Review: The Dulwich Horror & Others, David Hambling, 2015.
This collection reworks material from H. P. Lovecraft, adds modern science, and eschews the plots and narrators typical of the Gentleman from Providence. The resulting stories have a level of sophistication I have not seen in modern Cthulhu Mythos stories. The best fuse gripping style with interesting content. This book works like a glacier scraping up and shattering old literary stratum and cementing them together into new, interesting, and jagged forms.
While you can theoretically read these stories in any order, to fully appreciate them you should read them in the presented sequence. All stories have some connection to the Norwood neighborhood of South London though sometimes it’s a tenuous connection.
These may be Mythos stories, but they are never Lovecraft pastiches. Some stories channel other writers besides Lovecraft.
Raymond Chandler is the model for “In the Vault”. Its tough private eye narrator, originally from Norwood but now in Chicago, takes up a strange case involving some chemical research in the wilds of Vermont – research that interests bootleggers circa 1927. I am mostly confident I understood the events behind a plot of double and triple crosses.
Joseph Conrad might be the model for “The Devils in the Deep Blue Sea”. A Deep Ones tale set in the Pacific, its ties to Norwood seem to be a sailor who shows up in another story in the collection. I enjoyed it, and it was a good Deep Ones story, but, given the high bar the rest of the stories set, it was my least favorite story.
“Two Fingers” was a nice monster story set in 2013. A salesman of luxury yachts takes desperate steps to restore the appendages of his wife he destroyed. I particularly liked the account of the nefarious purposes yachts can be put to as well as the ending.
“The Norwood Builder” looks at the collision between folklore, cutting edge gene research, and a sociopath scientist. It’s also a contemporary tale with another character hailing from Norwood.
But the heart of the collection is the trilogy of “The Dulwich Horror of 1927”, “The Monsters in the Park”, and “Shadows of the Witch House”. A doomed group of young social elites confront horror in a Norwood church in the first story. The echoes of that disaster, over the next 11 years, in the lives of two of its survivors, are the focus of the latter stories. They present parallax views on the first story as well as new horrors.
The force of their narrator’s personalities and their witty, despairing and sometimes mad voices; oblique references to Lovecraft stories; intimations about possible developments in Hambling’s related Stubbs’ stories; new examination of Mythos horrors in the light of real and fringe science; and an undertone of the real horrors and anxieties of 1930s Britain make these stories compelling and memorable.
A strongly recommended offering deserving of the imprint of PS Publishing and the praise of S. T. Joshi’s foreword.
At some point, I hope to return to these works for a closer, spoiler-ridden look at this collection. There is also some World War One content I want to look over.