Saturday, 25 September 2010

Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth

Autumn is now officially here, although it's been feeling distinctly autumnal in the UK for several weeks now. This weekend temps have dipped sharply - the prevailing wind coming from the arctic apparently - and now it really does feel like summer is well and truly over and it's time to get warm socks and cardies out again. So it's the perfect time of year for creepy stories and for getting on with reading for Carl's R.I.P. V challenge. Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth by Chris Priestley is my second book for this challenge.



Robert is returning to boarding school and he's quite pleased about that because, even though he's not popular there, it's better than being at home with his stepmother. His father is away fighting in the Boer War and Robert actually feels he would prefer to be there rather than spend his holidays with his father's 'dreary amd irritating' wife. As they are sitting on the platform waiting for the train his stepmother falls asleep. She wakes suddenly and it seems she has a premonition dream in which something terrible happens to Robert. Robert pooh-poohs her fears and sets off on the train, glad to be rid of her.

Sitting in a carriage with various dinified gentlemen, Robert himself drops off. When he wakes he discovers that the train has stopped in front of a tunnel and a rather strange woman is now sitting opposite him. They get into conversation but try as he might Robert cannot discover why the train has stopped or what the hold-up is. Instead the woman regales him with various macabre tales. He hears about, amongst others, Oscar, whose father is obsessed with growing some very odd tropical plants; about Penelope who hates her stepsister and discovers that she has some magical friends who are not quite what they seem; about Davy whose father takes him off to the Western Isles of Scotland to live and is warned to keep away from the ancient Crotach Stone on the beach, and about Sister Veronica, the devout nun who doesn't see her come-uppance coming...

Robert tries to hide the fact that he's becoming more and more frightened at the tone of the stories. He dubs the storyteller 'The Woman in White'. But who is she and why are the other travellers in his carriage so deeply asleep that they can't be roused. And why does The Woman in White want him to also fall asleep?

As a lover of M.R. James's rather academic and atmospheric creepy stories I find these 'Tales of Terror' books by Chris Priestley to be irresistible. They're written after the style of the Edwardian writer and done so brilliantly that they're impossible to put down once you start reading. As with the first two books, The Tunnel's Mouth is illustrated by David Roberts and the drawings couldn't be more perfect; they complement these weird tales beautifully.

Apart from this book there are two others: Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror and Tales of Terror from the Black Ship (I defy anyone to read 'Nature' from that collection and not be wonderfully revolted and terrified) and all three books stand alone. As with the previous two books, Tunnels is a short story collection linked by a background story. This I find to be a very effective method of story-telling and one I'd not come across before. It adds suspense and cohesion to a form that can be a bit tedious as you work your way through numerous stories... in this format, wanting to know how the background mystery resolves itself keeps you turning the pages. Not that you need a lot of encouragement to do that anyway, but still. Highly recommended but anyone thinking of giving these to very young children should possibly consider how sensitive they are first - there is even a warning to that effect on the back covers. 'Grandmas' like me probably need not worry themselves. Much.

14 comments:

DesLily said...

it sounds like you enjoyed this one... :o) that's always a good thing!
I am liking Stones Fall pretty much.. it even mentions Devon!

Cath said...

Pat: Stones Fall? Hmm. That doesn't ring a bell - will go and look at that in a minute on Amazon. Been pretty good, have only bought one book in the last couple of months. Stephen Fry...

Kailana said...

I really want to read something by him! All the reviews make him look so good!

DesLily said...

I found a used copy of Stephen Fry in America and sent for it!! lol.. Stones Fall is by Pears who also wrote an Instance of the Fingerpost

GeraniumCat said...

I do like the look of this, I shall add it to my wishlist! The cover is lovely.

Cath said...

Kailana: He is good. Very very good! And you can read any of the books first as they stand alone quite nicely.

Pat: Well done on the Stephen Fry!

I have Instances of the Finger Post on my tbr pile. Once winter sets in I'll get some of these denser books out - Drood is another one - and settle in with them. Stones Fall looks pretty good too. Be interested to hear what you have to say about it.

GeraniumCat: All 3 books are so good. Keep an eye out in charity shops... you never know.

DesLily said...

I enjoyed all those books but.. Drood is still my favorite of them! Yeah can't wait for the Fry book to come..I wouldn't even know who he is if he wasn't on "Bones"! And I quite enjoyed him on it!

Cath said...

Pat: I've not seen Stephen Fry in Bones... not even sure if we get it over here. Maybe on one of the paid satellite channels. He's a household name here of course - a National Treasure. Pity you can't see him on QI, you'd like that.

Shellie - Layers of Thought said...

I will be looking for this title because of the revolting Nature story... thanks.

For us here in the desert we are still in the hundreds/40's Celsius ... as far as weather is concerned. So I just pretend its fall.

We just returned form England and it was my first visit where it was not cold.

Cath said...

Shellie: Hi, welcome to my book blog. The story 'Nature' is in Tales of Terror from the Black Ship and is deliciously horrible. LOL.

40C? Wow... I don't think I could tolerate those temps at all. I hope you enjoyed England... yes.. there are times here when it's not cold. Rare, but it is so. ;-)

Darla D said...

I haven't read this author before, but I have one of his books sitting on my shelf, and I'm excited to read it for this year's RIP challenge. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it!

Cath said...

Darla: I'll keep an eye out for your review of that book if you get to it. I've added you to my 'following' list now (new to that) so hopefully I won't miss it. Feel free to let me know if you think I have.

Val said...

That is a Lovely review Cath Thank you! ...I'm not sure if I want to scare myself.... but when in the mood it sounds like a good absorbing page turner...(coward aren't I?)
I've just got Nemesis by Lindsey Davis and The Unbelievers by Alastair Sim from the library so I'm off to Ancient Rome or Victorian Scotland

Cath said...

Val: It's odd but these stories are not the sort to frighten you out of your wits. They're just creepy and very well done in the manner of Victorian or Edwardian macabre stories.

Haven't read anything by Lindsay Davis but keep wondering if I should. Alastair Sim? Is that the actor? Noooo... can't be...