Vivian Meik (b. at sea, registered at
Calcutta, 21 July 1894; d.
, 22 December 1955) San Clemente, California
Vivian Bernard Meik was the son of Lorenzo Meik (1847-1918), a maritime inspector based in
and his wife Alice Gertrude Thomas (1856-1918). Meik’s family were originally
from India Scotland, but his
father and grandfather had mostly lived in . He was the oldest surviving
child of five (an older brother and an older sister had died in infancy); he had
two younger brothers. India
Details of his early life are sketchy, and by his own account (which often seems exaggerated) he claimed to have circled the globe three times before he was eighteen. In 1913 he was working on a rice plantation in Borneo, and after the outbreak of war he was commissioned in Calcutta and served with the British Sixth Division, being wounded a number of times. He claimed to have earned the Croix de Guerre for acts of bravery. In Calcutta, on 14 October 1916, he married a woman named Bernadette Marie (1898-1981), whose original surname was possibly Desperadza (after her divorce from Meik, probably in the late 1920s, she used the surname Cooke, before changing it officially in 1946 to D’Esperance; it became Nightingale after her 1961 marriage to Peter Nightingale). They had two children, a son Colvin Bernard Peter Meik (1917-1996) and daughter Valerie (1924-2003).
After demobilization in 1919, Meik joined the staff of the Bengali-Nagpur Railway, based out of
as an assistant traffic superintendent. For this (and other) railway-associated
work, he traveled extensively, and was eventually transferred to Calcutta Central Africa. In 1928, bothered by war wounds, Meik
left the tropics and soon settled in ,
where he took up writing. Probably in the late 1920s he was also divorced from
his first wife, and married Elsie May Howard (1903-1997), known familiarly as
His first book was a type of sensational nonfiction, The People of the Leaves (1931), in which Meik claimed to have discovered a race of primitive aborigines in a little-known section of
. It was fairly successful,
and also had an American edition, published by Henry Holt. Zambezi Interlude (1932) is a kind of follow-up, covering Meik’s experiences
in central India Africa. Lacking the narrative hook
of the first volume, it is more personal and, perhaps as a consequence, more
interesting, but it did not sell nearly as well.
With Devils’ Drums (London: Philip Allan, 1933), Meik turned to fiction. A collection of ten short stories with recurring characters, most of the tales concern central African voodoo, witch doctors, and curses. These stories are well-executed and are a refreshing change from the typical British horror stories of the 1930s. One story, “The Doll of Death”, was filmed in 1973 as an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. Devils’ Drums was published as part of the famous “Creeps” series, edited by Charles L. Birkin. Meik contributed one related story to one of the “Creep” anthologies, Monsters (1934).
A follow-up novel, focusing on new figures but with brief appearances by some of the characters from Devils’ Drums, was The Veils of Fear (London: Philip Allan, 1934). In it a small group travels to the Near East, to the Himalayas, and on to
in order to challenge two figures of supernatural evil. As a novel it is
unsuccessful, with long dream sequences that backtrack the plot, and a terrible
ending in which one of the major point-of-view characters realizes in the final
line that he is dead.
|Philip Allan edition|
Meik’s next novel, The Curse of Shiva (London: Philip Allan, 1936; New York: Hillman-Curl, 1938), was also his last, but it shows considerable improvement in pacing, and in the narrative handling of a long story. It is a non-fantasy thriller based on the enactment of a centuries-old Indian curse in modern
. The Saturday Review described the book as a "blood and thunder yarn of slinking Eurasians, renegade whites, stranglings, etc., with reasonably good detective trimmings" (23 July 1938). London
His final book was the small polemic, Nemesis over Hitler (1941), which is a sensationalist attack on Hitler, claiming to cover supposed inside meetings of Hitler’s inner circle in
. Towards the end of the war, Meik
began to investigate Mormonism, and he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
Saints in April 1946. The following
year, he moved with his family to Berlin , where the Church has its headquarters, and
where his uncle resided. Meik joined the staff of the church-owned Deseret News, where he was given a
column entitled “Interpreting the News”. Salt
|Medusa Press edition|
In 1953 Meik moved with his family to
. In early 1955, owing
to ill health, he gave up his column. He suffered a fatal heart attack while
driving his car during the afternoon of 22 December 1955. San Clemente,
Vivian Meik published six books: two novels, one short story collection, and three works of nonfiction. His best work is to be found in his short stories. A long-overdue expanded edition of Devil’s Drums, adding two stray tales and an excerpt from Zambezi Interlude, appeared in 2011 from Medusa Press. This edition is limited to 300 copies. For ordering information, see the Medusa Press website HERE.
NB: This entry updates and is based on part of my more detailed “Introduction” to the 2011 expanded edition of Devils’ Drums, published by Medusa Press.