Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror (Amazon) is a collection of short stories interlinked by the eponymous Uncle. Its not afraid to traverse genres and styles in a way that adult horror does not. Tones, styles and voices change but the underlying unease never does. Each tale is charmingly illustrated by David Roberts in an Edward Gorey style which is an uneasy reminder of the failed innocence.
In the Gilt Frame, Priestly reminds us of the Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs; Jinn is a take on the figure of the Jinn characters. The Nineteenth Century features very strongly with Edgar Allen Poe and the cautionary tales of Hoffman (although the opening Hilaire Belloc style story is intriguing) and it is perhaps a show of the enduring the strength of writing (I do confess a weakness for that slow, overblown short story style though). The cautiously uneasy tone of MR James underlies the whole book.
Out of this comes a killer kick though. Uncle Montgomery is a failed school teacher whose penance is to tell the stories of the forgotten and the damned. What looks like a set of plain tales becomes a devilish set of club stories. A hollow becomes apparent: the adult world has failed these children and it is its penance to retell its misfortune.
Horror seems to have become a lost art in children’s writing and the breadth of this collection is a salutory reminder of the chilliness of a good spine tingler. I fervently hope that this is the first of an occasional series. It serves as a reminder of the power of horror and is extremely well told.