Escorted by his grandmother, Luke enters Shadow Lane, ‘the narrow cobbled lane overhung with black and white buildings almost meeting overhead’. They are in search of an old music shop to buy Luke a new flute, his previous one having been destroyed by Gobby, Clobber and Cal, the school bullies. Once inside the shop, Luke forsakes any idea of a flute; his eyes are drawn magically to an enchanting piccolo. During the following days it quickly emerges that the piccolo is possessed; at turns, it can create magical, sweet, alluring music and then appalling sounds that would ensnare the devil himself. Luke initially harnesses the piccolo’s powers to defeat the bullies, until he realises that he cannot control what his playing unleashes. The piccolo is returned to the shop, with extraordinary consequences.
Kemp builds setting, characters and plot with her characteristic eye for the offbeat detail which absorbs young readers. Her charting of the school bully theme is sensitive and convincing, and her skill as a writer in building tension and dramatic denouement is very much in evidence in the closing chapters. A trick may have been missed in not illustrating this narrative, although leaving certain ghoulish scenes to the reader’s imagination is probably well judged.