The Dead of Winter

218p. Bloomsbury. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59990-745-1. LC number unavailable.
Gr 7–10—In his first novel-length, gothic horror tale, Priestley pays homage to Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher" and in the process crafts a taut thriller with a foreboding setting and appropriately creepy atmosphere. Like the classic, this story features an isolated, imposing manor house that produces an inexplicable sense of dread in the narrator. Hawton Mere, like Poe's titular mansion, is inhabited by a brother afflicted by a debilitating psychological condition and a sister. But unlike Poe's unnamed narrator, Michael Vyner is not a willing visitor. Recently orphaned, he discovers that he is now the ward of Sir Stephen, the lord of Hawton Mere. Michael's father gave his life saving Sir Stephen in battle in Afghanistan and he is repaying that debt by caring for the boy. Upon arrival, Michael is nearly overwhelmed by a sense of impending doom. He is also afflicted by apparitions and strange noises. He is soon thrust into the mystery of the death of Sir Stephen's late wife and the origins of the poltergeistlike spirit that terrorizes him and his guardian. Though the story begins like Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist (S & S, 2009), with a narrator writing years after the fact, Priestley stays truer to the traditional genre, focusing on atmospherics and psychology rather than blood and gore. Students who want a break from the graphic violence of modern horror stories will enjoy this short volume.—Anthony C. Doyle, Livingston High School, CA
After his mother's death, Michael becomes the ward of the wealthy but apparently unbalanced Sir Stephen and reluctantly spends Christmas at his estate on the Cambridgeshire fens, where all is not what it seems. Mysterious glimpsed figures, secret chambers, strange noises in the night, tragic accidents, surprising revelations, and more figure into this page-turner of a gothic novel.

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