Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Book Review: The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley.

Product details:
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
Hardcover, 224 pages.
Release date: October 4th 2010.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: 11 +
Source: Received from publisher for review.

A boy, a mysterious guardian and a haunted house with a terrible secret . . .

This is a chilling ghost story that will thrill and terrify and get read again and again and again
Michael Vyner recalls a terrible story, one that happened to him. One that would be unbelievable if it weren’t true!

Michael’s parents are dead and he imagines that he will stay with the kindly lawyer, executor of his parents’ will . . . Until he is invited to spend Christmas with his guardian in a large and desolate country house. His arrival on the first night suggests something is not quite right when he sees a woman out in the frozen mists, standing alone in the marshes. But little can prepare him for the solitude of the house itself as he is kept from his guardian and finds himself spending the Christmas holiday wandering the silent corridors of the house seeking distraction. But lonely doesn’t mean alone, as Michael soon realises that the house and its grounds harbour many secrets, dead and alive, and Michael is set the task of unravelling some of the darkest secrets of all. A nail-biting story of hauntings and terror by the master of the genre, Chris Priestley.

The Dead of Winter is the type of old school gothic horror  that I just love. I should point out that as a big fan of Edgar Allen Poe I like my horror to be chilling, suspenseful and just a little twisted, rather than gratuitously violent or gory. This one, reminiscent of Poe's work in it's themes, ticked all the right boxes for me. It’s the perfect spooky read just in time for Halloween. Priestly presents us with a host of characters who are slightly unhinged and untrustworthy and a creepy house with a dark history and lots of sinister secrets.

The book is narrated by Michael Vyner, a young boy, who following his mothers death, is sent to live with his guardian Sir Stephen Clarendon at his isolated mansion Hawton Mere. For me, all the best scary books feature a big old creepy house, and this one, isolated and surround by marshes and mist and fog does not disappoint. Hawton Mere is one of those houses that takes on a life of it’s own in the story. It’s bleak and gloomy, and has a dark and scary history. It’s clear right from the start that something is not quite right with the house, or with Sir Stephen himself. He is presented to us as a truly creepy character. Mentally disturbed and totally unhinged, he is haunted by his wife’s death and his brutal childhood.

With the house and it’s inhabitants, Priestly applies many elements of the gothic tradition to his writing, and it works so well. This story has it’s ghosts and hauntings, along with themes of  death,  decay, madness and deep-rooted family secrets. Like Poe, Priestly focuses on the internal terrors of the mind, and the torment here is definitely psychological and very unnerving.

To start with I found this book a little slow, but I was soon gripped by the story and it certainly didn’t disappoint with lots of plot twists and a few surprises on the way. The writing style is simple and direct so as to appeal to younger readers, and it makes for a quick but unsettling read. The horror in this book creeps up on you, and after you’ve finished it will stay with you and play on your mind. I read it late at night, of course, and if you do the same, maybe you’ll want to think about sleeping with the lights on when you read the ending of this one! Recommended for a truly spooky read!


  1. That does sound really creepy. The cover looks more adult to me for some reason. But I assume it's intended to be YA.

  2. This one sounds really good. I’m all about the creepy stuff lately. Must be the season :)

  3. A creepy old house is a definite must for this sort of story. I much prefer this kind of story to those with zombies and vampires and such.

  4. This sounds really spooky! Great for Halloween. Another one to add to my ever increasing wishlist. Thanks for sharing.

  5. So glad you enjoyed this book - like you I also prefer my horror books to be chilling and suspenseful instead of being outrageously gory, so I'm really looking forward to reading this one!


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