Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth edited by Stephen Jones. Book review

Weirder Shadows Over InnsmouthWeirder Shadows Over Innsmouth edited by Stephen Jones,

Fedogan & Bremer, h/c, $36.00, Website

Reviewed by David Brzeski

This is the third book in a trilogy of anthologies based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Innsmouth sequence of tales, within his Cthulhu Mythos. I don’t, as yet, have the first two books, but that’s not really an issue, as the stories are connected by the theme, rather than being a chronological series.

The book opens with a poem by Lovecraft himself – ‘The Port’, which is as good an introduction as any to the theme of the book. The first story is by John Glasby, a writer who was best known (along with R. Lionel Fanthorpe) for penning most of the output of John Spencer and Co.’s Badger books imprint in the 60s, under a variety of pseudonyms. It’s a nice change of pace to see what he can do when he can devote a little more time to his stories. It’s not bad, although it’s very much in the vein of those Lovecraft pastiches that rely heavily on slavishly copying elements of the master’s own writing. ‘Innsmouth Bane’ is a prequel to HPL’s ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’, in which we learn more details of the events leading up to that story. The protagonist is searching for news of his artist friend, a relative of the Marsh family of Innsmouth, and the results of his inquiries are not pleasant. The story ends with a common Lovecraftian device, the Protagonist setting down his story on paper as he awaits his inevitable end at the hands of the Deep Ones.

To say ‘Richard Riddle, Boy Detective, in “The Case of the French Spy”’ by Kim Newman is a change of pace is an understatement. The heroes, if we can call them that, are a pastiche of the Enid Blyton children’s gang, as seen in the ‘Famous Five’ books. In fact I found the ‘Comic Strip Presents’ TV parodies of those stories came to mind a lot during my reading. The villain is a lunatic, book-burning style clergyman, who spends his free time smashing fossils. It is his belief that they were planted by Satan to dissuade the unwary of the literal accuracy of the Bible, by suggesting that the Earth had been around much longer than stated in the good book. In their conflict with this religious lunatic, Newman has his heroes do something that may possibly be very bad, for the right reasons.

Third up is one of the original tales – Innsmouth Clay, by H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth. It’s a direct sequel to ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’, and it inspired me to take a break at this point to reread that original story.

Reggie Oliver’s ‘The Archbishop’s Well’ tells of an ancient pre-Christian well in the grounds of a cathedral, which had been sealed off centuries ago and not opened since. The Bishop decides to have it demolished and replaced with a modern drinking fountain. Regular readers of horror fiction, let alone that of a Lovecraftian nature, will know that this couldn’t possibly end well (pun intended).

Back when I reviewed ‘The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes’, I stated that I sincerely hoped Adrian Cole’s story in that book was the first of a series featuring his hard-boiled occult detective, Nick Nightmare. I was very pleased to discover that my wishes had been answered with ‘You Don’t Want To Know’, in which Nick finds himself caught between his employers and the FBI, who are both hunting the same man. In fact, it appears that this is actually the first story, but the second managed to see print first. Excellent stuff, as I expected. More please, Mr Cole.

‘Fish Bride’ is the first of three stories by Caitlin R. Kiernan. In a fascinating mix of genres, she applies the trope of the forbidden lovers, their relationship doomed due to their separate destinies, to a normal young man and his Innsmouth-spawn bride.

Conrad William’s ‘The Hag Stone’ is the story of a dying old man, recently widowed, who takes what is intended to be a peaceful holiday on Alderney. What with the really foul weather; a house converted from the barracks used by the occupying German soldiers in 1940; a serial killer, who targets women in coastal resorts all over the country and the mysterious, repellent “fisherman”, Gluckmann, who swims naked in the sea every day, even in winter—this was never going to be the typical picture postcard holiday, now was it?

Caitlin R. Kiernan’s second story, ‘On the Reef’, is next up. Here, she tells of the annual visits to Devil’s Reef by legions of pilgrims for their annual religious event. It’s an excellent, atmospheric piece.

One of the highlights of the book, for me, was ‘The Song of Sighs’, by Angela Slatter. Vivienne Croftmarsh is a teacher at an academy for orphans. She suffers from selective amnesia, in that she remembers everything she needs to know to teach, but her past is blank. In tone, it reminded me somewhat of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. Vivienne appears to be the focus of some sort of malign plot, but not in the way the reader might expect.

After I reread Lovecraft’s original, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’, I got to wondering about that famous FBI raid in 1928 and the depth charges dropped in Devil’s Reef. I wondered if anyone had ever really followed up on that. The authorities would obviously have some sort of sealed records on the events at Innsmouth. What happened after the raid? Brian Hodge answers these questions in ‘The Same Deep Waters as You’, in which Kerry Larimer, ‘The Animal Whisperer’ finds herself enlisted by the Department of Homeland Security to help communicate with the survivors of that raid, who have been kept under wraps in a secret prison since 1928. I recently read Brian Hodge’s excellent Cthulhu Mythos novella, ‘Whom the Gods Would Destroy’, and this story certainly holds up in comparison. The best story in the book, in my opinion.

Ramsey Campbell’s early work will be familiar to any fan of Lovecraftian fiction. He’s been revisiting that particular sub-genre of late, and ‘The Winner’ is one of the results. This creepy story was originally published in 2005, but in a fairly obscure collection, so it’ll be new to most readers, as it was to me. The basic premise is a horror favourite. The traveller, delayed by circumstances beyond his control, finds himself in a squalid backstreet establishement, in this case a pub, and very soon wishes he’d never set foot in the place. I guarantee that the next time the reader finds themselves in a pub, with offish, slightly menacing locals, and filthy toilets, they’ll feel even more uncomfortable than usual.

Next is my favourite of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s three stories in this book. ‘The Tradition of Elizabeth Haskins’ gives us the tragic story of a less than enthusiastic scion of Innsmouth. All three of Kiernan’s tales are from the point of view of the reluctant monster. It makes for an interesting variation on the theme.

Michael Marshall Smith is an author I constantly hear great things about, but had yet to try, so it was  especially interesting to read, ‘The Chain’. His reputation is deserved. It’s an excellently written story of an artist who comes to a small, exclusive, coastal town to find his muse. In his search for inspiration for his work, he soon comes to the conclusion that Carmel is just too perfect. There are overtones of ‘The Stepford Wives’ in this story. Albeit, it’s not the people who live there that are off-kilter. The problem is with the sort of people who don’t seem to be there at all.

Simon Kurt Unsworth goes for a very topical setting for ‘Into The Water’. His story follows a film crew, reporting on devastating floods. One of the locals suggests that the cause might not be as simple as global warming. This is one of those tales that, once the coming horror has been amply suggested, ends with no attempt at showing how humanity is going to hold it back. I generally find that sort of thing slightly annoying, but in this case it’s very effective.

I really liked Angela Slatter’s first story in this book, but ‘Rising, Not Dreaming’ didn’t appeal to me quite as much. It’s not that it isn’t beautifully written—it is. Sadly, the premise just didn’t work for me. The Great Old Ones, are held fast in their eternal slumber, under the ocean, until the chosen one, whose task it is to keep playing the music that keeps them that way, decides he’s had enough. It appears he hadn’t read the small print and hadn’t realised the job was a permanent one.

Brain Lumley’s ‘The Long Last Night’ is as much an “after the holocaust” story, as it is a Cthulhu Mythos tale. The holocaust in this case being the return of the Great Old Ones, and the subjugation of what’s left of the human race. In a way, it could be considered a sort of sequel to either of the two previous stories. The bleak future that would logically follow the events in those stories has come to pass. Henry Chattaway has lost everything, including his wife and two daughters. All he has left is revenge, and he’s set out on the final of several dangerous treks through what’s left of the London Underground system to enact it.

This is a varied and entertaining collection of stories. The book has a great Les Edwards painted cover, and is full of superb black and white illustrations by Randy Broecker—albeit they don’t appear to be directly tied to the stories. The half-dozen full page illustrations would certainly be worthy of reprinting in a high quality portfolio. There are also lots of smaller illustrations, although the ones at the top of the first page of each story are just the same three, repeated in rotation.