Captain Gault

Looking over the descriptions of William Meikle’s Carnacki pastiches, I see he also uses another character from William Hope Hodgson: Captain Gault.

Review: Captain Gault, Being the Exceedingly Private Log of a Sea-Captain, William Hodgson, The Complete Works of William Hope Hodgson, 2015 and The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” and Other Nautical Adventures, ed. Jeremy Lassen, 2003.

There’s not a whiff of the supernatural or weird about the Captain Gault stories.

Hodgson scholar Sam Gafford suggests the arc of Hodgson’s literary career went from highly original works and then to more commercial products that were popular in the magazines of the time. That included the Captain Gault series.

I’m not sure when they were all written but most were published in London Magazine between 1914 to 1916 and collected into the book Captain Gault, Being the Exceedingly Private Log of a Sea-Captain which was published in 1917 and that is included in The Complete Works of William Hodgson from Delphi Classics. Copyright issues, because of their latter publication, meant two tales in the series were omitted. Lassen’s anthology collects them all.

Gault is a smuggler, and these are crime stories.

Jewel smuggling is Gault’s specialty, and the customs officials of American and the United Kingdom are on to him, and many of the stories feature his evasion of them whether it’s undercover agents trying to entrap him or ferret out his hiding places. But Gault always gets his contraband through, and the stories usually end with the Captain telling the officials, either through a note or a conversation about how a hypothetical “friend” of his would have done it, how he accomplished that. Since he never repeats a scheme, he’s putting himself in no danger. Sometimes, he even sues the government for false accusations or destroying his property during searches.

Jewels aren’t the only contraband. There’s gun smuggling and cigar smuggling and saccharine smuggling too. There’s human smuggling too, once to get a man sought by a Chinese secret society in “The Case of the Chinese Curio Dealer” and once picking a German spy up off the coast of France in “The German Spy”.

The two latest tales, “Trading with the Enemy” and “The Plans of the Reefing Bi-Plane”, are set during World War One. The first has Gault blackmailed into providing fuel for German U-boats. The second involves German agents trying to stop the delivery of plans for a revolutionary plane from being sent from America to England. It has the most action with the Captain blasting away with Colts in his pocket (presumably revolvers and not semi-automatics) against a gang of German agents who have booked passage on his ship.

Gault is a man of honor. He always makes sure the owner of whatever ship he’s commanding doesn’t end up suffering for his schemes. He always delivers the goods at the stated price. He’ll provide a cut for trustworthy crewmen who aide him. He’s also frequently disappointed, but never surprised, at human cupidity and treachery. His notes of explanation are often condemnatory towards officials who won’t stayed bribe and, on two occasions, women he encounters. The latter includes a woman who tried to smuggle jewels on her own after deciding not to pay his fee, a percentage of the tax she’s evading. On another occasion, he falls in love, briefly, with a woman who turns out to be an undercover agent for the U.S. Treasury.

Besides supplementing his pay with smuggling, Gault seems a man of many interests. Besides a knowledge of jewels, he’s a member of some unnamed secret society and seems to have some knowledge of the occult and is an amateur painter of some skill. But we only see these things in passing or only their relevance to the caper at hand, capers accomplished through misdirection, sleight of hand, theatrical cons, or clever technical means. His motto is “Never use two heads to keep a secret.”

Gault seems to be British though he says he’s American in one story. Even while smuggling spies and running fuel to German U-boats, he finds a way to fulfill his commission yet not endanger England.

All in all, the Gault stories are entertaining trifles with Hodgson, by this point in his career, very comfortable and accomplished at creating puzzles and solving them more successfully than in his first tale, “The Goddess of Death” or some of his non-supernatural Carnacki tales. (The Carnacki tale “The Find” exhibits the sort of misdirection that shows up in many of these stories.) And, of course, Hodgson’s days at seas help lend an air of easy verisimilitude to the whole thing even when dealing with stereotypes like Scottish ship’s engineers and rowdy Irish sailors.

 

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The Casebook of Carnacki — the Ghost-Finder

Before reading any more of William Meikle’s Carnacki pastiches, I decided I should actually read the original Carnacki tales by William Hope Hodgson since, before this book, the only one I’d read was “The Hog”.

Review: The Casebook of Carnacki – the Ghost-Finder, ed. David Stuart Davies, 2006.th0CG7RAKT

It’s easy to mock the Carnacki tales.

They are not the first occult detective series. Hodgson seems to have created the character to cash in on the potential of a series character. The large number of magazines in 1910, when the first story was published, meant, unlike today, short fiction was usually better paying than writing novels. Carnacki was inspired by the success of Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence stories, another occult detective series.

Carnacki’s tools seem somewhat ludicrous, even for the time. There’s a heavy patina of pseudoscience what with the occult significance of various colors and Carnacki’s famous Electric Pentacle, essentially a string of colored lights for magical defense.

The otherworldy is often signified by strings of repeated vowels: Carnacki’s go-to reference the Sigsand Manuscript and its Saaamaaa Ritual, the Incantation of Raaaeee, and the Aeiirii “forms of materialization”.

Yet the stories work. Continue reading “The Casebook of Carnacki — the Ghost-Finder”

The Auld Mither

I read this one a while ago but didn’t review it because its Smashwords edition was pulled by Meikle.

However, it will be re-released by Unneveritheauldmitherng on February 20, 2019.

Review: The Auld Mither, William Meikle, 2017.

Let’s get some things out of the way right away.

Meikle’s S Squad isn’t going to show up and save anybody from the bloodbath in this novella. None of the Seton clan swoops in to explain what’s going on. There’s not a Meikle’s Sigils and Totems house where the dead can be seen again.

This is a compelling horror story of the old school blending folklore, family drama, and a police procedural.

The story opens with George Duncan making a desperate pitch at a board meeting, trying to make the “country hicks” of “this small town on the edge of the Highlands” realize that the future of their community lies in modernizing his slaughterhouse that processes deer from a farm. Things get heated with George swearing at the board to shock them out of their complacency.

Then things get really bad when someone shows up and kills everybody at the meeting, dismembering their bodies into butcher cuts. There’s a grim bit of humor at the end of the scene with blood running down a screen showing a slide saying “ABBATOIR: PROPOSED ENLARGEMENT”. Continue reading “The Auld Mither”

Operation Syria

And, with this one, I’m now current with the adventures of William Meikle’s S Squad.

Review: Operation Syria, William Meikle, 2019.operationsyria

Rebels have grabbed some archaeologists working in Syria. Others managed to wall themselves up in a room after radioing for help.

The S Squad arrives, now up to full strength after replacing some members killed in previous adventures, to bring them home.

But it’s not rebels that are the problem. It’s spiders, lots of spiders, some very big spiders that are the danger. They behave a bit like pack animals and tap out signals to start swarm attacks. And, of course, there are webs, lots of spiderwebs big enough to hold men.

Not every squad member is going to be going home, and one of the archaeologist heroically helps the squad complete their mission.

What I liked best was Meikle’s use of the historic past of Dura-Europos, where the story takes place, and the real archaeological finds from there.

I also appreciated that, finally, the S Squad gets to use something besides just rifles and pistols against a monster.

If you’ve liked the series so far, this one won’t disappoint.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Operation: Loch Ness

Review: Operation: Loch Ness, William Meikle, 2018.operationlochness

Meikle continues to wring a surprisingly amount of variety from the simple concept of a Scottish Special Forces squad encountering weirdness on their military mission.

This time operations are in the Scottish Highlands around Loch Ness. The S-Squad, because they’re close and are the nearest things to experts on the weird their CO has, is sent to investigate a massive killing and mutilation of animals at a local zoo.

It appears some kind of large animal is loose and has possibly taken a child off. The next thing you know, the squad is on another monster hunt.

The pacing is slower on this adventure; there’s a lot of walking the Highlands. (Which is fine, descriptions of Scotland is one reason I read the book.) The monster reveal takes longer.

Don’t worry, once things get going, the bodies will pile up.

But this installment of the series has its own special charms and ties into other Meikle works. I’ll just mention three names: Alexander Seton, Boleskine House, and Aleister Crowley.

And I liked the way Meikle treats the conflict between preserving Nessie and it becoming a lethal menace. Meikle’s interest in cryptozoology and studies in biology lends a nice of credibility to the whole thing.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Operation: Amazon

Since I read, Operation: Siberia, I decided I might as well catch up on the rest of the S-Squad books.

This is, incidentally, the first posting of this blog’s fifth year.

Thanks for everyone continuing to stop by and the new comers.

The strange name will remain for the fifth year. So will the erratic choices for reviews.

What will probably change is fewer reviews of what I’ve read. For instance, you will probably not be getting a review of the book of Epictetus’ philosophy I’m reading since I have no reason to believe, based on past experience, anyone would care what I have to say on it.

The blog’s focus, such as it is, will probably tighten a bit. I may not even review every science fiction book I read though, especially by modern authors well covered elsewhere.

The review format, with its need to avoid spoilers, is a bit confining, so I’ll probably do more essays on future books, especially when covering certain authors.

With the time freed up, I hope to actually read more of other people’s blogs and pursue some other writing projects besides the blog.

Review: Operation: Amazon, William Meikle, 2018.operationamazon

No adventures in the cold here. The Squad is sent to the Amazon to find out what’s happened to the son of an English nobleman. Said son, Buller, disappeared from a gold dredging operation on the Amazon.

But then his phone is found, floating in a plastic bag. Is that really some kind of giant snake in a video on the phone? A local guide, Giraldo, thinks so.

So the Squad goes to look for Buller with Giraldo and Buller’s friend Wilkes. The trail ends at a stone temple on the river. There they are captured by the hidden tribe of Boitata, associated with strange stories about people turning into serpents.

This is the first time in the series that outright magic is unapologetically put in the story. Operation Antarctica’s strange menace was rationalized as a sort of science.

It’s also the installment with, beyond a doubt, the most unlikeable civilian ever met by the Squad: Buller. Continue reading “Operation: Amazon”

Operation: Siberia

I hadn’t planned on returning to the S-Squad series quite yet, but I’m waiting to get my hands on William Hope Hodgson’s Captain Gault series before reading any more Carnacki pastiches by Meikle.

And, since the thermometer was significantly below zero, it was time to read something set in a chilly place. Surprisingly, I seemed to not have any unread books like that in the library except for Dan Simmons’ The Abominable which, since I have the doorstopper hardcover edition and was going to be traveling, was not an option.

So, I started the S-Squad series again. However, the story ended up being set in Siberian summer.

Review: Operation: Siberia, William Meikle, 2018.Operation Siberia

It’s not a spy mission but an escort mission that brings the S-Squad to Siberia. Three scientists have been sent by the UN to see if Russian oligarch Volkov has complied with all international conventions in creating what’s basically a Pleistocene Park.

He probably hasn’t, but he certainly has brought back a lot of megafauna: mammoths, dire wolves, big lions, big birds, and some kind of hominid.

Volkov’s has been as lax about his security as his legal compliance, and, the next thing you know, the animals have escaped from their glass dome cages and start killing people.

The strengths of the novel is Meikle’s obvious love for his megafauna. Even at the end, we sense their grandeur or beauty as opposed to the ugly menaces of the proceeding installments in the series, Infestation and Operation Antarctica. Continue reading “Operation: Siberia”