The Dead Men Stood Together

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Based on 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', this offering from the consistently fabulous Chris Priestley revives the gothic tradition of squeezing seriously spooky stories into short novels. It is a form that suits his claw-sharp writing beautifully. In Priestley’s reincarnation of this classic story, a young boy goes to sea with his mysterious mariner uncle, believing he is sailing in his late fathers’ memory, but the voyage is damned by a curse that throws them off course and into a treacherous landscape of ice.

The arrival of a lone albatross gives the crew some temporary comfort from their tortuous situation but when the boy’s uncle shoots the bird in a fit of fury it seems he has signed the ships’ death warrant. But there is a fate worse than death, and when the Black Ship arrives with none other than the Death King and his mistress on board the crew are sentenced to a fate that no one could foresee.

Luxuriating in the dark scenery of stormy seas and in keeping with the storytelling framework of Preistley's Tales of Terror series, this is a deliciously dark reading experience. Those not yet familiar with Coleridge’s poem will no doubt be curious to investigate how closely this gruesome version echoes it, whilst those in the know will delight in hearing the tale told by the eponymous mariner’s nephew and watching out for the lines that speak directly from the original text.

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