Written for ages 9+ the Tales of Terror series is a perfect example of how an author can chill and thrill a young audience without giving them nightmares. And you can almost taste the salt in the air when listening to Bill Wallis’s superb reading, so well does he encapsulate both the gothic and nautical flavour with his impressive array of accents. Bill Wallis is a British character actor whose face and voice has been seen and heard on radio, television, and in the theatre for many years. In 1995 he presented and narrated a semi-dramatised documentary titled “A Pleasant Terror” on the life and works of M. R. James and this work left him perfectly placed to bring Priestley’s ghostly tales to life.
As the narration begins we readers/listeners find ourselves at the Old Inn, where we are introduced to a bereaved father and his two children. It is three days into a storm and the children have been struck-down with illness and their father, seemingly come back to his senses, goes to fetch a doctor. While they await their father’s – and the doctor’s – return they pass their time reading their favourite ghost stories to each other but when a stranger, an old mariner with a gold tooth, arrives at the inn he begins to regale and terrify the brother and sister with some stories of his own. And so begins some wonderful story-telling reminiscent of the Hammer House of Horror in its pomp. The stranger recounts tale after tale to thrill and disquiet the children, all set aboard ship. And while this is happening the story of the children, their father and the inn which they inhabit also unfolds.
I will not give away anything about the tales of terror themselves save to say that the story with the seemingly angelic little boy, and the story with the snails are those that I remember most vividly. But it is the overarching story of the brother, sister and father that held the most punch.
Chris Priestley is brilliant at writing ghoulish stories for younger readers and when his words are spoken with as much as skill and relish as Bill Wallis manages here then the result is a must-listen to audio-book for anybody 8+ with a penchant for the macabre!
Tales of Terror from the Black Ship (unabridged) by Chris Priestley
Narrated by Bill Wallis
Length: 5 hours, 39 minutes
Publisher: AudioGO Ltd
The audio-book review copy of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship was kindly supplied by AudioGO, the home of BBC Audiobooks.