By Chris Priestley
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 1106 1
Chris Priestley is the modern master of the unsettling story, of unease and chills down the spine. He doesn't go in for gore and buckets of blood to scare his fans. A Priestley tale builds up the suspense and the scares gradually, and delivers both by pulling the reader into the story and then twisting the screws.
Priestley's Tales of Terror series won the Dracula Society's Children of the Night Award, and his two creepy bestsellers, Mister Creecher and The Dead of Winter, showed an unnerving talent for spreading unease and delivering subtle chills. Priestley's latest book is a 200-page contemporary chiller that delivers everything readers have come to expect from this stylish master of macabre storytelling. Whatever you do, don't accidentally glance at the last page of this novel before you begin reading.
After an unhappy time at school, teenager Alex joins his father on a business trip to Amsterdam. Alex is full of anger because his mother walked out on the family to live with another man. No one is helping Alex deal with this sudden change in his life, and all his father can think of is to take Alex away for a short time in the hope that a change of scenery will help sort him it all out.
So far, so good. During the day, while Dad is working, Angelien, the young and pretty daughter of a family friend, shows Alex around the Dutch city. They visit museums, art galleries and cafes, and at a local flea market Alex buys an antique Japanese mask. Angelien tells Alex all about the fascinating history of Amsterdam, and he learns that the hotel where he is staying was once the home of a rich and sinister merchant called Van Kampen.
When Alex gets back to his hotel room with the mask, he feels a strange chill in the air. He doesn't know why, but there seems to be a presence in the room that wasn't there before. On their next visit to one of the many art galleries in Amsterdam, Angelien shows Alex a painting of the merchant Van Kampen and his young daughter, Hanna. Alex is shocked to see that Hanna Van Kampen is wearing a mask like the one he has just bought. Surely, the mask he bought can't be the one the girl is wearing in the painting? Or can it?
Alex is determined to find out more. Can the horror of past events seep into the present through the mask? When he puts the mask on, Alex starts to see past events that have disturbing consequences both for him and those around him.
When you see things "through dead eyes", you might see things that disturb. This is certainly the case with Priestley's latest tale.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com