Spellbinding tales of gore

20th October 2000 at 01:00
Slime is the latest trend in Halloween reading, finds Michael Thorn

Dissolvers by Andrew Matthews (Scholastic pound;3.99), in the new Mutant Point Horror series, wallows in mucus and slime in all its gooey, gory splendour.

This book is a roller-coaster of a read and a brilliant example of how horror writing is bursting free of its Gothic, Hammer Horror reputation.

The new territory is one in which genetics and germ warfare are more likely to provide the scares than creaking stairs and opening trapdoors.

The main characters are at secondary school, but fearless readers in Years 5 and 6 will revel in Matthews' descriptions of the way people who become infected by an escaped toxin begin to liquidise.

In the battle for survival that develops, there is plenty of vividly realised action: "Will used the spade as a broadsword, hacking off the arms that reached for him, splitting skulls, slicing a dissolver in two at the waist."

The story is also strong on relationships, between brother and sister Ben and Mel, but more notably for its depiction of that between Ben, Will and a girl called Steph.

Amid the flailing body parts, this romantic triangle develops its own tensions that will not be lost on 10 or 11-year-olds experiencing their first heart-pangs.

In his introduction to Don't Forget Me! (Collins pound;3.99), R L Stine explains his character Danielle's mood: "Anyone would be tense moving into an old house with long shadows, creaking doors, mysterious groans, and whispers."

So it is no surprise to find that Stine constructs his new series, The Nightmare Room, upon just such staple (some would say dangerously hammy) effects. It works, because the central idea is good.

In this first book, Danielle pretends to hypnotise her brother Peter for a laugh. When Peter starts losing his memory, Danielle thinks it's all her fault, but she discovers things about the new house that lead her to change her mind.

The tale has its mucus moments - Peter is eventually engulfed in clear gelatin - but Danielle is even more scared when people begin to forget who she is.

In order to tie up loose threads, Stine has to play a mean trick on his readers in terms of character names. Otherwise, convincingly unsettling for Years 5 and 6.

Even if the props and the trappings change, nothing can beat an old spooky property fo the setting of a ghost story. Grimstone's Ghost by Mary Arrigan (Collins pound;9.99) is a genuinely chilling novel in which 12-year-old Cian and his younger sister Jo arrive at a suitably scary old mansion that Cian has inherited. Circumstances satisfactorily conspire so that Jo and Cian have to spend an entire night alone in the house and the really scary stuff can begin.

No slime and mucus here, although there is a disturbing blue glow in the garden. For the most part tension and fear are created by traditional means: doors bursting open, sudden changes in temperature.

The sparring relationship between brother and sister is important; indeed, Cian comes to rely more and more on Jo's courage in the course of retrieving a goblet and laying to rest Captain Grimstone's ghost and curse.

There are frequent historical flashbacks to the time of Henry VIII. Again, Years 5 and 6 will enjoy reading this.

Time Ghost by Charles Ashton (Walker pound;9.99), which the author says "was intended as a small tribute to the author of Tom's Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce", is another traditional tale about ghosts from the past. Not an easy book to follow, it repays careful reading for Year 6 pupils, and is also notable for its adversarial brother-sister relationship.

In Uncle Marty, Ashton has created that rare thing - an ageing hippy who is genuinely convincing as a character.

Squeeze the blood out of a stone... cover yourself in aftershave... put a pixie in a nutshell... dig up an old fossil. This will turn a stubborn... uncle... into a little... dinosaur.

Just one of the spells and its effects that can be created in Spells and Smells by Nick Sharratt and Hilary Robinson (Scholastic pound;9.99) by turning any of four boldly printed page sections, all with a Sharratt illustration or caption. Children from Year 1 up will want to make up their own spells, using the same four-part structure.

A new edition of a flip-the-flap favourite, Come for a Ride on the Ghost Train by Colin and Jacqui Hawkins (Walker Books pound;4.99) encourages group participation for nursery and Reception children.

Wonderfully busy colour pages with no white space (the text is coloured on a black background) give the book a night-time feel.

Although the monsters are certainly ghoulish, their cheeky smiles make them accessible to younger children.

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