Sunday, 4 March 2012

Review: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

Billy is a street urchin, pickpocket and petty thief. Mister Creecher is a monstrous giant of a man who terrifies all he meets. Their relationship begins as pure convenience. But a bond swiftly develops between these two misfits as their bloody journey takes them ever northwards on the trail of their target ...Victor Frankenstein.

In recent years a number of authors of books for children and young adults have written books that focus on the early years of famous, well-established characters. Notable examples of this are Charlie Higson's Young Bond, Andrew Lane's Young Sherlock Holmes and Andy Briggs's Tarzan reboot. In Mister Creecher YA horror supremo, Chris Priestly, has done things a little differently, by taking a famous character, in this case Frankenstein's monster, and added to Mary Shelley's original story. In that story there is a brief mention of Victor Frankenstein visiting London and other parts of England with his friend Henry Clerval, but no mention at all of the monster. And yet, later events suggest that the monster must have been tracking the pair through their journey up through England. Fascinated by this, Chris Priestley decided de would fill in the blanks, and you can read more about this decision over at his blog.

The book opens with Billy, an orphan and pickpocket, discovering what he thinks is a corpse, lying in the street. As he is about to check the body for any valuables he is interrupted by Fletcher, a fellow ne'er do well to whom Billy owes money. As Fletcher pulls a knife on Billy the supposedly dead body comes to life, and comes to Billy's rescue. This newly reanimated body is a huge monster of a man, who makes short shrift of Fletcher and his cronies. This man is none other than Frankenstein's monster, and so begins a rather unlikely partnership between the two.

Due to a mishearing of the creatures response to one of his questions, Billy comes to refer to his new associate as Mister Creecher. Creecher needs Billy to help him to follow Victor Frankenstein, who has promised his monster that eh will make him a bride. In return, the monster helps Billy with a variety of muggings that soon have him living a life a of luxury compared with the life he was living prior to their meeting. The story eventually takes the pair on a road trip like no other, as they follow Frankenstein and Clerval from London to Oxford and then on to the North.

The story examines a number of themes, most notably what it means to be human. Creecher is wants to be seen as a human being, and is desperate to fit in with society instead of being feared as a monster due to his ghastly appearance. To this end he spends hours reading books, studying the way the characters in the stories interact and trying to understand the nature of human emotions. Billy on the other hand is human (obviously) but has few morals and little interest in any form of traditional education. This leaves us asking ourselves who is the most human of the two?

Issues surrounding friendship are also a key element of the story. Initially Creecher uses fear and intimidation to get Billy to help him, but over time their relationship develops into something much greater than master and servant as they become firm friends, despite their differences. However, as a reader we can only view this friendship as it grows with a deep sadness, as we know that as Priestley's story is part of a story where the ending has already been told, we know that the friendship simply cannot last and somehow things will fall apart for the duo before the end of the story.

Whilst I am on the subject of the end of the story, if you have read anything about this book you will already know that Chris Priestley injects a surprise twist at the story's close. I did not see it coming at all, and I had a face palm moment before a huge smile broke out on my face as a number of dropped clues fell into place all at once.

I loved this book and I am sure that any horror-loving 11+ child who picks it up will share these feelings. It is a while since I read Mary Shelley's original, but from memory I felt that Chris Priestley's story matched the tone very well. His descriptions of the historical settings in the story, from the sordid streets of regency London to the other, more rural, locations the pair travel to are so well written that I was drawn completely into the time and place. I would expect that many young people who read this will be intrigued and/or excited enough to go out and get their hands on a copy of Mary Shelley's book.

Mister Creecher was published by Bloomsbury in a hardcover edition last year, but the paperback edition has only just been released. My thanks go to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy to review. Please come back tomorrow when Chris Priestley will be visiting us to tell readers of The Book Zone about how Frankenstein changed his life.

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