Review Blog

Nov 02 2010

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

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Bloomsbury 2010.
(Ages 10-14) Recommended. I loved Chris Priestley's Tales of Terror from the Black Ship and this marvellously gothic ghost story more than lived up to my expectations.
Following the death of his mother, Michael is sent to stay with his benefactor who inhabits a crumbling mausoleum in the featureless marshlands of East Anglia. Sir Stephen is weak of mind, tormented by mysterious ghostly noises and apparitions. Michael himself is also haunted by these ghosts and his Christmas visit to the house is truly terrifying.
The death of Lady Clarendon, Sir Stephen's tragic wife, is shrouded in mystery and her ghost now haunts the house and grounds. To add to the air of threat, Sir Stephen himself is plagued by memories of a childhood ordeal when he was imprisoned in a priest hole by his father. He has never recovered from this trauma and when the same thing happens to Michael he relives his terror.
Priestley's steady build up of atmosphere and tension is outstanding as Michael gradually uncovers the mystery surrounding Lady Clarendon's death and we learn that although ghosts are present, responsibility for her death lies firmly at the feet of the living. The terror intensifies to a cracking denouement that will leave readers with nerves jangling and their hair standing on end!
Priestly has almost certainly borrowed ideas and characters from the best examples of gothic novels and I could detect elements of Jane Eyre, Great Expectations and Rebecca here. Although not exactly Christmassy The Dead of Winter is set over the festive season, so you could recommend it as a scary Christmas read.
Claire Larson

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