Terry Dillon draws on a familiar story line in The King’s Beacon, set in rural England in the 1960s.
When Peter, a young, idealistic teacher, gets a job at a school in Weberton, a small village in the West Yorkshire moorlands, he runs into an immediate challenge from Joe Webster, an 11-year-old who refuses to learn. Joe is defiant and rebellious; he’s disruptive and uncooperative in class. Peter soon discovers that the boy is also a bully who shows early signs of violence.
Even as he’s working to establish himself, his wife and his young daughter in a new town, Peter strives to make a difference in Joe’s direction. In the somewhat stiff, formal educational structure of 1960s England, he tries different tacks to reach the troublesome student.
The difficult-student/inspiring-teacher plot has played out in too many films and books to count, but Dillon offers a fresh perspective. Most notably, he shows a deep, moving sense of atmosphere. A former teacher, headmaster and lecturer and a native of Yorkshire, Dillon writes with clear understanding of the environment and the action. His classroom scenes, for example, display firsthand experience in education. The slow pace of village life, the epic landscape of the moorlands and the landmark that gives the book its title come alive in the author’s careful descriptions.
Even so, at 500-plus pages, The King’s Beacon could benefit from further editing. Scenes tend to lag, and the author devotes too much space to superfluous episodes. Long conversations in the teachers’ lounge, detailed descriptions of Peter’s new house and other stretches take away from the best parts of the story, which are the real value here. Dillon’s greatest success with The King’s Beacon is investing his own background and expertise in a plot that could easily feel tired and overly familiar but instead offers a refreshing point of view in his hands.
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