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Saturday, November 7, 2015


Author:  Jonathan L. Howard 
Plot Type: SciFi/Fantasy, Horror, Police Procedural
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor—3 
Publisher and Titles:  Thomas Dunn Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press
          Carter & Lovecraft (10/2015)

     Howard takes basic elements from the works of H.P. Lovecraft and transplants them into 21st century Providence, Rhode Island. Although you don't have to be steeped in Lovecraftian mythology to appreciate this series, I can tell you from personal experience that I would have had an easier time with some aspects of the first novel if I were more familiar with Lovecraftian mythos and fiction, particularly Lovecraft's speculations about the nature of reality.

     The main characters are Daniel Carter and Emily Lovecraft. Dan is a former New York homicide detective who left the force after solving a horrific serial killer case and then witnessing his partner senselessly blow his own brains out at the crime scene. Emily is the great-great-grand-niece of H.P. Lovecrafthis sole surviving descendant. The two are brought together under mysterious circumstances when Emily's uncle, Alfred Hill, bequeaths his bookstore to Dan, who has no idea who Alfred is or why he willed the property to him. At first, Emily is miffed that her uncle Alfred passed her over in favor of this unknown out-of-towner, but she soon figures out what's going on and the two become friends and partners. Naturally, the Lovecraft connection leads to all sorts of otherworldly plot elements, althoughat least in the first bookwe see more violence at the hands of human monsters than inhuman ones.

                            NOVEL 1:  Carter & Lovecraft                             
     Daniel Carter used to be a homicide detective, but his last case—the hunt for a serial killer—went wrong in strange ways and soured the job for him. Now he's a private investigator trying to live a quiet life. Strangeness, however, has not finished with him. 

     First he inherits a bookstore in Providence from someone he's never heard of, along with an indignant bookseller who doesn't want a new boss. She's Emily Lovecraft, the last known descendant of H.P. Lovecraft, the writer from Providence who told tales of the Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods, creatures and entities beyond the understanding of man. 

     Then people start dying in impossible ways, and while Carter doesn't want to be involved, he's beginning to suspect that someone else wants him to be. As Carter reluctantly investigates, he discovers that H.P. Lovecraft's tales were more than just fiction, and he must accept another unexpected, and far more unwanted, inheritance. 

     When Dan Carter inherits a bookstore from a man he never met, he at first decides to become a silent partner, splitting the profits with the former owner's niece, Emily Lovecraft. Dan is definitely not a reader, so he has no interest in the shop's huge inventory of ancient, rare texts. Dan is inclined to head back to New York and let Emily run the shop, but events soon bring him back to Providence, perhaps for good. 

     Howard has cast Emily as an African American woman, perhaps in a sly nod to long-standing charges of racism against H.P. Lovecraft. Emily has worked in her Uncle Alfred's bookstore for many years, but for the past seven years, Alfred has been missing. Now that he has been declared dead, she finds that she won't be inheriting the shop, but that a stranger will be the new owner. Emily's boyfriend, Ken (a wealthy aspiring politician), offers to buy the store from Dan so that he can gift it to Emily, but Dan decides instead to make Emily a partner.

     At this point, Dan plans on staying mostly in New York, running his PI business, but almost as soon as he returns, he gets a call from a Providence college professor asking for his help. By the time he finds the professor, the man is dead, seemingly drowned in his car with no water in sight. Dan feels compelled to investigate the case after he learns that the professor was already dead when he called Dan and because the police and the coroner slough off the death as accidental. 

     When Dan begins to investigate, he discovers that the professor had an altercation with William Colt, a student intensely disliked by nearly everyone who interacts with him. As the investigation continues, Dan has some very weird, otherworldly dreams and several incidences in which his perception of reality suddenly slips, leaving him dizzy, nauseous, and totally confused as to what is going on. By this time, Dan is staying in the apartment over the bookstore, so he has an opportunity to discuss these strange events with Emily, who applies her knowledge of Lovecraftian lore to Dan's bizarre experiences. 

     Lovecraft purists may not like the fact that Emily has access to several of Lovecraft's unpublished manuscripts that are unknown to anyone but the family, but Howard weaves their contents seamlessly into the plot. After Emily studies Dan's family tree, she has an "aha" moment (which I will not reveal here) and begins to share the contents of those manuscripts with him. Although we don't get as much exposure to Emily as we do to Dan, she does have her moments. When she and Dan are getting ready for the big finale, their Providence policeman friend asks her if she can handle a gun. Emily tilts her head back, looks down her nose at him, and retorts, "I trained as a librarian, and I run a bookstore. F***ing right I can use a gun." 

     The charm of this novel lies in the two lead characters, both of whom are likable, intelligent people who are open to the existence of otherworldly creatures and events. After Dan and Emily link forces with their Providence policeman ally, the three of them go off to a spooky spit of coastal land called Waite's Bill, which has served for centuries as the home of a very weird family. When Dan visits Waite's Bill for the first time, he muses that "the last thing [he] had expected in the city was a place that felt like a failed Deliverance theme park." Suspense builds as Howard gradually reveals that the Waites are one of Lovecraft's pseudo-human families and that they have a major stake in Colt's attempts to manipulate a perceptual portala "Twist"that lies within their lands. 

     I must admit that I had trouble getting through some of the more technical of the Lovecraftian sections, the parts dealing with the nature of reality, and more specifically to the deep meaning of the serial killer's wall chart. I can't go into more detail without spoilers, but I will say that I'm sure that I would have has a better understanding of this novel if I had a deeper knowledge of Lovecraftian mythology. If you are a Lovecraft fan, I'm sure that you will have a fuller enjoyment than I did. Notwithstanding my own Lovecraftian shortcomings, I found this to be a strong beginning to the series, with well-crafted characters, a spooky supernatural plot, and an ending that leads directly into the next novel.

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