Eyes of Terror and Other Dark Adventures

Written by L.T. Meade

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung

Eyes of Terror and Other Dark Adventures
Swan River Press
RRP: £12.99
Released: September 30 2021

Readers will come to this collection in a number of ways: Swan River Press specialise in Irish authors, particularly of weird fiction, and Mrs Meade was Irish by birth; other readers from genre fiction will know her as a prolific author for Victorian girls, and an influential late-Victorian magazine editor. These are the two strands emphasised by Janis Dawson in her detailed introduction: the value of this introduction is increased by the final item in this collection, an 1893 interview with Mrs Meade, “How I Write My Books”.

Picking up this attractive hardback volume, in its dust-jacket, with tucked-in reproduction of Mrs Meade’s autograph, and a photographic portrait, to read “L.T. Meade is now, remembered, if at all, for her girls’ school stories” on the flap, though, I reject: I first encountered L T Meade in Hugh Greene’s 1970 anthology The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (and he included another by her in one of his sequels); two other editors have used the same title as Greene since and both of them have included L T Meade, and most recently her stories have appeared in some of Martin Edwards’ British Library Crime Classics anthologies. I have always thought of Meade as a crime author, almost completely forgetting Greene’s biographical note which mentioned her young adult fiction. Having said that, of the nine stories collected here I only recognised one.

Mrs Meader was unusual in that in her crime-writing (she began contributing to The Strand in 1891, not long after Conan Doyle began the Sherlock Holmes series) she usually worked with a co-author. These were, principally, Clifford Halifax and then Robert Eustace (both pseudonyms of doctors who kept their identities private: a full bibliographic history of each story appears at the end of this book). It is unfortunate that Mrs Meade’s “How I Write My Books” should have appeared almost before she began these profitable partnerships as we would know how the co-writing was done and could confirm that Halifax or Eustace would supply a scientific idea and Mrs Meade would spin it into fiction.

Not every story here is a detective story, and Swan River’s preference for “weird” shows itself in some stories more than others, but what these stories do show is Meade’s ability to mesh modernity and strangeness. “Very Far West” (with Halifax, 1893) in which a doctor is called to a house in a distant suburb, for instance, gives an idea of how the huge expansion of Victorian London could leave a man totally dislocated, unable to tell where he is or direct the police to a potential crime. “The Man Who Disappeared” (with Eustace, 1901) could have a relevance even today (it has a very distant connection to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s non-interment) in describing how a body can be disposed of completely, while “The Doom” (with Eustace, 1898) has a completely different means of achieving the same end. Sometimes, it is clear, Meade merely uses the suggestions of her scientific advisors to wrap up a story quickly: both “Followed” (with Eustace, 1900), which involves tropical snakes, and “The Dead Hand” (with Eustace, 1902), which involves something else serpentine, make little of them. What could be a horrible end to “The Dead Hand” is dealt with in a couple of flat paragraphs and readers might like to compare it with Conan Doyle’s “The Lion’s Mane” to see how differently murderous wildlife can be used.

The most interesting story may be “The Mystery of the Felwyn Tunnel” (with Eustace,1897), which Martin Edwards also included in his 2018 BLCC anthology Blood On The Tracks. A doctor is sent to to Wales to investigate a series of deaths in a railway cutting (the story says in 1893), and ends by identifying the natural but irrevocable cause of the deaths. I suspect that this story is due to the work of one man, which Robert Eustace reported to Meade. That man was the biologist J S Haldane who had gone to South Wales in 1894 to investigate the New Albion Colliery disaster: a hundred or more had been killed in a flash methane explosion, but that did not explain how many more died physically unharmed, or the deaths of the pit ponies which were nowhere near the seat of the fire. Humphrey Davy had invented his safety lamp nearly 80 years before, but little had been learned about the other dangers underground in the years since. It was Haldane who became aware of what we know now: the threats of Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide and other asphyxiating gases. Among them is the solution to the mystery of the Felwyn Tunnel, and one of the few stories in which Meade does provide the scientific detail to wrap up her tale.

Once you have your copy of Eyes of Terror and have read your way through, I recommend that you go back to the start and re-read Janis Dawson’s introduction – her emphases may not be mine, but you’d be well advised to be aware of both. As with some of Meade’s own characters you may find secret knowledge within yourself.

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