Review: Dark Melodies, William Meikle, 2012.
Dance and music and chants show up in a lot of Meikle’s stories, and he’s built an entertaining collection around the theme. There’s a Derek Adams story here, a bit of the Cthulhu Mythos and a bit of the Meikle mythos, some coal mining, and some folk singing.
Six of the eight stories are original. One of the reprints, “The Tenants of Ladywell Manor”, is a highlight of the book, but I reviewed that in Meikle’s Home from the Sea. The other reprint is “The Unfinished Basement” which, as a title alone, is enough to send chills down the spine of some of us homeowners. Dave Collins, house flipper, buys a house unseen with an unfinished basement and a piano. The piano is nice, nice enough that Thorpe, a re-seller of pianos, starts playing it on first sight. The basement is not so nice what with its stinking pool of water and plant roots hanging off the ceiling. Thorpe ultimately sees a connection between basement and piano and tells Collins he’s not going to being making his money back on this deal. It ends memorably.
There is a nested story in “The Unfinished Basement” that is quite similar to one in Meikle’s “The Larkhill Barrow” and another story in the collection, the Derek Adams story “Rhythm and Booze” which I’ve already reviewed. I’ll just repeat that it’s a satisfying Adams story.
Of the original stories, “The Death of Sergeant George” and “The Chamber of Tiamat” were my favorites.
The first is one of my favorite type of Meikle stories, the weird folk song. Here it’s “The Death of Sergeant MacLeod” (with credible sounding Meikle lyrics — as far as I can tell this is not a real song). Our hero John begins to notice that, when he sings the song at his caildh band’s performances, people disappear. In fact, sometimes the world seems to disappear. Eventually, haunted by the song and its strange effects, he stops performing and researches the song which takes him to the Orkneys and points more distant.
“The Chamber of Tiamat” is the classic archaeology-meets-ancient-horror type of story. Here Jake Simmons and his wife Fiona are working in the Mediterranean, hoping to make a big find and land a Discovery Channel show. He does the diving. She does the archaeology. Jake disturbs a chamber and, the next thing you know, you’ve got centaur-like human scorpions running about and wrecking a harbor.
Duty and honor are major themes in Meikle’s work, but another, though it shows up less often, is bereavement. “The Persistence of Memory” has a widow who starts to hear her dead husband play on his beloved piano. She thinks she can bring him back. But that piano had a history before her husband got it. Meikle ends this one on a satisfyingly ambiguous note.
There are a couple of historical horror stories.
“The Mill Dance” is interesting for its setting, sometime in ninth century Britain given Viking raids are mentioned, and its protagonist, a ten year boy. He works at his drunken and violent father’s mill. It’s a hard and unpleasant life. But then he starts hearing a tune in his head, a tune he can make things dance to. Soon, it’s not just his father who notices but the local clergy. I did find the end action sequence a bit unconvincing, but I still liked it.
I’m not really up on what kobolds are, but they are, of course, a major feature in “When the Kobolds Dance”. This one is set in a 19th century coal mining town in Ohio. The local sheriff, a former lawman on the frontier, has to deal with mysterious deaths in a mine. I liked not only the main story but also the underlying animosity between the Scots and Cornish miners and the surprise ending.
Despite some familiar tunes and motifs from Meikle, it’s a surprisingly varied and satisfying playlist.