberta rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, thriller
Siamo nel New Hampshire, alla Bishop's Hill Academy, una scuola che ha avuto tempi migliori e ora è diventata l'ultima spiaggia per tutti quei ragazzi ormai banditi dalla maggior parte delle altre scuole.
Jim Hawthorne, un famoso psicologo, è stato assunto per tentare di rimetterla in sesto. Per la scuola lui è l'ultimo tentativo prima di arrendersi al fallimento, per lui la scuola è una nuova sfida per dimenticare il terribile incendio doloso nel quale sono morte qualche anno prima sua moglie e
Jun 03, 2013 Sonatajessica rated it it was ok
Shelves: thrills, read-in-2013
Neither drama nor thriller in the end, "Boy in the Water" stays indistinct and slurred throughout its whole, nor does it ever turn really good I must sadly say.
The plot dribbles almost insignificantly to its climax to send you home with an epilogue that suddenly tries to squeeze a deeper meaning in, I just wish the story itself had presented that deeper meaning. Where was the wit, the suspense, the atmosphere and the ambiguity of "Church of Dead Girls"? If I wouldn't have known I would have swor
Linda  Branham Greenwell
I really liked Dobyns other 2 books that I read - but I had a difficult time with this one.
Hawthorne takes a job as head of a private school with mostly children who have problems. Hawthorne's wife and daughter died several years previously in a tragic fire - and he is trying to start a new life.
The teachers at the school want things to stay the same - and Hawthorne is making changes...changes they don't like. Anonymous notes against Hawthorne begin appearing in the teachers mailboxes... someon
David Lowther
An interesting and ultimately quite exciting thriller with a good mix of well drawn characters. Given that the tale is set in a mixed boarding school there are some odd teachers but I suppose in a country that might elect Donald trump president anything's possible

David Lowther author of The Blue Pencil Liberating Belsen and Two Families at War all published by Sacristy Press

Feb 26, 2016 Gerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even better than Church of Dead Girls! Takes place at a boarding school where a new headmaster has been hired in an effort to save the school from closing. But everyone, it seems, has his or her own agenda, and few are rooting for Jim Hawthorne’s success. Some are out to drive him away, or drive him crazy, or, failing that, even arranging for his murder.
Feb 03, 2012 Chrissy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished this haunting tale which takes place at a boarding school in Northern New England. Dobyns must have been a teacher at some point and likely one at a boarding school or a small independent school. He captures the close knit community remarkably well. Except for the truly darkest parts of this novel, you can imagine this story taking place at any small independent school where the faculty has been allowed to indulge for far too long and where outsiders are immediately mistrusted an ...more
Apr 19, 2016 Jude rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I didn't want this book to end. The suspense grips you and doesn't let go! There are bad people and then there are evil people. What happens when they all come together at a lonely, out of the way, boarding school....?
A satisfactory psychological thriller. The new headmaster doesn't know who to trust. Plenty of bad guys to choose from for the villains. I recently reread The Shining and the final scenes in this book are reminiscent of King's book: snowbound with possible help on the way over unplowed roads.
Sandra Grauschopf
Nov 09, 2014 Sandra Grauschopf rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2014
I enjoyed this thriller quite a bit, though it wasn't quite as strong as it could have been. The beginning was a bit confusing, the ending was rushed, and the title seems misplaced. Nevertheless, it was a fun and engaging read.
Ian N.
Mar 27, 2016 Ian N. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really loved the intensity of the characters thoughts and how deeply they were explained. Dr.Hawthorne life turned out to be a living hell and yet he was trying to escape from a life and memories that turned out to be hell, seems like it all followed him. The unraveling mystery was really interesting.
Apr 14, 2015 Candy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This took a while to come together but ended with some punch.
Feb 10, 2016 Adrian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tense thriller, worth having in your holiday reading bag.
Deb Christensen
I have read this before!!
Marie Ashurst
I really enjoyed this book, it should actually have 7/10. The only thing that let it down was the ending. The vast majority of the book was really interesting interweaving stories about some troubled children, an educator with a tortured past, and a criminal, all brought together at a remote New England boarding school. Unfortunately the last 50 pages turned into a not-very-thrilling pursuit. Definitely not as good as The Church of Dead Girls, but I still can't wait to read some more of Dobbins.
May 06, 2013 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think Dobyns is an extremely accomplished writer. I have read two of his books, 'The Church of Dead Girls' and this book. Both of his books have a really artistic way of expressing the complexity of identity. This book successfully acts as a page turner, but also poses the question, 'Are people inherently all bad?'. His portrayal of the 'bad guy' is very interesting because he is not portrayed as timelessly evil, and in some respects, we can understand him.
Brian Krause
May 14, 2014 Brian Krause rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this is the second Stephen Dobyns book I've read. It isn't crime fiction, what I generally gravitate toward and so I wasn't sure what to expect. But I found a very well-written story with in general, interesting characters and a decent plot. It definitely kept me guessing as to actually who was supporting our protagonist, Hawthorne and who wasn't. There was a fair amount of suspense and I found the story very enjoyable.
Lisa Barton
Total disappointment. I LOVED Church of Dead Girls and expected Boy in the Water to be just as creepy and intense. Instead, it was plodding and lethargic. The characters were all very uninteresting, especially the main guy who was way too self-loathing and sorry for himself to identify with. Also, the climax was very anti-climactic. This novel was more akin to Dean Koontz fare — kind of cheesy and predictable.
Dec 04, 2013 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I LOVED this book. And to think I almost didn't read it because of the negative reader reviews on this site. Just goes to show ya... While BITW is certainly was not without flaws, it is a thoroughly engrossing novel in which I had a lot of fun immersing myself on some cold, wintry nights. Dobyns' writing, while not perfect, put a delicious chill in my bones.
Jul 22, 2009 Kim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book in that it was a page turner for me almost in spite of itself - you know who one of the bad guys is from about page 5 and I saw the other bad guy coming pretty easily. I wanted to shake the main character through most of the book. But somehow there was something in the writing that still interested me. I will try something else by this author.
Marjorie Kubacki
One of the best American Mysteries I have ever read. Dobyns slowly introduces the characters and the mystery is slowly unravels.
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Dobyns was raised in New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. He was educated at Shimer College, graduated from Wayne State University, and received an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1967. He has worked as a reporter for the Detroit News.

He has taught at various academic institutions, including Sarah Lawrence College, the Warren Wilson College MFA Program
More about Stephen Dobyns...

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“Let's say someone has experienced a violent trauma or betrayal: a child has been raped by a parent or has witnessed the destruction of someone he loves or has been so traumatized by the possibility of beatings and punishments that he's afraid to act. If the trauma is great enough, that person's life may become frozen, emotionally frozen even though he still gets up in the morning, is busy all day, and goes to bed at night. But there's this empty space that begins to fill with rage, rage toward everyone - the perpetrator, the people in the world who haven't suffered, even toward himself. (174)” 24 likes
“There are many reasons for violence. This is just something that sometimes happens. We'd see it in treatment centers - the child who'd suffered something awful. Even in the best recovery there'd be a fear that everything would fall apart and they'd become victims again. And their final loyalty was to themselves. They couldn't be forced. They preferred to wreck everything, preferred self-destruction to surrender. (175)” 12 likes
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