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Hardboiled Cthulhu
edited by James Ambuehl
Dimensions Books/Elder Sign Press, 325 pages

Hardboiled Cthulhu
James Ambuehl
James Ambuehl is a longtime author and collector of the Mythos, and his stories have appear in such publications as Crypt of Cthulhu, Eldritch Tales, Al Azif, Dark Legacy, Cthulhu Codex, and in several online zines such as Nightscapes, The Eldritch Dark, and Mythos Online. He has also had two collections of his work published, From Between the Star-Spaces (Imelod Publications, 1998) and Correlated Contents (Mythos Books, 1998), and has had stories in The Ithaqua Cycle and Lin Carter's Anton Zarnak: Supernatural Sleuth, and the German anthology, Der Cthulhu-Mythos: 1976-2002 (Festa Verlag, 2003). He has even more work upcoming in further Chaosium Cycle books, Mythos Books' The Black Book, several anthologies from Rainfall Books in the UK, and an omnibus collection, in several volumes, from Lindisfarne Press.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mario Guslandi

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Lovecraftian mythos as the object and the target of harboiled investigations, or, if you want, Howard P. Lovecraft teaming with Raymond Chandler. Indeed an intriguing, original idea which has produced twenty-one new stories by a group of writers sharing an established enthusiasm for the universe and the disreputable inhuman entities created by the master from Providence.

Now, the shrewdest horror readers will wonder, a whole anthology devoted to such a challenging but narrow theme? You have a point there, my friends, because, predictably, the book provides good fiction but the subject has limited potential and, as the tales roll by, they become a bit repetitive, conveying a sense of déjà vu.

Nevertheless, there is some delectable material in there that I really have to mention, starting with the opening piece by editor James Ambuehl, "The Pisces Club," which sets the standard with a classical P.I. story where the case at hand involves some Lovecraftian creatures.

William Jones contributes "A Change of Life" -- a fine, entertaining gangster story featuring a main character who's not exactly human…

In David Witteween's "Ache" a mere matter of stolen money reveals to the unaware investigators a world of cosmic horror.

In the brilliant "A Little Job in Arhkam" by John Sunseri, an ingenious plan for stealing the original Necronomicon from Miskatonic University has an unexpected ending.

"Outside Looking In" by David Conyers is a perfect, convincing, well written mix of PI stuff and Lovecraftian horror while Eric J Millar's "The Devil in You" is a rather implausible but fully enjoyable pulp fiction piece.

The compelling "Pazuzu's Children" by Jeffrey Thomas introduces a welcome variation on the anthology's theme by setting the action during the Gulf war and describing how humans and demons can get on well together.

Newcomer Jonathan Sharp provides the excellent "The White Mountains," a spooky, vivid horror tale where a mysterious sludge rules the mountain wilderness.

Robert M. Price's "The Prying Investigations of Edwin M Lillibridge," one of the most Lovecraftian pieces in the volume, probes the secrets and the unholy deeds of an odd religious sect, whereas James Chambers' "The Roaches in the Wall" is a typical detective story where roaches are not the worst of the worries for the naive hero reporting the facts.

Another captivating contribution is "The Watcher from the Grave" by J.F. Gonzalez, a powerful tale revisiting the classical themes of Lovecraft's fiction in a vibrant narrative style.

Finally, the highlight of the anthology is by far Richard A. Lupoff's "Dreemz.biz," a splendid, engrossing story in which an enigmatic web site supplies vivid -- too vivid! -- dreams to its occasional customers. In this outstanding piece, which offers very little on the hardboiled side, the Lovecraftian component becomes apparent only in the last couple of pages yet the feeling of cosmic horror lingers long after you close the book.

A slimmer selection of stories would have certainly benefited the anthology, avoiding duplication of plots and atmospheres, but the inclusion of some excellent fiction makes the book well worth reading.

Copyright © 2007 by Mario Guslandi

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy, and is a long-time fan of dark fiction. His book reviews have appeared on a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, Necropsy, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.


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