It’s totally me.
No, really; it sounds like a line, but it’s true. True story: I’m a huge fan of Howard’s Johannes Cabal series (particularly The Long Spoon and the succubus and part-spider, Zarenyia), and when I saw this one had a detective as a lead character, I thought it might be equally engaging. Alas; I glossed over the ‘Lovecraft mythos,’ one of my least favorite subgenres of supernatural fiction. Or horror, if you prefer to shelve your Lovecraft that direction. Either way, add in lovely fall weather and leaving my job, and it was a battle for my interest. Eventually I committed and finished the story. Carter & Lovecraft is well-written, with what feels like a solid re-invention of the mythos, admittedly to someone who isn’t all that familiar with it. It also lays the groundwork for a new series, and I sincerely hope for Howard’s sake that it’s successful, because he’s got talent that deserves to be more widely known.
The book does open with a mildly horrific scene of Detective Carter and his partner Hammond chasing down a child serial killer in Red Hook. Those few pages and the tension reminded me, quite unexpectedly, of John Connolley, and his own peculiar blend of supernatural-tinged horror-thriller, and honestly, I wasn’t sure I could continue. Serial killers and child-killers are usually plot lines I avoid like the plague. However, it proved to be largely exposition, setting the tone and reason for why Carter was open to profound changes in his life. It settled down into a more straightforward supernatural mystery, at least from Detective Carter’s perspective, but I understand a few readers felt like there was a bit of a bait-and-switch, with a beginning that didn’t well match the remainder of the book. I’d agree if one was looking for that kind of horror-thriller, but what Howard is really writing is a more thoughtful police procedural crossed with otherworldly supernatural.
“What do you do, Mr. Carter?’…
‘I’m an investigator,’ said Carter. Leaving ‘private’ out covered a multitude of sins, real and imaginary.’“
The writing is solid, a fair blend of dialogue and introspection. It is a departure from the witty, tongue-in-cheek tone used in the Cabal stories. The focus is more on the atmosphere oft the world and the whole story, as is fitting for a book built on oddness and suspense.
“Carter had been to Providence handful of times in his life, and never by choice. It was always something to do with a case, or to help somebody out, but he had never willingly been to the place. He didn’t like the city at all, but he couldn’t have told you why. He knew the dislike was irrational; that didn’t mitigate it in the slightest. The small flurry of optimism he had felt that this unexpected inheritance might be worth something was dampened…the discovery that it was in Providence, of all places, had already killed his buzz magnificently.”
Still, there’s moments of entertaining oddness, such as when he and the lawyer Weston meet regarding his inheritance. Lovecraft is the current manager of the bookstore that Carter mysteriously inherits, and is an intriguing character. Although African-American, she is the last of the genetic line of Lovecraft. Both characters feel very real, and their responses to the situations they face are built slowly and well enough to feel believable. I love that Howard decided that was one of the ways he would subvert the mythos. He also addresses the racism of Lovecraft’s work (the author) directly through her voice.
I liked the book, but the fact that I wasn’t wild about it really says more to do with my own tastes and my own level of life-distraction than it does for the quality of the story. It’s worth nothing that for friends who enjoy this sort of thing, it had a solid four-star rating.