Carnacki: The Watcher at the Gate and Other Stories

Low Res Scan: Carnacki: The Watcher at the Gate and Other Stories, William Meikle, 2016.

Watcher at the Gate
Cover by M. Wayne Miller

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I like Meikle’s Carnacki better than William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki.

There are two reasons for that.

First, Meikle will often work in odd bits of history or folklore into his stories, and Hodgson didn’t do that. (Of course, Hodgson presented his stories as contemporary. Their setting is now over a 100 years old.)

Second, Meikle’s Carnacki doesn’t go on at length about his photographic methods or how he checks a dwelling out. His Carnacki will simply say something like, “You all know my methods by now.”

Meikle’s Carnacki stories are presented roughly in chronological order. This is, currently, the second of Meikle’s Carnacki anthologies. Don’t worry, though, you won’t be lost if you jump around in the publication order of them.

The Banshee” does allude to some of the menaces Carnacki has faced in the past and how be vanquished them. Here an old friend in Scotland has heard the banshee’s cry which means, according to family lore, he will die if he hears it seven times. So, naturally,  Carnacki sets out to help him. Unusually, Carnacki tells most of the story to his friend – and series regular – Dodgson by letter.

Treason and Plot” is a good example of what I mean about Meikle using history and legend in his stories. Here we are given a secret history, the real reason fires are lit around London on Guy Fawkes Day. Carnacki is called to investigate the death of a civil servant by a certain famous Home Secretary. It won’t be the last time that Carnacki’s aid to the Crown will end with an oath of secrecy.

I liked the meeting of two of Hodgson’s series characters Carnacki and Captain Gault in “Captain Gault’s Nemesis”. (Though, for some reason, I never imagined the clever Captain was bearded.) Gault, as usual involved in smuggling, wants the occult detective’s help in unloading a dangerous cargo on the London docks. As soon as Carnacki sets foot on Gault’s ship, he wishes he hadn’t. (The story bears some resemblance to Meikle’s fine historical fantasy “Inquisitor”.)

Sometimes you just need a good creepy doll story and that’s what you get with “The China Dolls”. It starts out with Carnacki investigating the claim of a haunted room and ends with one of the more memorable scenes involving his electric pentacle.

Meikle works up a nice variation on the English Christmas ghost story with “A Cold Christmas in Chelsea”. It starts out with a haunted ring and ends with a very cold Carnacki.

Carnacki finds out, on the banks of the Thames, that “not all entities from the great beyond” are the same in “The Black Swan”.

Mr. Churchill’s Dilemma” has Carnacki again crossing with that member of the establishment. Churchill wants Carnacki to track down the source of the Hex marks appearing on various London buildings. He thinks they are some sort of covert German action preparing for a future war. Carnacki finds Churchill a man of surprising ruthlessness and brutality.

To be honest, I’m not sure, at least after one reading, what happened in “Bedlam in Yellow”. It brings a bit of Carcosa to London when Carnacki investigates a haunted floor in Bedlam.

Churchill is again involved in odd doings in “The Watcher at the Gate”. This story is sort of a combination of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”, with its altered trees and plants and humans, and Meikle’s Sigils and Totems series. One of Churchill’s secret military projects, to open a dimensional doorway – goes wrong.

It’s the third team up of Carnacki and Captain Gault in “The Gray Boats”, and I liked it a lot. Gault is trying to salvage a couple of British Navy vessels recently wrecked off Cornwall. Gault boarded them, found them in good shape and seemingly deserted very quickly. He also found the fog around the ships sang and breathed and burned. Meikle’s Captain Gault seems a more normal person in Meikle’s stories than Hodgson’s. We get a third person narration of him and see him nervous and drunk which we never do in Hodgson’s portrayal of the character.

In many of the stories in this anthology and its predecessor Carnacki: Heaven and Hell, we hear that Carnacki has been investigating, for a long time, the Chislehurst cavern. We finally hear why in “The Chislehurst Cavern”. Carnacki heard a story from a young man who went into the caverns with a bunch of friends, and they all ended up frightened by the howls and shrieks and wind in response to an old Latin Christmas carol.

The anthology also has “The Blue Egg” which I’ve reviewed before.

I read this one in a kindle edition, but do yourself a favor and buy the trade paperback for the color illustrations by M. Wayne Miller.

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