Monday, January 7, 2019

A collection of harboiled Cthulhu stories

Noirlathotep is an anthology of stories that combined hard-boiled noir with the Cthulhu Mythos. The one sentence review is that it’s a mixed bag of stories but the best stories in the book are very good.

In all honesty, combining those two genres isn’t much of a stretch. Both of them came out of the pulp magazines in the early part of the twentieth century. Indeed, the private investigator, the stock character of noire, is also one of the go-to roles in the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

More to the point, while Lovecraft didn’t write anything that I’d call noire, his friend and correspondent Robert E Howard wrote stories that blended the themes, although I’ll admit that calling them noire might be pushing it. But it’s close.

Okay, I’m basically picking nits. Yes, with the exception of a couple of comedic send-ups of hard boiled detectives, there’s nothing in Noirlathotep that would be out of place in a more general Cthulhu anthology. But that completely ignores the only question that actually matters. Are the stories worth reading?

And, on the whole, the answer is yes. The greatest sin of the worst of the stories is that they were forgettable. Which is a pretty big sin but there were at least three stories that struck me and have stuck with me. Enough that if I were grading the book as a sixth-grader, I’d give it a B.

Into the Valley of San Fernando is a light hearted comedy about a PI who gets stuck looking for Cthulhu’s missing teenybopper daughters. It takes absolutely nothing serious or sacred and that’s why I think it ends up working. Sometimes, going all in works.

However, the two stories that I really liked were The Lurker in Darkness and The Shadow Over Braxton County. Both stories had a visceral level of horror while still embracing cosmic horror.

They also deal with miscegenation, which is both a reoccurring theme for Lovecraft and proof of how incredibly racist he was. Instead of ignoring this particularly unpleasant aspect of Lovecraft, the stories explore it with a lot more nuance and compassion than his works ever did. The result is effective and memorable stories.

Noirlathotep is not a perfect collection but it has some real gems.

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