Ginger Nuts of Horror
There are places in this world which are also places in other worlds. Think of them as doorways, or as bridges connecting our reality to an infinitude of possibilities. These are not bridges anyone can cross; you have to pay a toll. Still, for some of us, it’s not really a choice. Some of us need to cross them, some of us are inescapably drawn there, some of us can’t find answers anywhere else.
Police officers John Green and Janis Lodge are like that, even if they don’t realize it. They think they’ve come to the old, fog-shrouded house in Canada to investigate a drug-fueled hippie massacre, but they’ll soon find themselves separated and lost in a labyrinth of alternate universes where their own deep-seated traumas find form and substance.
That’s the story of Songs of Dreaming Gods, the 26th novel to date (at last count, at least) from prolific weird fiction scribe and noted Carnacki acolyte William Meikle. Part of a loose ongoing series exploring Meikle’s “Sigil and Totems” mythos, Songs of Dreaming Gods is a pulpy, fast-paced read rooted not only in concepts taken from fringe occultism and quantum mechanics, but also in the emotional and psychological underpinnings of its own character’s identities.
Meikle’s characters drive the plot. They also dictate its structure. Chapters alternate between John and Janis’ individual points of views, each chapter focusing on the unique experiences of one or the other. An upside to this structure is that it gives the book a kind of dramatic, even cinematic, serialized feel; Meikle builds up the tension in every chapter, then ends each one with a little stinger that make you want to know what happens next, only to keep you waiting as the subsequent chapter transports you to a different character entirely, wherein the suspenseful cycle starts anew. The end result is a driving rhythm that plays out almost like, well, a song.
A downside to this structure, however, is that it can lead to things getting repetitive at times, especially early on when Meikle’s officers first enter the house. Though their introductions to the building’s paranormal nature occur separately and are thus told in separate chapters, their initial experiences (self-closing doors, strange noises, unexplainable changes to the environment) are similar enough that it soon feels redundant. At first, Meikle shows us the same rooms, features, and peculiarities in more or less the same way; it’s not just that he’s reiterating information, it’s that he’s doing it so soon after he already told it the first time.
Thankfully, once the baseline of his characters’ mutual experiences is established, Meikle allows John and Janis to go off in very different directions. The former plunges himself deeper and deeper down into the bowels of a bottomless tower, all the while pursued by hideous rat-like creatures eerily reminiscent of doodles he once scrawled as a child. The latter finds herself trapped in darkened maze where every turn seems to lead back to the same bedroom, one filled with glassy-eyed dolls who watch her every move, as if waiting for her to turn her back so they can sneak off to terrorize her from the shadows.
Meanwhile, back in the “real” world, novice officer Todd Wiggins is following up on clues as to just what happened to turn the house into a blood-drenched crime scene in the first place. Though they lack the supernatural surrealism which makes John and Janis’ chapters so enjoyable, Todd’s investigations are valuable in providing crucial backstory, as well as in sustaining that “hardboiled pulp detective story” charisma which Meikle cultivated so successfully in the opening chapters. Hell, sometimes Todd’s more grounded experiences (and relatable motivations) actually prove more engaging than the uncanny goings-on in the house, even with as weird and wild as they become.
As previously mentioned, though, Meikle does get repetitive at times, even independent of the aforementioned issues inherent in novel’s structure (the titular song’s lyrics, for example, are quoted so frequently that they’re basically beaten into the dirt). Likewise, some of his imagery simply doesn’t resonate the way it seems to want to (sorry, but self-flushing toilets don’t rank high on the ol’ creep-o-meter), and it can be difficult to tell how many of the intermittent flashes of seemingly sly humor are intentional. Finally, while both Meikle’s stripped-down prose and his well-developed but decidedly streamlined characterizations are key to making Songs of Dreaming Gods such a speedy, no-nonsense, story-first read, for some the style may be too spare.
If that doesn’t sound like an unacceptable toll to pay, then Songs of Dreaming Gods is certainly a bridge worth crossing. The world that waits on the other side is interesting, imaginative, and, above all, entertaining.
Something tells me that, even with over 20 novels under his belt, Meikle’s not even close to finished.
A mysterious house sits on a corner block on a hill in St. John's, Newfoundland, in one of the oldest cities in North America, a non-descript, three-story wooden cube, going slowly to seed. When local cops, John Green, Janis Lodge and Todd Wiggins are sent to investigate a multiple murder on the top floor of the property, they start opening doors and uncovering secrets. But like peeling the layers off an onion, each door opened only leads them deeper into the mystery. There are houses like this all over the world, and those who suffer are drawn to them, as John, Janis and Todd have been drawn. They have found their way in. Can they find their way out again? And at what cost?