With few friends in the village and very dull parents, Edgar often makes the trek through the dark forest to visit his Uncle Montague. Although the house is cold and creepy, it is filled with fascinating objects with a story attached to each one. Uncle Montague is a strange old bachelor but is more than willing to entertain his nephew with his macabre tales. All feature bad little boys and girls who get their just desserts for disobedience, stealing, fraud, and many other character flaws. Edgar begins to suspect there is more to the stories than his uncle will admit, and a dark secret is eventually revealed.
David Roberts is the perfect choice to illustrate this book - his drawings set the perfect tone. The tales themselves are imaginative, creepy, and in some cases morbid. Here is a sample:
"Climb Not": A family moves into a new house with a strange tree in the middle of the large backyard. The boy is told not to climb it by the gardener and also by the words climb not carved into the tree trunk. He scoffs at the warnings and decides to climb it. At the top, he makes an unusual discovery.
Warning: These are not your mild and safe Goosebumps stories. While expertly crafted, these cautionary tales are intensely dark and, I believe, only appropriate for children at the top of this age group. Many of the children die as a result of their bad behavior, and the boy in “Winter Pruning” is even subjected to torture. The demon in “The Demon Bench End” tells young Thomas secrets about his parents, including that his mother was unfaithful. Parents need to follow their own judgment to decide if this is appropriate reading for their child.
"The Undoor": A girl poses as the daughter of a fake medium in an elaborate and lucrative con game. While picking pockets during a séance at the house of a wealthy women, she finds herself in someone else’s game.
"The Demon Bench End": A young boy becomes fascinated by a curious possession of a tinker. After stealing it, he realizes that a horrible demon is attached to it and will not let him go.
"The Gilt Frame": A spendthrift mother goes to an auction and buys a gilt frame on impulse. Her greedy daughter is irritated that she was overlooked but is offered three wishes by the mysterious girl in the picture. They came true in an unusual way.
"Winter Pruning": A mother and son move to her old her old childhood home. A blind old woman who lives at the top of the hill is harassed by the local children as she prunes her apple trees. Simon takes it one step further by sneaking into her house and stealing some money but gets a surprise of his own.
"Offerings": A budding young sociopath gets encouragement from an unlikely source.
That said, Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror is certainly fascinating and sure to engage even the most reluctant young reader. It would be quite an addition to a Halloween party or scout campout.
Chris Priestly has written several other books of fiction and nonfiction for young readers.