RogerBW's Blog

The Dulwich Horror and Others, David Hambling 27 October 2020

2015 collection of Lovecraftian horror stories mostly set in South London. vt Shadows from Norwood.

It's a slightly disjointed collection, though. Three of the stories are linked together, and make a solid narrative between them: one has Bright Young Things looking into the slightly odd local church, one is set in the last days of the Crystal Palace, and the last wraps things up ten years later. The others are more of a mixed bag: two are in the 1920s, two in the modern day. One is American, one in the South Seas. Some of them are even optimistic…

As with Adrian Tchaikovsky's Lovecraftian short stories, these stories suffer slightly from re-using particular Lovecraftian entities (for example, some of the core structure of The Dunwich Horror is retained), and the experienced reader can say "aha, the clues indicate that this will have that sort of enemy in it". While there is some virtue of familiarity in having Deep Ones or Mi-Go or Cthulhu Itself showing up, I can't help but think that when Lovecraft wanted a monster he just made up a new one. (Fortunately he didn't live long enough to be forced to bring back the old crowd-pleasers in "another Deep One story".) To me the point of a Lovecraftian story is not the bestiary but the mindset… and fortunately that's something Hambling captures very well indeed.

Handled particularly well is the matter of Lovecraft's racism. Some later writers ignore it; some take it as a lens through which the stories are told (as with Ruthanna Emrys). Hambling remembers the description of the Elder Sign from The Shadow Over Innsmouth as "somethin' on 'em like what ye call a swastika naowadays" and is quite happy to posit that while the formless things may reasonably be regarded as evil, any opposition to them may not, itself, be the good guys either.

"The Dulwich Horror of 1927" has innocents stumbling into the industrial shredder that is the Mythos, and pulling back a bloody stump. But it's also a fine example of how Hambling isn't just writing a pastiche of Lovecraft in another country; he's done intensive research in the history of the area, and he's educated enough to know what "non-Euclidean geometry" actually means. One of the key things that fiction should be about to be regarded as Lovecraftian is discovering that the things one thought were unshakeable fact are built on mud, and that's done splendidly here.

We did not know whether the answer was electrification, socialism, or spelling reform, and we pursued them all.

"Two Fingers" is a modern story, with a determinedly unsympathetic character trying to get an injury treated. It's all right, but for me it lacks bite.

"The Thing in the Vault" is back in the 1920s, with a private eye working alongside Chicago gangsters to try to acquire a new kind of filter worked up by an eccentric emigré. Some lovely description of a small dying town, too.

"The Monsters in the Park" follows The Dulwich Horror and is set round the Crystal Palace (with dinosaurs) and Logie Baird's television experiments – but also brings in the Battle of Cable Street and the Abdication Crisis. There's also speculation about the motives of one of the Lovecraftian classics.

"The Devils in the Deep Blue Sea" is a fine sea story, that slightly breaks the Lovecraftian contract by making religion an effective defence – but it still works well.

"The Norwood Builder" is the other modern piece, an interesting idea with an unfortunately stupid narrator.

"Shadows of the Witch House" finishes off the series, with one of the survivors of the Horror making a new life among the Bohemians until horrible reality catches up.

I envied Claudia her ability to fall in and out of love, and how she preferred to place dynamite under her relationships rather than leave an unsatisfactory one standing.

[…]

They also said the cause of death was impossible to determine because he was badly decomposed. Well, that's a matter of opinion; I would say he was rather well decomposed.

This is a very fine collection, particularly the main sequence of three, and I'd recommend it to anyone with the slightest interest in yog-sothothery.

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  1. Posted by Shimmin Beg at 10:48am on 29 October 2020

    This certainly sounds like an interesting set - much better than the Shub-Niggurath Cycle which I just finished (don't bother). Might be one for my Christmas list.

  2. Posted by David Hambling at 08:12pm on 01 November 2020

    Glad you liked it! The Harry Stubbs series -- all set in 1920s South London --- overlaps with the stories in this collection and continues the theme. Review copies are always available.

    (Also the novel War of the God Queen which explores the fate of one character who dropped out of The Dulwich Horror and finds herself in a slightly different Lovecraftian genre)

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