Rating: 5 out of 5
William Meikle’s Ramskull is an intense cosmic horror tale. In 1494, Alexander Seton, on order from the King, visits the site where an abbey will be built so he can find out why the crew has ceased construction of the foundation. There he finds a barrow that they’ve unearthed, and he sets the loosed beast to rest. Or so he believes. In the present day, Sergeant Dave Wilks and Constable John Campbell are called out to the island of Leita because an irascible old farmer is having some sort of trouble with his sheep. When they get there, they can’t find anyone. There’s an awful lot of blood that’s been spilled in the bar, however. They try to get hold of more police, but they’re out of radio range, there’s no cell tower, the only laptops in town have been destroyed, and the town radio and landline have both been destroyed. Then their boat goes missing.
The story follows both Alexander Seton dealing repeatedly with the site over the centuries (he doesn’t age, as he has some of the “darkness” within him as well), and Dave and John dealing with it in the present. I’m hoping Seton shows up in some of Meikle’s other books, because he seems like a fascinating character and I’d like to know more about him. Dave and John are good characters. Dave’s the grizzled close-to-retirement cop, and John’s the fresh-faced new guy, but they both have more to them than those stereotypes. The farmer Grainger and his wife, Jan, are probably my favorite characters in here. They turn out very differently than how I thought they would! I find it amusing that in so many of Meikle’s books, you can tell when the main character hits a certain threshold of stress because they go back to smoking, which they apparently quit some time ago.
The good guys end up dealing with a man who has a ram’s skull for a head, and his crazed cannibalistic followers. They even find themselves getting sucked in by the creature’s magic. Of course they’re trapped on this island, with no idea at what point the cops might realize they’re missing and come to find them. Their armory consists of some flares, a shotgun, and some kitchen knives, and that isn’t likely to be enough! The pacing is excellent, building up from a creepy empty town to a slasher-fest.
There are some unanswered questions. In particular, early on Dave goes into a room and sees it filled with gore. Later he returns to the room and it’s spotless (although it’s obvious from a trail of blood leading up to the door that it really has been somehow cleaned). We never do figure out what happened there.
Content note for gore, cannibalism, and animal death.
“I think the whole fucking island is a crime scene.”