William Meikle is an excellent writer. His prose is beautifully constructed; his descriptions of scenes second-to-none; his characters are generally detailed and human enough in their actions to be believable.
But like all of us, Meikle has proven himself prone to the occasional dip in form. His books are not infallible. And unlike most of those who have reviewed Tormentor before me, I consider this one to be such dip.
Told exclusively from the first person perspective of the novella's protagonist, Tormentor is essentially a haunted house tale. The reader follows Jim who moves to country Scotland to exhume his artistic interests and as a way to process the death of his young wife, only to become immersed in the history of the home he has purchased. It's a bit of a tried and tested formula, but I had faith that Meikle - one of my must-read authors - would pull it off.
Instead I got a not-at-all frightening story that was more about obsession than anything supernatural (though it does eventually make its way there). Jim is well-drawn and, as I already noted, the prose itself is good. The story, however, was boring. By the two-thirds mark I was wondering if anything of consequence was going to happen, since the mystery driving the narrative had lost whatever early hold it had on me. By the end, when Meikle has brought everything together, I was unmoved. The answer to what had been plaguing Jim was not at all satisfying, and it left unanswered the only pat of the story I was genuinely engaged in.
Oh well. As I implied above, you can't win them all. I'm clearly in the minority with regard to Tormentor. Take that for what you will. Meanwhile, I'll just hope the next Meikle read is a return to his unsettling best - or at very least, is something that is pulpishly fun.
2 Soot Stains Cleaned to a Beat for Tormentor.