Steven Paulsen's The Stray Cat explores the indomitable power of evil. In this tale of possession and evil intent, a stray cat takes up residence with Nathan and his mother. Nathan finds something cold and ugly in the cat, but his mother, a lover of all animals, convinces him that that the cat should stay. As the story unfolds we find that the house Nathan and his mother are living in has a mysterious history, and that the cat has a part to play in ensuring that Nathan and his mother become part of that history.
The Stray Cat is unforgiving in its pursuance of the macabre. While the reader is aware that all is not right in this household from the moment the cat enters it, the fast-moving and evil conclusion will surprise even the most hardened young reader.
The After Dark series provides an avenue for young readers to probe the genre of horror fiction. It is a series rich in imagery and captivating tales that will undoubtedly encourage even the most reluctant reader to explore the excitement of reading further.
William Norris - Viewpoint
All the stories [in the After Dark series] are strong, dramatic and chilling. They are rich in symbolism and meaning. They are well crafted and feature a range of story structures from simple narratives to complex multi-layered plots. After Dark offers the promise of heart-stopping, spine-tingling drama and it doesn't disappoint. Creatures from the sinister feline in The Stray Cat to the furry monsters which will have arachnophobes crawling up the wall in The Giant Spiders.
Cathryn Crowe - Brisbane Weekend Courier Mail
The four After Dark titles presented for review comprise one work by [Gary] Crew, several by names new to me, and The Stray Cat, by Steven Paulsen, a writer familiar to Australian sf readers. The illustrators of the books, and there is a different one for each title, are given almost equal prominence to the author. Indeed, they occupy nearly as much space in the books, the series philosophy being that the target audience is "high visual".
The artwork is certainly most attractive, and I note in particular Shaun Tan, known for his Eidolon work, and here illustrating Paulsen. The texts, though, are slightly less outstanding. Writers of horror for young readers walk a tightrope, of being scary but not too scary - after all, nobody wants to buy a child a book that will produce nightmares. Thus macabre writing for the young adult market can seem distinctly tame, compared with the blood and guts of adult horror fiction. Crew contributes a tale of a haunted well and sibling rivalry; [Peter] Lawrance a suspense thriller with a literally cliffhanging ending; Paulsen the story of a cat from hell; and [Stephen] Measday perhaps the story most in the Goosebumps mode, about a plague of killer spiders. After Dark is therefore varied fare, and it does take some risks, eschewing the cosy. Of the writers, Crew is less sparse and somewhat more conventional than in his other writing - therefore a bit of a disappointment. Lawrance's story shows a formidable thriller writer in the making; Measday', I suspect, would be the most popular work with the age group. The text with the real edge, though, is Paulsen's, which is creepy enough to cause ailurophobia.
Lucy Sussex - Thyme
Steven Paulsen's The Stray Cat is an excellent example of macabre writing, while Shaun Tan's illustrations, using graphite pencil, pen and ink, are worthily sinister. A halfpage framed picture of a cottage against a dark background, an angled view of a girl who stretches out her hand for a poker to use as a weapon, a reflection in the cat's eye of a presence from the past - these are three illustrations which contribute greatly to the story's atmosphere.
Susan Hayes - Radio 5UV