Creepy relatives

<strong>Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror</strong>

Chris Priestley <em>Bloomsbury, 239pp, £9.99</e

Uncle Montagues are obliged to be sinister, and Chris Priestley’s Victorian creation is no exception. Gothic mansion? Check. Mournful outlook? Check. Skinny legs? Check. His spooky abode can only be reached through a wood and Edgar, our nervous narrator, makes this trip every day to sip tea and listen to uncle’s stories.

What follows is a series of cautionary tales, in which horrid children do what they mustn’t, and pay dearly for it. One steals from a glassy-eyed old lady obsessed with pruning, only to end up transformed into a tree and facing the secateurs himself. The most terrifying involves a boy who runs away from home, only to be pursued by a maimed and disfigured version of himself.

Back in Montague’s sitting room, a collection of objects prevent Edgar from dismissing them purely as fiction: “I am a collector of the unwanted, Edgar; of the haunted, of the cursed – of the damned.”

Priestley builds the tension expertly, leaving you vulnerable to every creaking floorboard, while David Roberts’s spindly black-and-white illustrations merge mischief with the macabre. Together, they make for a wonderfully old-fashioned anthology of ghost stories that is genuinely chilling without losing its sense of fun.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq uncovered