By Dave Shelton
Published by David Fickling Books
ISBN 978 1 910200 16 2
The room is high-ceilinged and lit only by candles. There are thirteen chairs arranged around a big round table. Twelve of the chairs are occupied by indistinct figures, but one is empty, waiting for someone. The heavy door creaks open, and a boy steps cautiously into the room.
"You're late!" one of the figures mutters. Jack had been standing for some time on the dark landing of the old house. His hand reached out for a door handle in front of him, and for several minutes he debated whether to turn it. He doesn't know why he is there or what is going to happen, but when he opens the door and steps inside, it seems he was expected. The 13th storyteller has arrived, and now the stories can begin.
Dave Shelton's brilliant new book Thirteen Chairs is a masterful compilation of intriguing, creepy tales knitted together in a structure that is as suspenseful as the stories themselves. Often collections of short stories contain some which work much better than others, but each of Shelton's clever tales hits the mark and leaves the reader breathless for the next.
The 12 storytellers each tell a distinct story, some old, some modern, some creepy and some gory. When a storyteller has finished his or her tale, a candle goes out and the room gets darker.
Shelton gives each of his storytellers an individual character, voice, and reason for telling their tale, and Shelton's versatility in doing this is impressive. The stories range from spooky tales of small vengeful girls in red coats to folk-like tales that could have been penned by the Brothers Grimm. But while plenty of blood flows, and some of the protagonists certainly meet a fate worse than death, Shelton doesn't go in for in-your-face horror. These stories won't have you checking under the bed or put you off your dinner, but they will give you a pervading sense of unease as the tension rises.
In an author's note, Shelton describes Thirteen Chairs as "a curious book", and this hits the nail on the head. Each story is introduced by an inky-black full-page illustration by the author himself, and these lead effectively into the tale that follows.
This is one of the cleverest and most effective YA works of fiction around at the moment. Pull up a chair, and enjoy the art of gripping storytelling at its very best.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com