“The Curate’s Friend”

This week’s bit of weird fiction is odder than usual.

Review: “The Curate’s Friend”, E. M. Forster, 1911.celestialomnibus

This story is unusual in two ways. Its narrator is self-deprecating. The concluding tone is not of menace but joy.

Our narrator is, in fact, the curate. His friend is a faun. Fauns are not, we’re told right in the first paragraph, “particularly classical”. Any country with “beech clumps and sloping grass and very clear streams” can have them.

But, the curate tells us, you have to be sharped eyed to see one, and he doesn’t have a clue how he came to make friends with one. He is something of a fool, “facetious without humour and serious without conviction”. His sermons are pompous. He professes, as an unmarried man, to give advice to women on their duties as wives and widows. His “straight talks to my lads” – presumably a sort of sex ed – “led straight past anything awkward”.

However, there is Emily, his fiancé. She listens carefully to his sermons. She laughs at his jokes. She is an excellent wife, corrective of her husband’s faults yet defender of his reputation, and a good mother to her children. But Emily doesn’t become the narrator’s wife, and the why of that is where the faun comes in. Continue reading ““The Curate’s Friend””

The Ghost Club

This one got downloaded to my Kindle because it contains several stories using the Meikle Mythos of Sigils and Totems.

Review: The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror, William Meikle, 2017.

Cover by Ben Baldwin

Recently the Criterion Club in London found itself placed in receivership and selling its assets off. In a hidden bookcase, this journal, a collection of lost literary works by club members and visitors transcribed (and perhaps touched up a bit) by Arthur Conan Doyle was found.

The quality of Meikle’s imitations of those writers I can’t, for the most part, speak to. I haven’t read all these authors, and some I have only read a few works by. (I’ll put the putative authors of each story in parentheses next to the relevant title.)

I do think I’ve read enough of H. G. Wells to say that “Farside” is a convincing imitation in style and theme. Its narrator tells us about a demonstration of a Chromoscope, a machine of spinning colored plates that light is passed through and projected onto a wall. It’s a creation of his inventor friend, Hoskins. Hoskins and friends find out, by putting their hands between the projector and the wall, that they have rainbow auras about their hands. Well, all except Dennings who has a “sickly glow, all green” around his. Perhaps its no coincidence that he dies three days later. But why is that green glow now around Hoskins’ hand? Being a Wells’ fan, I was inclined to like this.

I enthusiastically liked so many stories (nine out of 14) that I can’t really call them favorites. Continue reading “The Ghost Club”

The Boathouse

Review: The Boathouse, William Meikle, 2018.boathouse

This and Songs of Dreaming Gods are the only full novel length treatments of Meikle’s Sigils and Totems idea. That’s the notion that there are strange houses about the earth where other dimensions can be glimpsed and where our dead loved ones might be seen again in some other timeline where they live on.

But Meikle violently wrenches and twists his idea about here, reminds us that we don’t know how these houses are created and how they work, and implies other forces beyond are ken can alter that function.

Whereas Songs of Dreaming Gods was claustrophobic and set in a house whose rooms shift in time, this novel is open aired. Very little of it takes place in its Sigil House. Rather, most of it takes place in Catalina, Newfoundland which happens to be Meikle’s home. Of all his stories I’ve read, this and Island Life seem to best evoke a place. There’s the run down harbor which has seen better days, the local bar, the hills about the shore. Also, a significant portion of the story has Catalina blasted by a hurricane. Meikle makes you feel the fury of that hurricane as it floods the town’s streets.

Our hero is David Wiggins. He’s not a cop or adventurer or soldier like a lot of Meikle heroes. He sells magazine ads in Toronto. But a call from back home in Catalina convinces him he should see his dying mother. Continue reading “The Boathouse”

“The Toll-House”

This week’s piece of weird fiction is an interesting haunted house story from an author best know for “The Monkey’s Paw”.

Review: “The Toll-House”, W. W. Jacobs, 1907.

This story moves quickly and a lot of it is dialogue.

Four men, seemingly young men walking about England – they have enough money to stay in inns on the way – decide they want to go to a real haunted house. They hear about one from the proprietor of the inn they are staying in. He tells them about a house where a head was seen hanging out the window in moonlight. A tramp went into the house a while back and was found dead the next morning, “hanging from the balusters”. Continue reading ““The Toll-House””

Songs of Dreaming Gods

Review: Songs of Dreaming Gods, William Meikle, 2017.

Cover by Zach McCain

When three cops are called to an abandoned house in St. John’s, Newfoundland, their lives will never be the same. And that’s not just because of the five mangled bodies inside.

This is a full-length novel treatment of Meikle’s Sigil and Totem idea. As it’s explained in the book,

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.

But those houses have rules. They break down sometimes. That’s what happened to the house in St. John’s. Continue reading “Songs of Dreaming Gods”

The Road Hole Bunker Mystery

This one showed up on Meikle’s list of novels he wrote with the Scottish settings. I’ll be looking at a couple of more later on, but first I’ll be doing some postings on a couple of his Sigil and Totems novels and related short stories.

No, I’m not doing a complete Meikle series, but, between his works set in Scotland, the stories with the Seton clan, his Sigil and Totem mythos, and the S-Squad, it will be a fair chunk of his prolific output.

Review: The Road Hole Bunker Mystery, William Meikle, 2015.road hole bunker mystery

There’s nothing fantastic or weird in this story. It’s a straight up private eye mystery narrated by one John Royle, a down and out private eye in St. Andrews, Scotland. He’s bored and behind on the rent when a fat, blue-haired Texan woman hires him to look for her brother. He’s disappeared when visiting the town.

Later he’ll turn up dead in the road hole bunker on the seventeenth hole of the world-famous St. Andrews golf course. He won’t be the only dead guy by story’s end.

When Royle gets set up for his murder, he figures he might have his “Bogart case”.

This isn’t a hard-boiled detective story with lots of violence though there is certainly the threat of it. But we’ll see all sides of St. Andrews from those making their money off tourists to those who work in the town’s other famous establishment, University of St. Andrews. We’ll see the town’s sleazier side. We’ll meet a dangerous Glasgow gangster and a hot dame in a low-cut red kimono. Royle has to figure just how many lies to tell Joe Boyd, an old friend from childhood but also the police detective working the murder of the Texan.

But the story’s main pleasure is its sense of place and the locals that are old friends of Royle. There’s Tom, Royle’s landlord, former greenskeeper at St. Andrews and who now runs his own private museum on the history of golf there. There’s George, a pub owner at the center of a lot of the town’s news and business, legal and otherwise. There’s Willie and Davy, two old timers who are Royle’s surrogate uncles. There’s Davy, an old friend of Royle’s looking to make his break as a reporter. Continue reading “The Road Hole Bunker Mystery”

Sherlock Holmes: The Dreaming Man

Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Dreaming Man, William Meikle, 2017.

sherlock holmes the dreaming man
Cover by Wayne Miller

I don’t seek out Sherlock Holmes pastiches, but, every few years, I end up reading one. The occasion to read this was because one of Meikle’s Seton clan plays a very important part in it. (No, I have not sat down and constructed a family tree or made notes about the relationships between all the Seton characters I’ve come across.)

I’m glad I did. It pulled me through quickly to the end and did some interesting things with key elements of the Holmes’ stories.

Does Meikle imitate Arthur Conan Doyle well? Since it’s been many decades since I’ve actually read the Holmes stories, the version of them lodged in my head comes from repeated watchings of Jeremy Brett and David Burke as Holmes and Watson in the 1980s Granada Television adaptations. Meikle didn’t clash with my memories of the characters at all.

However, this being Meikle, this is an outré, a weird Holmes story, so if you don’t like the rationality of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories being violated with the seemingly supernatural, this isn’t for you. For that matter, Holmes and Watson, at story’s end, aren’t very keen on what they’ve seen either. Continue reading “Sherlock Holmes: The Dreaming Man”

Augustus Seton Collected Chronicles

Review: Augustus Seton Collected Chronicles, William Meikle, 2015.augustus seton collected chronicles

I didn’t have high hopes for this one given the rather bad cover art and that it’s not even listed as a book on the author’s website.

Still, it is Meikle fiction set in Scotland, and it does have one of the Seton clan who show up in so many Meikle stories.

I was actually pleasantly surprised.

I’m not going to cover every story in detail. One reason is that, like Joel Jenkins’ Lone Crow series, that would give a sense of repetition you don’t feel when reading it. The second reason is that I also don’t want to spoil any surprises. We’ll get to the third reason.

There are vampires, werewolves, water gods, warlocks, the Reaper, beasts in the mountains and more here. In essence, these are sword-and-sorcery stories set in late 16th century Scotland. Continue reading “Augustus Seton Collected Chronicles”

“The Goddess of Death”

This week’s weird fiction selection – kind of.

Review: “The Goddess of Death”, William Hope Hodgson, 1904.godess of death

This story strikes me as a bridge between gothic horror and Hodgson’s later weird fiction. But that’s just a hunch not being an expert in gothic horror or Hodgson and not having read that much of either.

The supernatural element is rationalized, explained away like something out of a Ann Radcliffe novel. There is a great deal of physicality which I associate with Hodgson. His narrator spends a great deal of time outdoors and running about.

That narrator, Herton, arrives in a small English village that’s in tumult because a dozen people have been killed there. Some claim a walking marble statue is doing the killing. Continue reading ““The Goddess of Death””

The House on the Moor

Review: The House on the Moor, William Meikle, 2015.

Cover by M. Wayne Miller

The subtitle says “A Haunted House Book”. True enough, but this very enjoyable story has elements I don’t associate with haunted house stories: sweetness, sorrow, loneliness, friendship, and love.

John Fraser is a writer eager to make his mark, and he thinks he has the project to do it: a biography of his famous grandfather, Hugh Fraser. So he drags his wife Carole to a manor house isolated on the Scottish moors for a long weekend interviewing the man who knew his grandfather best, David Blacklaw.

In their heyday, in the 1950s and 1960s, Fraser and Blacklaw were worldwide celebrities, travelers, explorers, and champion wenchers. That all ended with Fraser’s death in 1968.

From the beginning of the story, Carole and John are rubbing each other wrong. Carole senses something in her bedroom. There are noises in the house’s library. Some strange man is walking about the foggy moor. A servant has his own story to tell. The enfeebled Blacklaw can’t or won’t reveal all he knows about Fraser’s life. The details of Hugh Fraser’s death don’t at all match the public records. And unknown records exist of that death. Continue reading “The House on the Moor”