Dave Shelton’s previous book, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat, was a masterpiece of the absurd. His latest book, Thirteen Chairs, is a completely different kettle of fish – it’s a compilation of creepy tales, contained in a framework where Jack, a curious boy, listens to twelve ghostly figures tell stories of death and horror.
In some ways this approach is reminiscent of the old horror anthology films like Vault of Horror or Tales from the Crypt. But where Vault of Horror gave you four tales within its framing narrative, Thirteen Chairs delivers a delicious smorgasbord of thirteen stories.
Each story is distinct – some are historical, some are modern; some are gory, others are creepy; some echo folk tales while others have more in common with Poe. Each narrator has their own quirks and individual voice.
My particular favourite (although it’s hard to choose!) was “The Girl in the Red Coat”. Small girls in red coats are inherently terrifying to anyone who’s seen Don’t Look Now, obviously, but this story unfolds beautifully, with the young narrator’s matter-of-fact description of her encounters with schoolyard monsters both natural and supernatural.
It’s the versatility of this book that impressed me the most – the stories are all so different, yet each one fits perfectly into the framing narrative, where Jack sits in the thirteenth chair, waiting for his turn to tell a tale.
The illustrations – by Dave Shelton himself, the talented git – work perfectly with the stories. Each story gets a full-page title illustration, dark and inky black.
I saved this book to read at Halloween – it seemed appropriate. It’s a book for dark evenings and chilly nights. That way you can blame your goosebumps on the cold.