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.
It is no secret that I am a massive fan of Halloween, so when it comes to this point in the year I like to give myself a fright with some spooky stories. Christ Priestley is a chiller writer for children around the ages of 9-12, or big kids around 24... ahem. I have been meaning to pick up some of his books for a while so when I spotted this in the library I thought it would be the perfect opportunity.
The Dead of Winter follows traditions set by the wonderful Poe and the underestimatedly Gothic Charles Dickens. After the death of his mother, Michael Vyner is sent to live with a guardian in his creepy old mansion, Hawton Mere. Spooky events are abundant in the old house and never fails to disappoint. The atmosphere is built gradually through the fantastic descriptions of the house, really breathing life into the old walls. This reminded me so much of Poe, the artistic detail in giving a living, breathing anthropomorphic character to the old house. It is as much a part of the story as the human tale of woe behind all the hauntings.
It's narrative is not simple, nor does it carry any of the slang of modern day children. I'm pretty certain the story is set in the late 19th century, which completely adds to the feel of 'otherness'. For children reading this I think it is a clever scheme: it gives space in dialogue at the beginning to give the reader time to adjust to the older speech style but then whisks you so much into the action that you barely seem to notice.
This has everything you could want from a traditional scary read: a haunted house, ghosts, mirrors, trap doors and a whole dose of mystery. If you've enjoyed more modern stories like Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book I guarantee you will love this. Its a super quick read at only just over 200 pages but it is so much fun. Give this to your kid and they will be absorbed for hours.