Shirley Marr's Reviews > Down a Dark Hall

Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
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Dec 29, 11

bookshelves: usa-ya
Recommended to Shirley by: Wendy Darling
Recommended for: anyone who likes stories where girls go mad
I own a copy

Before I begin: it's retro lulz time! A description of the leading male hottie, the music teacher who is "slim and fine-boned, with glossy black hair which framed a face so perfect in feature that it might have belonged to a television star" ...

"Jules Duret was waiting for her in the music room. He was wearing a pale blue shirt, open at the throat, and a pair of white flared pants"

Did anyone say Saturday Night Fever? You can tell this novel was written in the 70s can't you? I wonder if they will update any subsequent re-releases to have Jules in skinny leg jeans... but jokes aside, I want to very seriously say that I really enjoyed this book.

Let's get this straight - I'm not one for paranormal. I generally find it full of cliches, the same carbon copy template that has been used so many times that the ink has definitely run dry, sloppy editing, cardboard characters, look I could do on (but I won't). It's gotten dire to the point I generally shun all paranormal and I have forgotten what was popular back when I was in high school - yes, kiddies - supernatural horror! Stuff by Christopher Pike et al. And books exactly in the vein of Down a Dark Hall, which unfortunately I didn't get a chance to read back then, or else teen Shirley would have absolutely adored it!

This novel is about Kit Gordy, who sadly gets shunted to a girl's boarding school when her mother remarries and as you do, wants to dispense with the inconvenience of a teenager she's had on her hands for too long and go on a European dream honeymoon.

From the first page, I was reminded why creepiness is called exactly that. Because it slowly creeps up on you and this is what this novel does. To the initial blood-freezing description of the mad, internally burning mansion that is the school, to Kit's dawning dread that the school has only accepted four students. Think deliciously Gothic creepy as in Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Slowly the girls start going mad and if you like that sort of thing, you will love this!

Despite other reviews calling Down a Dark Hall heavy handed in it's imagery, I found it beautiful. It's Gothic and has gothic literature ever been... light handed? Even when I read Mistress of Goth Angela Carters' stuff I feel like I'm being hammered over the head by a overly opulent, bloody jewel studded saucepan and her work is considered modern classics. I guess the only thing about Down a Dark Hall is that it includes a rather cheesy supernatural plot line, which gives it a rather mass paperback feel. But hang on. It is a mass paperback. If you view this story in its historical context and influence as an early example of the young adult paranormal genre and as a forefront example of a mass produced piece of work, then it's hands down a pulp classic!

And I love it! I love old school cheese. And this cheese ladies and gents, has matured perfectly.

Compared to modern paranormal dross, which doesn't even handle seem to be able to handle basic plot and pacing, I'm impressed that this novel has an excellent story that unfolds at a perfect pace, enough explanation is worked into the actual narrative to prevent data dumping and an excellent ending with a haunting, lingering finish. You only have to suspend your belief when it comes to the actual supernaural part - not over how stupid the heroine is etc etc (anyway, in this case Kit is an awesome heroine). I only have a minor gripe to do with one character's change of heart (too abrupt) during the climax. But that is a plotting issue. Hurray! This novel has a plot in order to have a plotting issue!

Overall: Yum. I always have an appetite for good solid writing, And I have a taste for this sort of paranormal.

Thanks to the wonderful Wendy Darling who sent me this book along with a whole stash of American candy and goodies! Check it out:



So I got a bonus: my copy of the book smelling like Sweet Tarts whenever I open it. Can't get that with a Kindle, hey?

This review also appears on my blog Books on Marrs here
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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Wendy Darling This was the first supernatural YA book I ever read, so I have fond memories. :) Hope you enjoy!

PS, I think you might like Deadly Cool, too; I thought of you several times as I was reading it last night. Murder, but with a cheeky sense of humor...


Shirley Marr Thank you so much Wends! And the book smells like the candy it was shipped among, bonus. It sure takes me to my high school days... I used to read a lot of Christopher Pike and developed (a still lingering) taste for pulpy horror!

And I will check out Deadly Cool afterwards for sure


Wendy Darling I wish all my books smelled like candy. *sigh*


Wendy Darling Okay, so Shirley can do supernatural. Review to come:)

Hooray! Now maybe Flann will read it, since I sent this to her, too. :D


Shirley Marr All thanks to you Wens! :D Yes I would like to know Flann's opinion. Where is Flann? I want to squish her.


Lisa I love Lois Duncan. She was one of my favorite authors back in middle school. :)


message 7: by Reynje (new)

Reynje I love the retro lulz :) (view spoiler)

Great review Shirley!


Shirley Marr @ Lisa - I will be keen to read more!

@ Rey - I'm holding ya buddy!


Lisa My favorites are Summer of Fear, Stranger with My Face, and Locked in Time (my first Lois Duncan book). The Third Eye and Don't Look Behind You are good as well. Generally speaking, I prefer her books that were written in first person to her books written in third. Down a Dark Hall is one of the exceptions.


Wendy Darling Yay, I'm happy you enjoyed it overall, Shirley! It's definitely a dated book, but the books we read right now will no doubt be dated in 20 or 30 years, too. (Will we still be reading YA, do you think? o.O ) I love the whole creepy gothic thing, though.

I like Lisa's faves of Summer of Fear and Stranger with My Face a lot, too. The ones that were made into major films were never quite as interesting to me (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Killing Mr. Griffin, and...something else).


message 11: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Wendy Darling wrote: "The ones that were made into major films were never quite as interesting to me (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Killing Mr. Griffin, and...something else)."

I agree with you, Wendy. I wasn't a fan of either of those books or the films. Locked in Time could make a really good movie.


Wendy Darling Yes, it would! And I liked A Gift of Magic, too, though that story was a lot simpler. And in case you're wondering, yes, I have all of them on my shelf right at this minute...

P.S. Shirley, sometimes I have cinnamon bears in my purse, and then my Kindle smells like candy. :D


Shirley Marr Thanks for the recommendations Lisa, that's just awesome. I can feel myself about to go retrograde... maybe I can fit in a few contempts and then in the time machine Shirley goes...

Wens - I so love this book! I was kinda ducking my head while writing this review cos I didn't want to seem like I was making fun of this novel which I know you hold in such high regard... but you know me. I kinda tease things (like emos and hipsters, mostly) when in fact, these things actually delight me. I'm just a smart alec ;-P

I HOPE I'm still reading YA when I'm 60.

And what on earth are cinnamon bears? *ears prick up*


message 14: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Wendy Darling wrote: "Yes, it would! And I liked A Gift of Magic, too, though that story was a lot simpler. And in case you're wondering, yes, I have all of them on my shelf right at this minute...

P.S. Shirley, someti..."


A Gift of Magic was really good too. If I remember correctly, it was more of a middle grade novel or at least borderline YA/middle grade. I'm glad to hear they're still on your shelf. Mine are in boxes somewhere. I did, however, manage to find digital copies of most of her works and those are right on my computer. :)

Shirley, I hope I'm reading YA at 60 too so long as they keep publishing some good ones.


Wendy Darling Behold, the cinnamon bear(s)! They're just what they sound like--cinnamon-flavored gummi bears. A bit larger than usual, and softer than Haribos.

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I get mine from the candy lady at the farmer's market in little white paper sacks, but I'm sure there's some sort of commercial version available. Perhaps someone will get some in a future package. ;) And hah, no worries, I know all about your smart alecksy tricks.

I think you're right that Magic was probably more middle grade or borderline, Lisa. Did we switch bodies in our teens? We read so many of the same Lois Duncan books! That's awesome that you found them in e-format, though. I can't resist multiple platforms for books I really love.

Incidentally, this is the cover of the book I originally had. I buy extra copies to give away of the newer ones so they don't look so dated, but I am fond of my old-school cover art!




message 16: by Lisa (last edited Dec 31, 2011 12:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Apparently, we had similar tastes in books even when we were teens. :)

I love the retro covers too. I first read all of her books at the library before later purchasing them and the library had the old school hardcover editions. They were always my favorite although the Summer of Fear one was really creepy.

A few years ago, Lois Duncan was selling signed copies of the original hardcover editions of her books and I couldn't resist purchasing Locked in Time because the cover was what first attracted me to it and got me reading her books. Here is the cover:



None of the later editions can compare.

ETA: I think I need some gummi bears now.


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