Much of the novel is told in the first-person by a good-hearted orphan boy named Peter, who is trying to decide between the priesthood and a romantic entanglement with a sweet girl in town. Other chapters are told in the third-person following residents of the isolated orphanage.
There are mean priests and kind priests among the staff, but they are all taken aback when the sheriff visits with an injured madman in tow. It’s unclear whether the man needs medical attention or an exorcism, but his brief visit among the orphans seems to infect a group of the boys who suddenly become violent and menacing.
The menace of the “bad group” of boys is so unnerving because they aren’t initially flesh-eating psychotics. Instead, they are whisperers and plotters who are clearly planning something evil. It’s like a gruesome Lord of the Flies where the bullies quietly kill the others in ways to inspire terror, confusion and revulsion. The madness escalates into some truly disturbing butchering.
There’s a wonderfully-complex character named Brother Johnson who is basically a criminal living as a monk. He can’t stand the boys and loves to be their disciplinarian. But when the murders begin, the former criminal may just become an ally to the “good boys” in the house who are directly under threat by the others.
Boys in the Valley is violent and unsettling, but not particularly terrifying. However, horror is a very personal genre and what scares one reader doesn’t necessarily frighten another. In any case, it’s a great action novel and definitely worth your time. Highly recommended.