If you like a tough-talking private eye as narrator (though his secretary is ugly, his wife beautiful, and a cobbled together family waits at home for him every night), encountering the dark mysteries of the Cthulhu Mythos, then the Arkham Detective series is for you. (No, he has no other name except when he shows up in R’lyeh: The Lost Realm, the last volume of Craft’s R’lyeh series.)
This installment takes place right after the last one, Who Stole the Necronomicon?. It’s December 1934. Prohibition has ended, but the nation is still poor, including Arkham with some local, one-time bootleggers fallen on hard times.
The Detective is hired by series regular Otto Meldinger, curator of the Arkham Museum of Antiquities, to find the brother of his girlfriend, Astrid Norse. The brother is Vernon Bellows, a professor employed by that same museum.
Not so coincidentally, the museum is peparing an exhibit about the recent Lake Expedition to the Antarctic.
The Detective’s investigation will take him down the mean streets of Arkham, into pawn shops, and bookie hangouts, and even into the sewers.
Several characters from earlier in the series show up, and there are even some illustrations including one by Clark Ashton Smith – whose work is displayed at the museum.
How to describe this book without sucking its vitality away with spoilers?
It’s a capstone, a wrapping up of threads, of all the Craft works I’ve reviewed.
It is, to borrow a phrase from drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs, an “assemble the squad” story. It’s two years after Shoggoth 2, and Professor Ironwood puts out the call to some of the characters of the Shoggoth books to help rescue the grandchild of Faren and Janet Church. It seems that someone in R’lyeh wants a child with the blood of the Tanists in him.
Yes, Ironwood’s group dares – armed with some modern technology and weaponry – to go to R’lyeh though it is not, in this series, in the Pacific Ocean but in another dimension.
Yep, it’s a sequel to Shoggoth, and, yes, the Elder Beings aka the Yith do play a prominent role.
It’s been a few months since the events of Shoggoth. Jason Riggs and Gwen Gilhooey have married and are expecting a child, and Jason’s nephew Noah has come to live with them. Computer genius Cac survived being shot up. Thomas Ironwood and his former housekeeper, Amy Murchison, have become lovers.
Besides Noah, there are two other major characters, a mysterious scarred man who proves his professional monster killing metal in some opening chapters, and Pemba, a psychic empath from England. (Recommended by Professor David Hambling, no less!). Ironwood wants help in investigating some strange dreams and visions the locals of Darwin are having. He thinks the vast underground complex of the Yith exerts some kind of psychic influence.
And Senator Neville Stream is still around, still determined to get his hands on Yith technology and weaponize shoggoths for political ends.
This ur-text for much of Craft’s later solo writings in the Cthulhu Mythos ranges from the last days of the Third Reich to the eve of the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive to 1980s Germany and points far beyond in time and space.
Essentially, this is a haunted house story and a haunted world story. After all, aren’t most Lovecraft stories hauntings of a sort?
Not only is this the start of the Mythos Project serie, but the Windlass device, such a central part of the Time Loopers anthology and Craft’s story in it, “The Comatose Man”, is a crucial element. Professor Ironwood of that story shows up as do the pilot demons and Tanists of Craft’s Arkham Detective series.
The book has an interesting history. It started out as a screenplay adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” that was turned into the novel The Alchemist’s Notebook which then was retitled. Evidently, according to an interview I found with Craft, the film project halted when he and his partners wouldn’t sell the script to producer Dino De Laurentis. The novel even has some reproductions of pre-production artwork by Tom Sullivan.
The book, between the foreword and afterword from Ironwood, is composed of three first person narratives: a transcript of Faren Church’s recordings, the notebook of his wife Janet, and the journal of alchemist – and Faren’s great-uncle – Heinrich Todesfall.
Yes, it’s another story where Miskatonic University has failed yet again to keep the blasphemous Necronomicon under lock and key.
Even the Arkham Detective (and, no, he doesn’t get a name in this novel either) got called in as a policeman when that freak Wilbur Whately tried to steal it as chronicled by H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”.
This time around the Detective isn’t professionally obligated to get involved. He’s a private eye now, but he agrees to look into the theft of the book and murder of a janitor as a favor to Detective Bell, the man who took his place as head of the Arkham Police Department’s Mythos Division.
There’s been plenty of changes in the Detective’s life in the three months since the events of Death on the Arkham Express. His family has grown again, so he needs a bigger house.
I’ll just spoil the next posting and say this is my favorite Arkham Detective story.
There’s a couple of reasons for that.
First, the Detective actually does more detection work in this than in the other stories. Second, while using a Cthulhu Mythos story as a jumping off point, it’s not an H. P. Lovecraft story. And, no, I’m not going to tell you which one.
The Detective is returning on a train from New York City after delivering an extradited suspect.
Then a waiter gets his head ripped off. It’s not like there’s any other law on the train to investigate the matter. Well, there is a Pennsylvania Station Railroad detective, but our narrator makes it clear, brandishing his trademark Colt .45, that he’ll be leading the investigation.
I had the suspicion that Byron Craft’s story “The Comatose Man” in Time Loopers was connected to some of his other work, and his website confirmed that. So, this is the start of a look at most of his work related to the Cthulhu Mythos.
This collects the first four Arkham Detective stories. They are probably novelettes or novellas in length.
The Arkham Detective, a police lieutenant, investigates crimes on the mean streets and in the slums of Arkham in the midst of the Great Depression
Carrying a Colt 1911, an heirloom from his policeman dad, the Detective’s methods can be brutal and illegal and that bothers him but not as much as the idea of letting the evil he comes across carry the day.
He’s the Arkham Detective because Craft delights in never giving him a name though he narrates the four stories.
This Arkham is full of places and names familiar from Lovecraft, and Craft adds some of his own. One of the nice things invents some nice place names.
There is plenty of action, and the Detective knows the score about the weirdness around Arkham so no time is wasted in him having to accept the existence of the various monsters, magic, and dimensional travel he comes across. Before he was a detective, the narrator was one of the policeman called to look at Wilbur Whately’s body in H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”. Miskatonic University and its faculty also have a prominent place.
Cthulhu’s Minions starts with the Detective finding an old partner of his dead in an alley with his face chewed off. Soon weird creatures, pilot demons, begin to show up around Arkham. As their name implies, they accompany an even more dangerous entity.
This story was ok, but the series improves with each installment.
I’m always up for a trip to that crumbling seaside town of Innsmouth, and, in The Innsmouth Look, the trail of a man who murdered a woman and kidnapped her child leads the Detective there. But the Detective finds out he’s not the only party interested in what the Esoteric Order of Dagon is up to. Craft gives us some nice descriptions of Innsmouth and, good naturedly, put some dialogue from Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” into another character’s mouth.
For most of The Devil Came to Arkham, we don’t seem to be dealing with a menace from Lovecraft. The Detective has a bad feeling about Corvus Astaroth, a recent arrival in town. And, when Arkham gets hotter and Corvus gathers a cult of women about him who seem to be getting unhealthily thin, that trepidation is justified. And, when an ex-cop shows up with a dossier on the man named – here at least – Corvus, the Detective starts to get a notion of what he’s dealing with.
The Dunwich Dungeon brings back a character from The Innsmouth Look. A traveler in the Dreamlands, he now finds himself imprisoned underground and left to starve. Somehow, he has to get the Detective’s help. Meanwhile, in Arkham, a stray dog hanging about the police station leads the Detective to an abandoned mansion with strange markings on the wall. With references to the Windlass device and Otto Meldinger, this story definitely links to Craft’s “The Comatose Man”.
These are enjoyable stories. While you can jump into this series at any point, I liked how Craft presented a story arc for the Detective as his life changes from story to story.
While I’m willing to go with the advanced research projects at Miskatonic U, Craft unfortunately mars some of his stories with what are probably unnecessary anachronisms involving Xerox machines and the term “serial killer” which is actually a term invented in 1974. He probably could have found a workaround for another anachronism involving the OSS too. On the other hand, Craft’s website says Cthulhu’s Minions is set in an “alternate universe somewhat like the 1930s”, so maybe that’s the justification and not carelessness.
Still, I liked this omnibus enough that I read the rest of the series, and I’ll be reviewing them shortly. The fusion of the Mythos with the detective story – which, of course, Lovecraft himself did with “The Call of Cthulhu” – is a popular one, and Craft’s stories are a worthy example.
First, as you will note above, it has no listed editor.
Second, it isn’t what its listing on Amazon mostly suggests. (I couldn’t even find it on the Crystal Lake Publishing site, but it’s still for sale.)
Third, it’s actually a Cthulhu Mythos anthology.
David Hambling’s “Introduction” looks at the universal appeal of a do over in our life, approaching life like a videogame where we can cycle and cycle through one level in order to level up to the next one. The reasons for doing that are many, and the book’s stories look at several. He also mentions several films and books and their use of the idea. We get our first hint of what’s to come when H. P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time is mentioned. What if something like its Yith showed a more sinister source and motive for time looping.
This book is structured something like a musical suite – if each movement was composed by a separate party. I’m going to go spare on the plot synopsis because these stories are also linked – linked in fact by the literary DNA of Lovecraft but also of one of the contributors, Byron Craft. That became obvious after I read some of his other works after finishing this book. I also don’t want to spoil many of enjoyable moments of revelation.
And, of course, time travel stories tend to have intricate plots with paradoxes. Not every mystery posed by these stories is solved. Not every ending has a resolved chord. But that’s alright. Mystery has its place in fantastic fiction and is a pleasing feature however much it comes across as mere incompetence in less skilled writers. And a puzzled reader, here, matches the frequently puzzled protagonists.