Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Spine Chillers

Halloween may be over for another year, but reader beware, you’re still in for a scare if you pick up these three spook-tacularly haunting reads…

Book Review: DARK MATTER
Written by: Michelle Paver
Published by: Orion, 2011
256pages

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With its cream-coloured snowscape cover and black and white photographs intersecting the fictional account within, teen author Michelle Paver’s first adult horror drew my attention because of its unmistakable visual comparison to Kate Mosse’s so-so period chiller The Winter Ghosts (reviewed HERE).

While I would undoubtedly proclaim Paver’s supernatural tale to be the better read, it is more successful as an intense character piece then a truly thrilling ghost story, with the paranormal proceedings played out few and far between and isolation and paranoia posing more of a pertinent problem for the haunted Arctic explorers than any long dead spirit.

Set in 1937, Dark Matter sees working class loner Jack Miller join a band of Oxbridge toffs on a scientific expedition to claim uninhabited lands in the Arctic wastes, but as the mission progresses, more and more crewmembers drop out and return to civilisation, until Jack is left alone with just the huskies, bad dreams and a growing sense that a restless echo doesn’t want him around, for company.

Written as a series of journal entries from Jack’s POV, Paver does a proficient job of getting to the heart of this troubled young man (his hopes, his fears, his loves, his exasperations) but things do become a tad repetitive, especially when Jack is left alone and sees nothing more than the same ghostly glimpse here and there, while the climatic paranormal attack occurs outside of the journal template which jerks you awkwardly out of the tense diagesis at a time when focus is paramount.

CR@B Verdict: aaaaa


Book Review: PALACE OF THE DAMNED
Written by: Darren Shan
Published by: HarperCollins, 2011
236pages

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The penultimate book in The Saga of Larten Crepsley is another slight, large texted vampire adventure for the teen/horror market, picking up exactly where April’s second instalment – Ocean of Blood – left off, with the orange-haired, scar-faced blood-guzzler braving the frozen tundra of Greenland with an orphaned human baby wrapped in his arms.

The child’s parents were aboard the ocean-faring vessel whose crew Larten slaughtered in a vicious rage of revenge, yet the centuries-old fanged-one couldn’t bring himself to leave the innocent infant to perish; call it remorse of the soulless, if you will. Larten’s savage behaviour haunts him throughout this novel’s pages and the years which follow the after-life changing incident at sea as we witness him both attempt to make amends and attempt to distance himself from, well: himself.

It is this emotional heartbeat which elevates Palace of the Damned above the previous two often middling Crepsley chronicles, and it holds the often diverse proceedings (from the Arctic to Paris, to Vampire Mountain and concluding – with a major cliff-hanger – in Russia) together into a more satisfying whole. Shan’s jumpy narrative style is still prevalent and occasionally irritates, but I am perhaps becoming more attuned to his pithy literary habit and more forgiving of it when the story delivers a more satisfying and relatably humane punch.

CR@B Verdict: aaaaa


Book Review: THE TEACHER’S TALES OF TERROR
Written by: Chris Priestley
Published by: Bloomsbury , 2011
55pages

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Something of a lost book in Chris Priestley’s more-ish Tales of Terror series, Teacher’s… is a bitesize mini-read published as one half of a “2-for-1 flip book” in aid of this year’s World Book Day in March. Backed by Philip Reeve’s Traction City (from the world of Mortal Engines), both novellas are no longer in print, but I was able to track down a copy prior to digesting Priestley's latest release, Mister Creacher.

Sticking to the familiar series template, this diminutive add-on sees a trio of ghoulish yarns framed by a situation in which everything is not as it seems, leading to a devilish twist come the last page.

Substitute teacher Mr Munro is to take St. Apollonia’s class 7UM (a nod to Uncle Montague, the first teller of these tales of terror), and his lesson plan on this World Book Day consists of telling spooky short stories to terrify the cocksure pupils into submission before their school photo is taken. His plan works wonders – at least until he gets home that evening…

Story one, “The Jet Brooch”, is adequately peculiar but falls just shy of creepy by employing the old “it’s only a dream” cop-out when things start to get really icky. “Simon Magus” – in which a boy sees the Devil leap off a painting in a Parisian museum – is a classic example of a great idea succinctly executed – but devoid of any scares. The final tale, “ Lydia ”, is a wickedly uncanny goosebump-raising nightmare which I would rank with Priestley’s best, but overall Teacher’s… is too terse to truly get under your skin.

CR@B Verdict: aaaaa

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