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.
©2015 Jonathan L. Howard (P)2015 Macmillan Audio
"Carter & Lovecraft is a Pandora's box loaded with all the wonderfully twisted stuff I love, including a two-fisted homicide cop turned PI, warped realities, a mysterious bookstore, the Cthulhu mythos, a dash of romance, and creepy fish-men. What's not to love? Jonathan L. Howard knows how to show his readers a wickedly good time." (Christopher Golden, New York Times best-selling author of Dead Ringers)
Carter & Lovecraft is a mildly entertaining pastiche, something akin to a Shadow, Doc Savage or pulp detective novel with plenty of Lovecraftian shenanigans thrown in for good measure. Much like some of the material from which it draws inspiration, it plays out as formula. It's homage to Lovecraft never really goes beyond the sort of surface level approach that's been done literally hundreds of times now: chapters named after Lovecraft stories, characters with obvious connections to the author or his work, overly familiar Lovecraftian settings and themes, etc. It might all seem fresh to unfamiliar eyes (or, in this case, ears) but if you're familiar with this sort of fiction it plays out rather predictably, not unlike an evening of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. The addition of some pop culture references does little to enhance the proceedings and by the end of the book, when I should have been most engaged in the story, I found myself impatiently waiting for it wrap up.
It's not bad. The book ends in an interesting place and the narration is solid. It's just not going to surprise you unless you're pretty unfamiliar with this sort of HPL-influenced work.
I was intrigued by the premise. A few chapters in I was disappointed & I've had a hard time finishing it. I'll explain why:
1. These aren't characters. I think maybe he's going for a boilerplate, noir-ish, rock-jawed Marlowe type, but you don’t walk away with a sense of him as anything other than a pastiche.
The supporting cast is worse: there are the usual suspects, mustache twirling, sneery bad guy, smug rich-guy politician, dumb cop, but the biggest offense is they’re usually just mouthpieces for wikipedia-fueled info dumps: A bookseller with no reason at all to have insight into such things goes into a long explanation of a failed attempt to rig the Irish lottery. The villain gives a long, tedious explanation about math theory to a store clerk.
Wait, let me stop there, cos the villain is a whole problem unto himself. He doesn’t just broadcast his secret knowledge of how he manipulates reality, he also calls up the main character to give him leads on who his accomplices are. It’s not just sloppy plotting, the book hinges on these kinds of leaps: two characters discussing the mystery? At the heart of the book (something concerning an aluminum cube I’m still not clear on and too uninvested in to go back and try to figure out) put forth a pretty ludicrous theory, and because this is (of course) the plot, it is instantly accepted as gospel truth and moved forward with without any fact checking. (By a detective!!) It isn’t stumbled upon, or deduced, it’s just programed into the characters’ mouth and comes out when required. A lot of the plot chugs along like this (and this book purports to be a mystery) plot isn’t uncovered, it’s fed; plot coupons are doled out by background characters like NPCs in a video game.
2. The writer is a goodish plotter; he comes up with interesting ideas, but not a skilled technician as far as taking those concepts and turning them into a fun yarn that is enjoyable to read. Especially when writing about the fantastic, you're trying to describe something the reader hasn't necessarily seen but the author is especially clumsy in this regard: there are markings on an artifact, simply described as 'striations', then he'll repeat the word over and over again, so you're getting bludgeoned with a indistinct word that you don't quite understand in the first place. Are they like letters? Cuneiforms? This happens again with the 'surface' of some sort of air that's also water, he doesn't sell the concept then reeats the word surface like 10 times. the surface was almost to his head, he could feel the surface near his lips, what would happen if the surface covered his head, etc. I guess a guy drowns on air? Doesn't matter in the next scene he's someplace else.
3. This is more of a pet peeve of mine, but the hero has a sort of plot immunity that is never fully explained. Some strange malady causes people to react in an instant and put a gun to their head and kill themselves, except, when it happens to him, for some reason it doesn't work. For no other reason than he's the main character. He gets saved from death a few times in a way I still don't understand, a kind of deus ex machina.
Now, as I write this stuff down and really think about it, this book is actually terrible. It’s a mess. The Lovecraft stuff, if that’s what you’re here for, it’s really short on. If you like serial killer, yarn-wall procedural stuff, you’re also going to be disappointed. If you want a hard boiled noir story, you’re going to be most disappointed of all, ‘cos the writer broadcasts (quite frequently) his avid distaste for PI tropes (though the lead is a PI). All this stuff gets tossed in a pot and stewed till its mush and in the end, nothing surprising happens and most disappointing of all, it’s particularly joyless to read.
Narration was fine.
The end of the book seems short-circuited. The story was great, but then wraps up and ends all of a sudden. Then everything is different with little explanation.
One of the better adaptations of HPL. I enjoyed it, and will look for more of J.L. Howard's work.
Lovecraft the sharp, tough, and wry bookseller.
Great voices and timing that moved the story along.
The Perceptual Twist: A Lovecraftian Mystery
I would not have bought this book on chance to read it, but as a lark downloaded it. Thanks!!!
altogether good story. Not a huge fan of the ending as it seemed a little rushed. I would definitely recommend it to someone familiar to Lovecraft's work but someone who is not may have a little trouble getting hooked.
I thought character development was minimal, but maybe that's OK? Instead, there was a lot of world building going on, with a lot of plugging in and explanation of Mythos ideas. I felt this was an ok first book fot a series, if there is going to be a series (?), but it doesn't stand up well on its own. it's a starting point, not a destination.
"Started well but..."
Beautifully read story that started as a detective thriller with a supernatural twist. But characters never developed and plot got lost, the ending a mess.
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