[Please note that the author sent me a copy of this title in return for a fair and honest review]
If I ever do put together a list of my favourite authors, across all of the genres, then it’s absolutely certain that William Meikle will be at the very top. I’ve discussed in previous reviews how I admire his deeply impressive skill and imagination as a writer, as well as his ability to seamlessly write titles that cross multiple genres. However, I firmly believe that his best writing is always to be found in the Horror genre; and as a result I’m always eager to read anything in that field that Mr Meikle has published. As a result, when Mr Meikle kindly contacted me with an offer of an Advanced Review Copy of his latest Horror title – The Green and the Black – I eagerly took up the offer and started reading it as soon as possible. It’s once again published by Crossroad Press, who have released a number of titles by Mr Meikle, and the publisher has delivered a particularly strong piece of cover art for this release. It’s an incredibly eye-catching piece, looking like a cross between oil paints and chalk and charcoal smears, blended together on a canvas to create an image that is both deeply evocative of the themes within the title, and also genuinely unsettling; there’s a real sense of malice in the dark, blurry figure looming at the back of the picture, and the almost-haphazard way that the black and green are thrown together prefigure the way those colours will become so important in the work itself. I’m not certain who actually did the cover art, but they did a stellar job and I hope to see more of their work in future works from Crossroad Press.
Moving onto the title itself, the cover blurb gives an idea of what you’re going to find inside the book. It’s another one of the author’s specialities – a heady blend of cosmic and mythological horror, as a small group of academics and researchers attempt to investigate an abandoned and long-lost 19th Century mining complex, only to stumble into something that they don’t understand, and which will direly affect all of them. Mr Meikle’s works in the Horror genre are always slow-paced, intensely atmospheric and quietly horrifying, but I’ve found his absolute best to be stories such as this, where modern-day sensibilities and assumptions founder on the rocks of ancient and mystifying mythology. The research is always top-notch, and The Green and the Black is no exception – the author clearly knows the local folklore inside-out, creating a detailed and rich background for the horror that befalls the researchers.
There’s never any unnecessary preamble or plot-padding in Meikle’s works, and so here the story begins with the mining site being discovered by a dissaparate group of researchers from a local university – a curious professor, a stalwart assistant and a small group of students tagging along. There’s a nice blend of personalities in the small group, from the airy, almost detached attitude of the Professor, to his level-headed assistant Keith who makes sure everything runs smoothly, and even some division amongst the accompanying students – some are genuinely intrigued, others are just there for the course credit. The area where the mine is located is deep in the backwaters of Newfoundland, hours away from civilization or any help, and Meikle is quick to develop the atmosphere of the surrounding countryside. It’s cold, grim and desolate, entirely unwelcoming, and the underlying tensions between the members of the group are soon intensified by certain discoveries. For some reason the wooden structures erected by the miners are still nearly intact, despite being abandoned for over a century; and a battered tin, strangely easy to discover, contains the diary of the mine overseer which hints at the dark reasons for the complex being abandoned in a hurry.
From then on, the narrative splits in two, alternating between modern day events and excerpts from the diary; it’s a device that the author often makes use of, and it works well here, as the tension slowly but surely ramps up as it becomes clear that, in their desperation to find profit, the miners summoned an ancient and malevolent force dredged up from Irish folklore and legend. Something terrible, inhuman and irresistible haunts the mine and the mining complex, and as we move into the mine – both in the present and the past – the book becomes a slow, atmospheric piece of horror, perfectly evoking the terror of mining underground and dealing with both the fear of failure and ruin, and the ever-present potential for being buried alive. If you’re at all claustrophobic, make sure you’re not reading The Green and the Black in an enclosed area, because the claustrophobia that Meikle evokes gets incredibly intense at times.
A combination of frustration and susceptibility to mythological suggestion leads to disaster, as members of the research tea begin succumbing to whatever force is infesting the area, and strange wooden fetishes – almost like dolls – begin to crop up all around the area as they dig deeper into the mine and its former inhabitants. The dolls – which become more and more vital to the plot as it progresses – are incredibly chilling, particularly as the author is able to imbue them with a malicious and vindictive air, and at one point as I read the book, I nervously moved my son’s wooden figure from the room as it was a little too reminiscent of the ones in the book. Not only are there the wooden fetishes, but we also have a case of haunted – or at least possessed – alcohol, which is something of a first for me; but while it was quietly amusing at first, Mr Meikle actually makes the nature of alcohol, and the way it’s used by these otherworldly forces, an incredibly effective element of the plot, looking at the nature of addiction and how it can change people.
I’d expected, based on the cover art and blurb, for the story to be entirely based around the mining complex; but I was pleasantly surprised to find that, while the complex plays a key part in the story, it actually ranges around quite a bit, including back to modern ‘civilization’ where we see the effects that the occult presence has on other people linked to the research team. It also allows for some expansion on the backgrounds and motivations of some of the key characters, which I enjoyed; it’s always great to see characters fleshed out and made more than two-dimensional, and I particularly emphasised with Keith and his struggle to balance his work, vices and a blossoming relationship with the woman he slowly comes to realise that he loves deeply. It makes it all the more effective – and distressing – when bad things happen to Keith and his fellows, despite their best efforts.
The nature of the affliction affecting the researchers becomes more apparent as the story progresses, but I appreciated the fact that the author provided some scientific elements to it as well; it made it a little more grounded and believable as a result, and also introduced some delicious ambiguity as to whether the protagonists would be able to defeat it. It should also be highlighted that the titular Green and Black is particularly iconic; the two colours, and imagery and iconography associated with them, are deeply embedded in the DNA of the story, and may actually be one of Mr Meikle’s most effective and memorable creations across all of his works. The nature of the Green and the Black, and the deities that the miners originally summoned, is richly described and horrifying in a number of discrete ways.
The Green and the Black is William Meikle at his best, delivering strong, deftly-written prose entwined with a highly imaginative and richly-detailed mythological plot. It digs out the most disturbing elements of local folklore and legend and then uses them as a framework for a powerful, atmospheric and slow-burning piece of horror fiction that is often almost unbearably tense. The Green and the Black is a triumph for both Meikle and Crossroads Press, and a must-read for any reader interested in mythological horror, or just excellent horror writing in general.