Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley is a book I have had on my ‘to read’ list for a long time – so long, in fact, that there are now two more Tales of Terror in the series. The book – aimed at 9-12 year olds though highly readable for anyone who doesn’t suffer from a nervous disposition – is a collection of short stories linked by a narrative which leads the reader through the book and into a final dreadful revelation about the storyteller, Uncle Montague himself. The story is told from the point of view of Uncle Montague’s nephew Edgar, a sensible and rather sceptical boy who slowly becomes convinced of the truth of his uncle’s entertaining but disturbing stories. Each tale is linked to a creepy artifact in Uncle Montague’s study, and the sense of menace builds up very nicely. There is also a wonderfully scary trip to the toilet which reminded me of visiting the cobwebby downstairs loo at my grandparents’ house, although I didn’t have the pleasure of a rattling doorhandle (only when there was a queue).
The tales themselves work perfectly well as stand alone stories. They are disturbing rather than terrifying (as a lily-livered adult and all round scaredycat, I believe I am susceptable to the same amount of fear as a nine year old child – I still hide under the duvet when I hear strange noises in the night!) but most are very gruesome and feature death, dismemberment and murder, sometimes of children, sometimes by children, so should be avoided by the squeamish. But as the tension grew I was hoping for a big surprise at the end, something which would be even worse than the tales themselves. The final revelation explains Uncle Montague’s situation, but, without giving away the plot, doesn’t involve Edgar as much as I had hoped and I was a little disappointed.
A very special part of this book is the amazing illustrations by David Roberts. His line drawings are a pleasure to look at, even when they are illustrating some horrible subjects! They are also included in the Kindle edition.
Priestley has definitely carved a niche for himself in children’s horror and he is able to conjure up a wonderfully creepy atmosphere in just a few phrases. His technique of framing a series of short stories with a longer narrative is a rare one these days and makes the book easy to dip into while also building up the tension nicely. His characters are ambiguous in terms of their morals and yet still sympathetic. Priestley’s prose is traditional, literary and yet very accessible.
A note on the Kindle edition
I read this book on my Kindle and was pleased to see that the illustrations came out very well. However, I do have a gripe with the punctuation. Every section of speech that ends with a comma was written with an additional full stop at the end, like this:
“He tells me stories,.” he said.
I am very surprised that Bloomsbury can publish a book with this many errors in it, and I would be interested to know if the paper version also has the same mistakes.