Oct. 2016. 364p. Night Shade, paperback, $15.99 (9781597808804).
First published September 15, 2016 (Booklist).
Review: Robert Peaslee saw way more than he bargained for serving in Europe helping to oversee the peace after WWI where he met a group of doctors who were creating a new weapon, a serum that could be used to reanimated dead soldiers. After returning home to Arkham, MA in the late 1920s, Peaslee joins the police force working on the weird cases no one else has the experience to handle. However, one murder, that of local heiress Megan Halsey particularly haunts him. Not only is her body missing, but her papers seem to suggest a connection to the horrors he saw in Europe. Peaslee becomes obsessed, following Megan’s trail through the notorious towns of Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth and into the halls of Miskatonic University, uncovering more weird and terrifying secrets along the way. Told through the diaries and letters of Peaslee and Megan, this is a satisfying mystery told in a perfect 1920’s hardboiled narrative voice and style with just the right amount of Lovecraftian inspired chills to keep horror fans interested. Especially fun is how Rawlik seamlessly works famous doctors from horror fiction’s past [eg, Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll] into the plot. Give this to fans of the current spate of Lovecraft inspired novels, especially those who enjoyed Lovecraft Country by Ruff, The Ballad of Black Tom by LaValle, and I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas, but it would not be a stretch to also suggest to fans of the Harry Dresden novels.
Further Comments: The mix of Lovecraft with the noir storytelling style works very well here. Using the hardboiled narration and pulp frame keeps the “wink-wink” Lovecraft stuff from being too cheesy. I also enjoyed how the story was told in an epistolary style. It worked well for the mood and made the story feel more historic. And the novel has a satisfying creepy/unsettling ending.
Warning though, there is some graphic sex here in a way that reminded me of Brian Keene’s Castaways [an all time favorite of mine]. It’s a bit gratuitous at first glance, but it works to build the backstory of Megan’s missing mother. It boarders on misogynistic at times; however, part of that is the Lovecraft inspiration because the man himself was quite a misogynist. Megan is a strong female character, and she is the clear heroine of this book, paried with Peaslee as the hero. If you understand the frame and see how Rawlik was playing off of the source material but subversively critiquing it at the same time, then it is fine.
Finally, I cannot stress enough how popular Lovecraft inspired tales are right now. It is a huge trend in more genres than just horror. It also feeding a larger “weird fiction”revival. So plenty of people will be hungry to read this novel.
Three Words The Describe This Book: pulp noir, Lovecraftian, atmospheric
Readalikes: There are plenty listed above.