Reviewed by David Brzeski
For those few not in the know, this is a collection of pastiches about the Edwardian supernatural detective, Carnacki, created by author, William Hope Hodgson.
There were six original Carnacki stories, published between 1910 & 1912, plus three others which were published posthumously, along with the original six) in The ‘Carnacki The Ghost Finder’ collection for Arkham House’s Mycroft & Moran imprint in 1948.
William Meikle does a stand up job here, of capturing the tone of the original stories. He falls naturally into the more formal language of the period, without making it any less easy to read.
In these stories, Carnacki faces, amongst others – a haunted Zulu blade; a military testing ground, built on something ancient & evil; a Scottish castle, with a terrible secret; a cursed cruise ship; a malevolent oak tree & an old mirror that could bring more than just seven years bad luck.
My personal favourite of the short stories herein is ‘The Larkhill Barrow’, in which Meikle very cleverly manages to reinforce the fact that Hodgson was a major influence on H.P. Lovecraft by presenting a tale which feels very much like a classic Cthulhu Mythos story without using any references that weren’t taken directly from Hodgson. A lesser writer might have shoe-horned in a reference to The Necronomicon, or some other Lovecraftian tome somewhere.
For me, the star of the collection is the new novella, ‘The Dark Island’, which uses concepts from Hodgson’s major works, ‘The House On The Borderland’ & ‘The Night Land’. I’d always wanted to read Carnacki tales in a longer form & this fits the bill nicely. I’d really love to see more.
Readers who come cold to this collection, having never read Hodgson, might find there’s a certain repetitiveness (especially in the descriptions of how Carnacki prepares his mystical defences) which might grate a little, but this is very much in keeping with Hodgson’s stories, which were originally published individually in magazines & therefore it couldn’t be assumed that the reader was already familiar with these details. While most of the stories in this collection were originally published together in the kindle* version of the book, Meikle has assumed most readers will â€œgetâ€ this stylistic nod to the originals. In fact, a few of the stories in this collection did first appear separately in limited edition chapbooks.
*Eight of the short stories in this collection were previously collected in the kindle ebook of the same name, which is still available for download from Amazon & Smashwords. Not to worry though, if you already purchased the kindle version, as the two stories (one short & one novella) original to this collection, will be published as a second kindle ebook later in the year. Sadly, you won’t get to see the six really lovely B&W interior illustrations by Wayne Miller, unless you invest in a hard copy.