When I did my preview of February’s new release books, I picked William Meikle’s “Tormentor” as the top new release of the month. I took my own advice and got the book as soon as it was released so that I could read it as soon as I could.
Jim Greenwood felt as if he was losing his mind. After the tragic loss of his wife, Jim was just never quite able to get his life back on track. He felt all alone amidst the crowded masses of London. Seeking a change, he bought a small, one-bedroom house on the Isle of Skye. The nearby community of Dunvegan was the complete opposite of London and Jim was hoping that the isolation and small town hominess of the isle would be just the thing to set his mind right. Everything seemed to be going well at first. Then the first stick figure showed up, drawn on the wall of his house in soot.
At first, this did not seem to be a big deal. Jim could not explain how the figures were appearing but he could easily clean them up. It became a morning ritual for him to check the house first thing in the morning and eradicate any of the figures that may have popped up overnight. Then things started getting worse. He started to receive strange, anonymous e-mails and seemed to be overcome by a strange beat that only he could hear. His life began to spiral downward again as he began to become increasingly reclusive as he began to drink excessively. He could only hope that he could decipher the hidden message that seemed to be contained within those figures drawn in soot before he lost his sanity forever.
I have to admit that “Tormentor” was not really what I was expecting at all. I thought that it looked like a fairly straightforward and spooky ghost story and that is just not it in the least. Now, I really should not be surprised by the novella as it does fall in line with some of Meikle’s other works but it just struck me as a little unexpected. I do not know if this was just a misconception of my own coming in or if it was because of the cover (which I find surprisingly creepy), but “Tormentor” took me by surprise. I am not complaining, though. Just explaining.
Rather than a traditional ghost story, “Tormentor” is more like a modern fairy tale from the dark side. There is an almost surreal feel to this story that intrigued me from the beginning and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. I do not know much about the Scottish folklore that is at the heart of this story but that did not keep the story from planting its roots deep in my mind and haunting my dreams for days. Meikle does more than just write a good story but brings the story to life. I could hear that beat of the soot figures pounding in my mind as I read the story and had a hard time shaking that beat out of my mind. This story seems so simple in some ways while being extremely complex in other ways. I have a hard time defining this story as disturbing or terrifying. Rather, “Tormentor” seemed to be much like that shadow that you know is waiting just around the corner or at the end of the dark hallway. You know that it is there. You know that it is probably harmless. You know this. But there is no way that you are going to ever have the courage to test that theory and so you just wait for something to reach out and grab you when you least expect it. “Tormentor” is that shadow that part of you knows is safe but that maybe, just maybe, waiting to strike. Is it a slumbering beast or a crouching predator? Only the brave will ever know.