Carter & Lovecraft
By Jonathan Howard
This story is miles apart from some of Howard's earlier work reviewed here. It doesn't have quite the same sheen of sarcastic humor laid over everything. That makes sense as the subject matter is different. This is another story in a crowded field of works inspired by the late writer H.P. Lovecraft. Although it has a few Grand Guignol scenes for the most part this story stays true to Lovecraft's trick of implying what was wrong as opposed to coming out and saying it. The mood is more important to this novel than some of the events. Of course Howard is a better writer than Lovecraft so his characters are better developed. Even though I didn't enjoy this as much as Howard's Cabal series I still thought it was worthwhile reading. The book is just over 300 pages and has more than a little in common with the film Angel Heart in some aspects.
The author H.P. Lovecraft lived at a point in time when science was rapidly advancing and overturning previously closely held myths. Einstein's theories of general and special relativity along with other later discoveries made some people think that maybe they weren't at the center of the universe after all. Worse, the idea of quantum physics made people deal with the idea that reality itself was random and unknowable and an illusion. Lovecraft didn't write down, as later speculative fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke did, the dictum that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" but it is a concept which pervades many of his stories, most famously "Dreams in the Witch House". If reality itself is only a set of probabilities and creatures or events can exist in mutually exclusive categories before we actually observe them, what would happen if someone or something was able to hack reality? What would that look like? What would happen if someone could alter reality via his understanding of advanced mathematics? These and more are the questions which are raised in this book.
Daniel Carter is a NYC homicide detective. Well rather he used to be a NYC homicide detective. He and his partner were chasing after a serial killer of young boys. The killer committed suicide but strangely enough so did Carter's partner. Losing his taste for police work, not least because his fellow cops wonder if there's something wrong with him, Carter becomes a private detective. It's not glamorous work. No sultry busty blondes in pencil skirts walk into his office begging for his help. He doesn't get into shootouts with mob torpedoes. His work is mostly confirming someone's suspicions of their spouse's infidelity or finding someone who doesn't want to be found. Carter has settled into a generally low excitement and low pay lifestyle. But then a big shot lawyer who shouldn't even know that Carter exists stops by Carter's office to inform him that he's inherited a bookstore from a non-relative named Alfred Hill whom Carter has never even heard of before. The bookstore is in Providence, Rhode Island. Carter goes to Providence to check it out. The bookstore is currently being managed by Emily Lovecraft, an African-American woman who is the niece of Alfred Hill and the last collateral descendant of the famous writer. Emily Lovecraft is not exactly enthused about the idea of sharing or losing control of her bookstore.
This is strange. But what's stranger is that someone starts winning against all the odds in Atlantic City casinos. Lovecraft's boyfriend starts behaving oddly. And other people start dying in ways that are literally impossible. Against their will both Carter and Lovecraft are drawn into these events. And they find that not everything H.P. Lovecraft wrote may have been fiction. There are tons of side jokes that will appeal to H.P. Lovecraft enthusiasts, both in character names and chapter titles. There's plenty of foreshadowing. At the same time this story is also a deconstruction of the Lovecraft mythos and perhaps to a lesser extent the detective genre. It is weird. I mean that as a complement. This story will appeal as much to science and detective novel devotees as it will to Lovecraft fans. This is a good example of using inspiration to create art that's inspired by someone but has your own take on things. Again, things are not always spelled out for the reader. If you're not familiar with Lovecraft or rather weren't impressed with his prose this story could be a useful introduction and reworking.