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Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

Bloomsbury (2011).

The most successful read is to go in without synopsis or review; that said, it is still really good anticipating a few things as well.

Billy is a street urchin, a pickpocket, and a petty thief. Mister Creecher is a giant of a man whose appearance terrifies everyone he meets. Their relationship begins as a matter of convenience. But before long, a bond develops between these two misfits as they embark on a bloody journey that will take them from London northward on the trail of their target . . . Doctor Victor Frankenstein. It seems the good doctor had promised Mister Creecher a bride, and Mister Creecher will stop at nothing to get what he’s been promised. Nothing.

Perfect for fans of horror novels, this frightening new book from Chris Priestley reinvents a classic literary monster for a new generation of readers.—publisher’s comments

Mister Creecher is being pitched as a gateway drug to the classics—and it should be pitched as such.* Familiarity with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist deepens the impression of awe with what Priestley is doing here in Mister Creecher. He creates more than a mash-up of Dickens and Shelley, but an intersection; less a reinvention or re-imagination but acts more of an imaginer alongside these two great literary texts. He fills in some blanks in the creation of his own monster story.

Mister Creecher would have been a failure, however precious the attempt if not for Priestley’s caliber of writing. He is not new to the horror genre. He has had readers peeing their pants from horror and delight for a while now. He can keep up with Shelley and Dickens. I had only read his short stories with the heavy thread that he employs in his Tales of Terror series so I was curious how he did in sustaining character and atmosphere at length. He is painfully consistent, by the way.

Billy is a bit of a — difficult one. And while charming in the way rebellious boys on the streets can be in literature, nobility does not come easy, if at all; which we are unused to in our young people stories today. The bond that develops between Mister Creecher and Billy is hard-won even though their mutual need is fairly evident from the beginning. And note that absence of the word friendship in the publisher’s synopsis. Friendship is an uneasy word, and the search for an easier word to describe the two’s relationship is part of what makes the book so marvelous.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein there are spans of time where the creature is away, having run off and then waiting, waiting for the doctor to construct a bride so he won’t be alone. What was going on with the created while Shelley contemplated the creator? Priestley wonders, too, and so he writes. We spy on Frankenstein (with Henry Clerval) as he travels because Mister Creecher has made arrangements with Billy to watch and follow the doctor and his companion as they tour London and beyond, moving northward toward a final confrontation between–?–. Priestley minds the intersections and holds fast to his characterization of Frankenstein’s monster. Those familiar with Frankenstein know the inevitable and Priestley uses this to enhance that forboding, that sweet anticipation of collision. And for those unfamiliar with where Frankenstein’s dilemma culminates, the dilemma Billy gnaws on for the sake of the reader (and his own characterization)? They are hardly short-changed as Priestley manages horror of diverse types and multiple levels. There is also the part where the two’s company is ever being tested, moving toward a culminating decision that you can bet holds some heartbreak and some horrifying revelations (and results).

I believe this book is recommended 12 & up and that makes sense as Billy age 11/12 and streetwise to the world wonders about anatomy and sexuality and procreation, though hardly gratuitously (e.g. “He had no navel,” 298); the older audience will get how the wonderings play thematically/philosophically. Priestley also includes things Frankenstein thinks about, transporting its observations into Mister Creecher’s own, like Billy noting how Mister Creecher looked like he might have been made beautiful before animation took hold of his features.

Mister Creecher is a lovely lovely character whom Priestley does not rob of some pretty terrible aspects. But any compassion gifted adds to the reader’s torment, and Billy’s, and this works to illustrate the struggles Mister Creecher wrestles with, as well as its reference materials. Yet for all the references that add weight and texture, this really is Priestley’s creation and Mister Creecher sees it through to its own ends. Ends that should have reader’s looking for other endings—and other beginnings.

A benefit of even a passing familiarity with Oliver Twist is the dread it brings, that dawning horror as clues begin to shed subtlety nearing the end of the book. Confirmation is the cold bit of ice to the spine and that churn in the stomach you’d hoped to avoid. Then you realize that you’ve been mourning the boy Billy was throughout the book and not in these final pages alone. Those unfamiliar are in for an unsuspected horror as they crack the pages of Dickens’ classic, not that Priestley doesn’t offer a blood-soaked taste of him first.

There is a complexity to that which horrifies us and I like Priestley’s implementation and exploration of it. I like the focus on companionship and the relationships that shape us. I like how he could make me feel sad, and hopeful though I am a bit pissed he couldn’t change some endings there… Priestley does creepy really well, which involves knowing just when to relent and allow a peek of sunshine which serve a breather even if only to cast the deeper shadows to come. His pacing pulls the reader in deeper even as one really should look away. Christ Priestley in Mister Creecher creates dread and dreadful anticipation that is so very very beautiful.

—–

*I adore the inclusion of the character, Bradbury whose stage name in the carnival of freaks is “The Illustrated Man.” It is a gorgeous use of Ray Bradbury’s story, too (p268)—very haunting actually (279). There are many references in keeping with the novel’s themes and its historical period with meetings of actual historical persons (to include Mr. and Mrs. Shelley packing for their move to Italy; a Mr. [Pen] Browning (the son of famous Browning parents (?), etc), also reading works available at the time, like Jane Austen novels and poems by Keats and Coleridge, as well as paintings/artists of that inclination.

of note: the author offers a note about Shelley and Dickens. It would be great for an accompanying glossary of reference, a bibliography. Must see if there is one.

a good R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) read

 

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Redhead says:

    You had me at “Frankenstein”, one of my favorite classic horror/scifi stories. I love it when an author takes a well known story (or something that really happened), and fills in all the little blanks. Makes for excellent storytelling!

    1. L says:

      if you read it, I would love your opinion on how he did. and I hope you enjoy it.

  2. Lovely reflections on the book! I read and reviewed this for the Sci Fi Experience last year. I really loved the way Priestley kept the horror and ambiguity of Shelley’s Creature. I still can’t decide how I feel about Billy’s ultimate character turn…I mean, he’s HIM? Really? Sigh.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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