Should everything that goes bump in the night be investigated? It’s much easier to ask this question in the middle of the afternoon than when you hear something bizarre in the inky darkness and know dawn is many hours away.
“The Yule Log” opens with John selecting the perfect log to burn in his fireplace. This isn’t any ordinary kindling, though, and I was mesmerized by what he decides to carve into it first and why he chose that particular motif. It was also interesting to see how John’s emotional state is communicated to the reader in a piece that includes almost no dialogue. This is a good Christmas story for readers who ordinarily find that genre too sentimental.
In “Inquisitor,” Father Fernando has been given the responsibility of interrogating a strange creature that has just sailed in from the New World. He steps into this role with only a handful of diary entries from the last man who encountered the creature to guide him. The concept is well thought out, but I would have liked to see more time spent on the climax of Father Fernando’s investigation. Certain aspects of the plot would have been much more frightening had they been given more time to develop before the end. There were several other tales in this book that followed a similar pattern. Each one starts off with an intriguing question or scenario, but much more time is spent hinting at what is actually going on than wrapping up the plot threads.
By far my favourite story in this collection is “The Haunting of Esther Cox.” Upon first glance Esther is no different than any other young woman living in a rural community in the late 1880s. She has an impeccable reputation and is surrounded by adoring family members. Yet she’s also carrying a terrible secret that threatens to destroy everything good in her life. Each diary entry provides another clue about what is really happening. In this case that particular writing style works extremely well because of how slowly certain facts wiggle to the surface of her mind. The descriptions of the strict social mores of her culture add an extra layer of horror to this tale, and the creative ways in which Esther responds to everything her community expects of someone her age and gender makes this a must-read.
This was my first introduction to Mr. Meikle’s work. If it is any indication of his writing style, I can’t wait to read more from him. He has a highly imaginative mind whose tendency to find the dark twist in even the most mundane circumstances is well-suited for both the horror and science fiction genres.
Samurai and Other Stories is a truly original collection of horror tales that are especially appropriate for longterm fans of this genre. It is as unique as it is deeply creepy, and I look forward to starting the whole thing over from the beginning.
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