Review: Sigils and Totems, William Meikle, 2017.
The linked stories of this eponymous series, what Meikle has dubbed the “Meikle Mythos” are his most original work I’ve encountered. However entertaining his Lovecraft Mythos tales, monster stories, and Sherlock Holmes and Carnacki pastiches are, he’s playing in others’ sandboxes. He’s built his own with this series.
The series is built around houses. As Meikle says,
There are houses like this all over the world. Most people only know of them from whispered stories over campfires; tall tales told to scare the unwary. But some, those who suffer, some know better. They are drawn to the places where what ails them can be eased. If you have the will, the fortitude, you can peer into another life, where the dead are not gone, where you can see that they thrive and go on, in the dreams that stuff is made of.
Not all these stories strictly follow that pattern though.
Dave Carlson, a burglar, singer in a pub, and narrator of The Job, is, as he frequently tells us from the beginning, an idiot. He’s not retarded. He’s just got bad judgement.
Only a day ago, but one in which I’d lost my debt, found a job, thrown a dog in the river – and murdered two men, one of whom I had almost considered a friend.
I figured that was enough excitement for one day.
His problems start when, to pay gambling debts, he goes on a job with a friend to steal a book. But the burglary is foiled first by the strange sound of rustling paper in a country house near Glasgow and then by a burglar alarm.
And that sound of rustling paper continues in his head after he flees as well as a chant in Latin.
It seems Carlson has an affinity for that country house, and he learns that the worlds bordering a Sigil House do not hold just the dead.
It’s a tale of degradation and redemption that introduces Meikle’s series.
Broken Sigil is the most original thing I’ve read by Meikle, a clever mixture of his Sigil and Totem concept with The Maltese Falcon, guilt, grief, addiction, and devotion. It’s the fullest realization of the Meikle Mythos I’ve read yet though there are two full novels in this series that I haven’t read yet.
Narrator Joe Connors is a detective with the Internal Affairs Bureau of the New York City Police Department. He’s burnt out and still dealing with the death of his wife Brenda a year ago – after she told him she was having an affair with his best friend, another New York City cop named Johnny Provan.
Things start out peculiarly with Provan being shot dead by another policeman after Provan went crazy and pointed a gun at his fellow officer.
Investigating the why of this leads Connors to a strange house with strange residents. He learns Provan lived there. And, fantastically, he’s told that Provan was reconnected, somehow, with Brenda.
But Provan didn’t follow the rules of this Sigil House, and now there’s an intruder there.
Pentacle takes the series to the logical next step in developing its theme. In the two previous stories, we’ve learned that Sigil Houses have concierges to help the residents and protect the house. The hero of this story is John, one of those concierges, new to the job and with little training. That means he’s not exactly sure what to do when some road construction in Edinburgh seems to have disturbed something.
Besides an enjoyable development of his idea, Meikle throws in some references to William Hope Hodgson’s “The Hog” and either The Night Land or The House on the Borderland (whichever has black pyramids – I’ve read neither yet though hope to soon). The use of some nameless occultist’s “electric pentacle” is similar to Meikle’s Carnacki pastiche “The Larkhill Barrow”, and this is one of those tales where Meikle embeds, through a document, a story from the past. It’s not as original as Broken Sigil but still suspenseful and moving.
So, even if you’re not interested in Lovecraft related stories or Scottish commandos battling monsters or pastiches of Hodgson or Arthur Conan Doyle, this omnibus is worth checking out for a new concept in supernatural and weird fiction.
Additional Thoughts (with spoilers)
The Job doesn’t follow the basic idea Meikle lays out for his series because Carlson’s employer, an evil Sigil House concierge, is interested in bringing the Just One, an entity from another dimension, into our world. We learn that Sigil Houses can be put to bad uses, and Carlson is given the chance to redeem himself after his murders, admittedly done under the influence of the house, by ridding it of its current owner.
Long time readers of the blog may have noted my impatience with stories that end ambiguously. However, ambiguity in weird fiction, and I consider Broken Sigil to not just be supernatural fiction but weird fiction, can be a powerful feature to add to the strangeness, wonder, and sense of brushing up against mystery that weird fiction needs for me to call it that. (However, the “weird fiction” tag used on the blog often reflects other people’s designation and not mine.)
Connors is definitely attracted to the need to reconnect with Brenda. The residents of his Sigil House converse with the dead in different ways – visions in mirrors, text in a notebook, even curtains. Connors connection is through a DVD copy of The Maltese Falcon. Sometimes, actress Mary Astor’s face becomes Brenda. Sometimes the dialogue of the movie seems to answer Connors’ questions.
Provan broke one of the rules in the house. You can converse with the dead, see them as their lives proceed in other worlds. But you can’t try to touch them. His doing that led to his downfall and madness, but it also brought something into the house.
I’m still not sure what that entity was. A dark version of Provan, a warped version of the man Connors knew? The real Brenda and not the idealized version in Connors head? But, here, that ambiguity, whether it’s Meikle’s deliberate strategy or my own stupidity and inattention, worked for me, made the story better and worth revisiting.