The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument by Brett J. Talley
JournalStone (April 2017)
247 pages; $25.95 hardcover; $8.20 paperback; $3.95 e-book
Reviewed by Chad Lutzke
I am no Lovecraft connoisseur. There’s a lot by him I haven’t read. My knowledge in all things Lovecraft—other than reading “The Call of Cthulhu” and the Herbert West stories—is probably just par for the course. Maybe below par, as my familiarity does extend beyond pop culture references, which has taken second only to zombies this modern day. And I suspect that most who share the Cthulhu memes and sport the elder god swag haven’t read anything past the title. Maybe it’s because Lovecraft isn’t an easy read. Maybe it’s because smart phones and video games have taken the place of brittle paperbacks and warped hardbacks. And maybe that’s where books like The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument fit in best.
Throughout the book, Talley’s re-imagining of Lovecraftian horror covers several different eras. From the 1700s on through to modern times—each voice different than the last, all well written. But I don’t see the book as strictly for Lovecraft fans, though I’ve no doubt therein lies the real love for these stories. For those who can’t get enough of that brooding darkness which pours forth from Lovecraftian horror, this book is most certainly for you. There were times I had issues with knowing that with the next story I was most likely getting an elder god, insanity, and/or impending doom in one way or another. But I will also admit to being satisfied at the very last lines of several of the stories, pulling things together.
While I had a handful of favorites, the story I found the most entertaining was the last story: “Seeing the Wendigo.” A small group of trappers head deep into the wounds, far from civilization, and find themselves dealing with the local legend of the Wendigo. Talley presents the origin of the shapeless beast and the story turns into John Carpenter’s The Thing, where paranoia runs rampant through the camp, each of the men pointing their fingers at who they think may be the Wendigo itself.
Talley’s writing is clean and fluid with eloquent dialogue and imagery which is both unpredictable and disturbing. This is my first experience with Brett J. Talley, so whether his muse is only Lovecraft himself, or he can pull off such storytelling on his own, I don’t know. But if this is all he does—appeases Lovecraft’s fans, utilizing HPL’s tools—then he does it exceptionally well.
One more thing I should mention. I’m not much for introductions in a book. They’re like little hindrances for the obsessive completists like myself who really just want to get to the good stuff—sticky, annoying wrappers covering the sweets inside. But the introduction written by Ronald Malfi was not only entertaining to read, he sold me on the book. Shed some real light on the dark thing, called Brett J. Talley a “transcriptionist” of Lovecraft’s work. And after reading The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument, I’d have to agree.