One in the Shock Shop series of ‘short, illustrated, scary books for younger readers’ by writers such as KM Peyton, Jenny Nimmo and Susan Price, this is the story of long-lost relatives who make contact with George Bassett’s family when they receive a considerable inheritance. Sir Gilbert Bassett-Milne and his family are welcoming and unpretentious, apart from the rather sinister eldest son Bertie, who makes young George’s life miserable with tales of the dreadful fate that awaits all firstborn heirs to the baronetcy. The Shadow of the Bassetts, Bertie tells him, enters their hearts and steals their souls away, causing them to die ‘in a state of morbid dread’. George does indeed begin to see the shadow, but in Bertie’s presence, rather than in his own.
The language in this book is rich and complex, Jan Mark apparently crediting her young readers with an ability to appreciate the humour and fun in often quite difficult vocabulary – the figures in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings so admired by Bertie are described as ‘wounded knights, beleaguered maidens, abandoned brides in moated mansions… and people dying of consumption’. While I wouldn’t have thought even the readers of 7+ at which the book is aimed would find it remotely ‘scary’, this is most certainly a book to be enjoyed by all those who appreciate really good writing.