By Chris Priestley
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 0014 0
Good news for fans of Chris Priestley, the modern master of the chill-a-minute tale. The author is back with a third collection of stories to send shivers down the spine. Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror started the shiver-ball rolling, Tales of Terror From the Black Ship kept up the speed and now Tales of Terror From the Tunnel's Mouth continues the good work. Even the title of this new book promises dark thrills and creepy treats.
Robert is going back to boarding school by train. Steam and smoke cloud around the train as his stepmother puts him into his carriage. Robert doesn't like his stepmother and is secretly pleased to be leaving her behind.
The boy's fellow passengers doze in the heat of the carriage. The train suddenly stops at the mouth of a tunnel and Robert notices a mysterious woman dressed in white sitting opposite him. Where has she come from? When did she get on the train?
Robert and the woman are the only two people awake in the carriage. The woman offers to tell Robert a few stories to pass the time while the train is stopped.
Her tales turn out to be not the sort that anyone would usually tell a young boy. Robert is disturbed by her stories, but the carriage door is locked, trapping him with the woman, her frightening fables, and his own fears.
There are nine tales of terror here, and there is also the mystery of the woman herself. We have to wait until the chilling final few pages to find out her secret.
Priestley pulls no punches in his gentle determination to scare our pants off. We are told stories about killer plants, a very unpleasant governess who gets a terrible comeuppance, nasty fairies with killer instincts, and a puppet master whose charges do terrible things.
Some of the tales are among the best Priestly has ever written. The story of Sister Veronica will set your teeth on edge, and what happens to The Whispering Boy, a young man who is too clever for his own good, is truly spine-tingling. The book's ending also delivers a delicious, slow stream of cold water down the spine.
All readers know that they should never judge a book by its cover, but this isn't the case with Tales of Terror. The cover and illustrations that punctuate the tales add a great deal to the creepy classiness of the stories.
Priestley fans, both old and new, will be pleased to hear that he is working on a full-length ghost story. I, for one, can't wait.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com