Ginger Nuts of Horror
"those who still enjoy the Mythos-inspired stories of Frank Belknap Long, Brian Lumley, or even August Derleth, The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument offers the literary equivalent of comfort food"
In genre fiction circles, the name H.P. Lovecraft has long been revered. These days, the most noteworthy of the many, many writers who invoke that name tend to take influence from the man’s more “literary” qualities. They craft subtle, atmospheric, often quite poetic tales of philosophical horror with cosmic implications and an emphasis on suggestion over explication. It’s worth remembering, though, that Lovecraft’s legacy is equally rooted in the realm of pulp fiction.
Indeed, what originally attracted both readers and writers to Lovecraft’s output was not so much his style or worldview (as largely seems the case today), but rather the open-source mythology he created as a background for his tales. From pantheons of alien gods to whole bookshelves stuffed with arcane grimoires, Lovecraft’s sandbox has always been flush with toys practically begging storytellers to jump in and play with them.
No one had to beg Brett J. Talley, it seems. His latest collection, The Fiddle is the Devils Instrument and Other Forbidden Knowledge, is classic Lovecraftian fiction in full-on no-frills pulp mode: Straightforward horror yarns about unsuspecting mortals stumbling into conflict with ancient, apocalyptic entities. And sometimes they even survive!
Over the course of 13 tales, Talley injects Cthulhu Mythos tropes into a wide range of well-realized historical settings, often finding ways to make Lovecraftian narratives reflect the grimmer aspects of the spirits of each age.
In the rugged days of the North American fur trade, paranoia consumes a party of trappers when one among them becomes possessed by a wendigo-esque Old One. Nineteenth century voodoo queen Marie Laveau leads a swamp-dwelling cult on a campaign of bloody sacrifice in service of Nyarlathotep. In the trenches of “No Man’s Land” during the Battle of Verdun, a creature that feeds on death is roused from its centuries-long slumber, and it is hungry.
A WWII soldier searching for meaning after enduring the horrors of combat attends a gathering of spiritualists who, upon broaching the veil between worlds, are confronted not by the ghosts of their loved ones but rather something far less comforting. At the close of the Cold War, the CIA interrogates a KGB operative about just what surprises are hiding in a secret Soviet facility, and why even the Reds themselves have fled the place. In the present day, a massacre at the Large Hadron Collider raises questions about what experiments the scientists there might actually be performing, and what they might unleash.
Despite the dark and sometimes lurid subject matter, there is a lightness to Talley’s fiction, an “everyone gather ‘round the campfire” ghost-story warmth that admittedly undercuts the terror every now and then, even flirting with outright absurdity on occasion (one memorable story features a rodeo clown using the tricks of his trade to escape the wrath of Tsathoggua!). Nevertheless, it is this lightness that makes Talley’s tales so eminently readable, so easy to enjoy.
Talley isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel; weird fiction readers in search of material with a more self-aware, deconstructionist, or genre-bending flavor are better off looking elsewhere. But for those who still enjoy the Mythos-inspired stories of Frank Belknap Long, Brian Lumley, or even August Derleth, The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument offers the literary equivalent of comfort food: Good, solid Lovecraftian pulp that’s light on all that purple-prose philosophizing and heavy on macabre monster action.
From Brett J. Talley, the master of Lovecraftian terror, comes thirteen tales of the dark forces that lurk just beyond man’s understanding.
A scientist who opens a door between dimensions. A creature that devours the dead in World War I’s no man’s land. A fiddler who can bring forth the gods of old. These are but a few of the horrors retold in The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument and Other Forbidden Knowledge.
Read them if you must but do not forget: there are some things mankind was never meant to know.