Peter Cannon,
The Lovecraft Chronicles
(Subterranean Press, 2008)

H.P. Lovecraft: master of horror fiction, prodigious letter writer, babe magnet. What? You doubt the latter? Well, he is in Peter Cannon's alternate history novel, where H.P. lives to be 70 years old, is an extra in Laurel & Hardy films, joins the Republicans to fight Franco in Spain while in his 40s and inspires the romantic attentions of two women.

The book has three sections, each by a different narrator. The first is the young Clarissa Stone, hired by Lovecraft as a typist, who develops a schoolgirl crush on H.P.

Clarissa's outgoing personality might be described as "sassy." She boldly asks the author why he does not address her by her first name. H.P. replies: "Perhaps I should devise some Latin cognomen instead, like I have for other friends of mine. Like Belnapkins for Bellnap Long."

Clearly a charmer, H.P. arouses her yet-to-be-fulfilled passions. Unfortunately for her, the author decides to take a trip to England and the heartbroken Clarissa goes to college.

While across the sea, he hires another typist, Leonora Lathbury. There is a touch of desperation in Leonora's search for a husband, which makes her attraction to lantern-jawed H.P. a bit more plausible.

In Chapter 3, the two take a stroll in the graveyard, where H.P. intones: "Might not a hidden vault lead to those grinning caverns of earth's centre, where Nyarlathotep the mad faceless god, howls blindly in the darkness....."

Remarkably, this come-on only makes Leonora slap his "hideous, leering face." A less refined author would take this occasion for a little tombstone tomfoolery, but nothing of the sort takes place, although the two eventually become engaged.

The third and shortest part is a narrative by a young man named Bobby who visits H.P. near the end of his life.

Cannon has written wonderful books like Pulptime, which combined the talents of Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes. In this volume, however, there are no monsters or supervillains besides the ones named in passing as "characters" in various H.P. stories.

Instead, this is a novel of manners, portraying Lovecraft as a gentleman and a scholar, even attempting to come to grips with his racism. But Lovecraft himself, even in an alternate universe, is not nearly as interesting as his monstrous stories and visions. Hemingway, A. Conan Doyle or other authors might work in such a tome, but not an impoverished letter-writer who in real life rarely left home.

Where is Cthulhu when you need him?

review by
Dave Howell

2 February 2008

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