RogerBW's Blog

Alien Stars, David Hambling 09 November 2020

2017 Lovecraftian horror. In 1920s London, ex-boxer Harry Stubbs is employed to track down a mysterious thing. But it seems to be leaving corpses in its wake.

When I reviewed Broken Meats, I said:

Stubbs is still largely in the dark as to what's going on until the end, and he perhaps relies a bit heavily on being told things by other people rather than finding them out himself, but that's the sort of person he is; if he started to assemble clues and deduce things, he'd be a different sort of character.

But now, having survived two previous excursions into the uncanny, he is starting to assemble clues and deduce things, and he is a different sort of character… while remaining the same person. It's rather a neat trick, and a reward for series readers. (He's also being gradually pushed further into the criminal world, which doesn't quite suit him but he hasn't found a way out yet; that's an interesting tension I'd like to see developed further.)

There is of course a continuing Lovecraftian influence, but as before with Hambling what matters is the way that it's tied to real mythologies, and real history; the Horniman Museum has an important place in this story, and it's not just as a generic location where old stuff is stored, but rather in a way that takes advantage of its particular character and background. The leavings of Mathers and the Golden Dawn play a substantial part too (as they tend to in 20th-century occultism at least up to the war, and sometimes beyond). You can say "aha, aren't I clever, I've spotted that it's (creature X)", but it's not going to be the same as Lovecraft's take on creature X. Key points are shared, but there are rather more differences – and of course it's without Lovecraft's assumption that anything unfamiliar must necessarily be bad. (Though also, sensibly, without the assumption that it must be good…)

The story does sometimes feel like a single strand of clues: we have one lead, we follow it, the resolution is less than ideal but it generates one more lead. Which is fine in a linear narrative, of course, but I can't help also seeing this in terms of the Call of Cthulhu adventure it could also be, and in that one would really want a web of connections to follow, to make up for the ones that go wrong.

One could start here but some threads left in earlier books are picked up again here and there's reward to be had from knowing what they're about. Recommended.

A review copy was provided.

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Previous in series: Broken Meats | Series: Harry Stubbs

  1. Posted by Shimmin Beg at 01:33am on 08 February 2021

    Okay, these reviews have tickled my interest enough to add this to my next basket - I see there's a Harry Stubbs Adventures collection now.

    BTW, if you can get a Kobo affiliate link, I would use it.

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