Review: Eldren – The Book of the Dark, William Meikle, 2007, 2017.
This is a pretty good story with a horrible title that sounds like a tie-in to a media property. The book’s cover does little to dispel that notion either.
There is The Book of the Dark, and it is an integral part of the story, a bizarre vampire bible which echoes Genesis and the story of Christ in parts. Vampires, you see, were made by God before man. They sinned against God, but some still hope to be eventually redeemed.
But Meikle doesn’t dive into this mythology straightaway.
We start with Jim Kerr, just a man taking a vacation with his pregnant wife on the shore of Jura in Scotland. Too bad that strange mound near the vacation house has a vampire in it, a vampire that gets lose and kills his wife and their unborn child.
When we next hear of Kerr years later, in the main part of the story, it’s just in the background, just in news stories mentioning an escaped psycho killer.
And we move to our main setting, a working class town in the west of Scotland. But there’s less work than their used to be, and some men, like the fathers of Tony and Billy, drink too much or are too free with their fists.
But, on a hot summer day, tired of being taunted by his friend Billy, the two make their way into the local scary house – curiously intact, even vandals avoiding it – where Tony is going to prove that there is a secret group of Morlocks nearby just like his grandfather said. And they do find secrets in the basement of that house – the remnants of an old Department of Navy installation from World War Two. But, beyond the door, they don’t find Morlocks. They find a vampire. Tony gets out of the house. Billy doesn’t.
Biology teacher Brian Baille first gets hints of a growing menace when he hears a story from his friend Tom Duncan, who has been falling into the bottle more and more after the death of his wife. Tom heard his wife on a lonely country road, though. Worried about his friend, Brian begins to ask around about the local folklore involving the old house, and Bill Reid, a minister decidedly hostile to the existence of the occult, suggests he talk to some old locals if he really
But things really pick up when a classmate of Billy’s dies during a magic trick he attempts. Something is loose in the town.
At the half-way point, a couple of vampire killers show up, both with different agendas.
Meikle does several things well here. The most original is the idea of The Book of the Dead though, for much of the book, you’re not exactly sure what its significance is.
I don’t normally like books with children as protagonist – didn’t even like them when I was a kid, but Tony comes off realistically for his age. I also don’t care for romance-on-the-run plots, but Brian’s growing closeness to Margaret Brodie, a fetching gym teacher with auburn hair, isn’t one of those since they already know each other before vampires come to town.
Meikle is, as he says, old-school when it comes to vampires. They are not chic. They don’t really have much to offer. Immortality comes with killing the innocent and serving others. Meikle has several scenes where his vampires try to mentally seduce their victims, render them passive for feeding, with visions of loved ones and being reunited with them.
On a technical level, Meikle skillfully shows the actions from multiple viewpoints.
The ending is quite satisfying, again showing the importance of theme of duty and loyalty in his stories. It does lend itself to a sequel, but, as far as I know, none was done or is contemplated.
Additional Observations with Spoilers
About midway through, a couple of new characters come on stage. The vampire infestation of the town would seem to be the sort of thing Meikle’s S-Squad might be called in to take care off.
Those new characters are Donald Allan, a vampire of the faction trying to lead an ethical life that doesn’t involve feeding off people. The other is Jim Kerr. We find out that he’s not really a psycho killer, just a man determined to take revenge on vampires for the death of his family. He doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for humans who don’t fight the mental seductions of the vampires. And he also doesn’t believe that vampires like Allan deserve to live either.
Most of the second half of the novel takes place in one 24 hour period with the vampire outbreak in the town causing so much chaos that the SAS shows up. It seems that the government knows a lot more about vampires than it lets on.
Perhaps Meikle’s S-Squad will be called out someday to take care of another outbreak.