Pre-release Read-it-if Review: The Dead Men Stood Together….


Good Sunny Morning to you all! Today’s offering is a pre-release from one of the shelf’s favourite authors: The Dead Men Stood Together by Chris Priestley.  I was lucky enough to receive a digital review copy via Netgalley from Bloomsbury in return for an honest review, so three cheers to Bloomsbury!

As I mentioned, we are big Chris Priestley fans around the shelf – indeed, he has even been the subject of one of Mad Martha’s Odes to an Author, which you can check out here, if you so desire.  So it was with great anticipation that I got my paws on this latest tome.  As a bit of background, Priestley has recently published a number of books that are retellings of well-known horror stories, and The Dead Men Stood Together is the latest in this line-up.  Based on Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Dead Men follows the adventures of the young narrator as he sets sail through every extreme of weather, on a highly unusual and extremely creep-inducing adventure in the company of a crew of hardened sea dogs and his highly unusual and extremely creep-inducing uncle.

I had not read the poem before starting the book, but a few chapters in, I thought I probably should, just to have something with which to compare the story as it unfolded.  If you are of a similar mindset, you can find the text of the poem here, although it is by no means necessary to be familiar with the poem in order to enjoy the book.

dead men stood together

Read it if:

* you can’t resist a rollicking tale set on the high seas

* you have ever been held captive by an elderly person as they regale you with far-fetched stories from the distant past

* you are inclined to complain heartily and predict impending doom should the weather stray more than a couple of degrees either side of your preferred temperature

* you have an objectionable uncle (or indeed any type of irritating relative) and you would love to witness their come-uppance…particularly if that come-uppance involves the wearing of something large, ridiculous and foul-smelling as a means of public ridicule

Priestley has a very recognisable style that pops you straight into the gothic, atmospheric headspace required for maximum enjoyment of a fear-laden tale.  The voice of the narrator is just perfect for read-aloud and I can definitely picture fathers and sons (probably best to avoid uncles and nephews, unless you are indeed the objectionable sort of uncle who finds amusement in creeping kids out) enjoying this one together as a before-bed serial.  This would also be a good choice for middle-grade lads who like a bit of substance with their adventure.

The only trouble I would note for this as a read-alone for the younger end of the target age bracket is the pace of the book in some parts – particularly towards the end of the tale, there are a few large chunks of text that are almost entirely comprised of the narrator’s reflections and I found that without any dialogue or real character interactions that I had to really focus my attention through those sections.  This may also have been due to the fact that I find myself far more distractable when reading e-versions  – I would definitely say this type of story suits a print book. Preferably a hardback. Dog-eared. With an attached fabric bookmark.

Overall, this was a nice, atmospheric read; light on the blood-spattering gore type of horror but well-divested of a sense of creeping dread.  And I will award bonus points because, as it’s based on classic poetry, it allows one to indulge in a bit of book-snobbery: “Coleridge? Oh of course darling, I’m utterly familiar with his major works….”

Until next time,


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Ode to an Author: Chris Priestley


Good evening Possums! Mad Martha here, going just a little bit Dame Edna on you all.  Today I am waxing lyrical on one of the favourite authors amongst the denizens of Bruce’s shelf – Chris Priestley, author of Mister Creecher, The Dead of Winter, The Tom Marlowe Mysteries and our resounding favourite, the Tales of Terror Series!  This series features collections of short stories centred around a young protagonist (or two) who, through accident or design, has become the captive audience of some very odd and colourful storytelling. Starting with a delightfully atmospheric and eerie romp around Uncle Montague’s house and surrounds, this series blossomed into a veritable English country garden of creepy weirdness, with the followup titles Tales of Terror from the Black Ship (my personal favourite so far), Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth, and the limited release The Teacher’s Tales of Terror!  You may notice the differences in the cover art – the titles are available in both the pen and ink illustration covers and the more photographic style….We on the shelf prefer the pen and ink.

tales of terrorTOT black ship

TOT tunnelTeachers TOT

Priestley has an uncanny knack for creating an ambience that has you looking over your shoulder while reading.  Also, as many of the main characters in the short stories are less than endearing, it can be somewhat unsettling to realise that one may be secretly relishing the various sticky ends to which those characters succumb.

We are always keeping our eyes peeled for new titles in this series as they really are the cream of the crop in spine-tingling stories for people aged about 10 years and over. Our vigilance was rewarded recently when Bruce spotted a seasonal release, only available (annoyingly) as an ebook – Christmas Tales of Terror!

TOT christmas

So it was that Bruce attempted to read his first ever e-book – in fact, he read it aloud in one sitting for the benefit of all the shelf-folk, during a brief period in which the house fleshlings were away from the dwelling, leaving their precious electronified tablet unguarded.  While this is certainly not the best offering in the series in our opinion, (the first story, “The Green Man” being particularly weak), it is certainly another feather in the cap of the good Mr Priestley.  And for his services to the field of terror-inducement in minors and others, I present to him this Ode, in the form of a letter from a reader…..

Dear Mr Priestley,chris-priestley

Your tales are so beastly.

Your plotlines increas’dly mean characters cease-to-be.

Terror unceasingly fills my mind feastingly,

I beg for release from thee!

Yours (most dis-ease-dly),

An Appreciative Reader

I must admit, that one was a challenge.  Not many words rhyme with Priestley.  Further suggestions for rhyming words would be welcome.

But please do yourself a favour and explore the work of Creepy Chris….if you dare! Mwuuuhahahahhaaaaaaaa!

Ahem……Until next time lovelies,

Mad Martha