Posted on August 3, 2012 by Billzilla
Carnacki: Heaven and Hell
By William Meikle
Dark Regions Press
I’m a fan of Carnacki. The somewhat stuffy British paranormal investigator, whose adventures were first cataloged more than a hundred years ago in Carnacki: The Ghost Finder by his creator, author William Hope Hodgson, have fascinated me since I was urged to read them by a good friend. I was curious, therefore, when I discovered that another author, Scotsman William Meikle, had taken up the mantle of telling some new Carnacki tales in Carnacki: Heaven and Hell. I tried to be objective going in, but my fondness for the character had me pretty excited to read some new adventures.
Meikle captures the voice of Hodgson’s occult detective very well. He never fails to include the characters of Jessop, Akrwright, Taylor and the narrator, Carnacki’s friends to whom he relates each of his adventures once he’s concluded them and returned to the safety of his Chelsea lodgings. I was by turns gratified and annoyed by the characterization of these four; Meikle gives them more depth of personality than Hodgson ever did, and at least one of them proves frequently to be an annoying fellow, which speaks highly of Mr. Meikle’s skill at writing believable characters. Also, the cover art and interior illustrations by Wayne Miller set the tone well and do justice to the material.
The first tale, “The Blooded Ikwla”, recounts the horror of Captain James McLeod, who is being haunted by a Zulu stabbing spear that wounds him night after night. Can Carnacki find out who – or what – is behind these attacks before the captain dies the death of a thousand cuts? A solid introduction to both the character and his methods.
The second tale, “The Larkhill Barrow”, was my first real indication that things were going in the right direction with this collection. In it, Carnacki is summoned by the commanding officer of a Royal Artillery firing range. It seems their explosions woke something up that should have been left undisturbed. I liked this story quite a bit. I felt a quibble or two rising with what I felt was slightly muddy occult lore, but it wasn’t distracting enough to change my enjoyment of the story.
The next three stories – “The Sisters of Mercy”, “The Hellfire Mirror’, and “The Tomb of Pygea” were excellent; tense, spooky, and with considerable doubt as to whether Carnacki could succeed in quelling the disturbances, all three were rich in supernatural lore and chilling details. These three alone made the whole book worthwhile for me.
The sixth, “The Beast of Glamis”, proves that a very solid grounding in history can be one of a detective’s most useful resources, and in fact this is an element of the original stories that I appreciated as well. It, and the following tale “The Lusitania”, were both very thoughtful tales, frightening at first, but giving way to both wonder and sadness towards the end. I think I might have arranged the book so that these two were not situated back-to-back in the collection.
Tale number eight, “The Haunted Oak”, was a chilling story, and like “The Lusitania” had no clear ending. The haunting may have stopped, but it’s difficult to say if the cause had truly been put to rest, or just forced to wait until conditions grew right again. I find I’m quite fond of this tale as well.
“The Shoreditch Worm” was not my favorite story in the book. There was definitely something supernatural and menacing going on, and the conclusion was satisfactory, but I had trouble reconciling the potential threat with the simple solution. I did feel rewarded however in that this tale was another showcase for some solid detective work on Carnacki’s part.
The final story, “The Dark Island”, is an involved story, broken into three parts for easier chewing. The author made strides here to weave together British Isles mythology more tightly with the existing Carnacki storylines, and for me it worked quite well. In fact the entire book involved Meikle weaving these elements together more closely than the original material – some in more subtle ways than others.
In the original stories, Carnacki The Ghost Finder is involved in a few adventures where the explanation is fairly mundane. I appreciated that aspect; by including the occasional ‘bat rattling around in a cupboard’ story, a bit more spice was added to those stories where a supernatural agent truly was at work. Hodgson was also able to pull this off proficiently enough that the “mundane” stories are no less tense and spine-chilling, so the whole didn’t suffer any in terms of frights and overall quality. If I would change one thing about Meikle’s collection, it would be that – adding a mundane story or two to the book to keep the reader from growing complacent.
This is an excellent collection, worthy of the attention of any reader with a fondness for ghost stories. Meikle does a fine job, both in creating fresh material for the supernatural sleuth, and also for delivering the voice and feel of the classic Carnacki tales. Available in hardcover (for a limited time) and in a trade paperback edition from Dark Regions Press, I urge you to seek out this book with all possible speed; I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.
Rating: Four out of Five stars
Review by Bill Bodden