Tag Archives: lovecraftian

Review of The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, by Alexis Hall

Book cover of The Affair of the Mysterious Letter

I pre-ordered a copy of Alexis Hall‘s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter.

Description from Goodreads:

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark. 

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas’ stock-in-trade. 

Review:

This book came to me challenged. It simply had so much to live up to. Alexis Hall is one of my favorite authors. But more importantly, several years ago I came across a snippet they’d written that has haunted me ever since. I don’t remember if it was a piece of their then WIP or a standalone scene that had just come to them. But either way, it stuck with me and I’VE WANTED THAT STORY ever since. When I read the synopsis for The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, I desperately hoped this was the story that scrap of writing fit into. And if my memory of that scene serves, I think it is.

The challenge for The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, of course, is how can reality possibly stand up to something imagine by another (however vaguely) for years? In some ways it accomplishes this task admirably, in others it was me who posed an impediment to my own enjoyment.

John is everything I could want in a puritanic Watson- esque hero. Ms. Haas is everything I could hope for in a cryptic, sorcerous Holmes. Hall’s writing is crisp as ever, the story engaging, and (as so many others have said) the story is marvelously queer. However, I struggled with the frequent breaks in the narrative in which John attempted discourse with the reader (especially in the beginning) and the Lovecraftian world full of reality bending gods was at times hard to pin down. (On a side note, I kept waiting for Piccadilly and Co. to make a cameo. I really hope there wasn’t one that I missed. LOL)

All in all, however, once I’d gotten used to the pace, I truly enjoyed this book. Everything about John Wyndham is lovable and 100% hope I sensed a future romance in the works for him. I ship him and [deleted to avoid spoiler] hard core. I don’t know if Hall plans more books in this series. But I’d look forward to reading them if there are more.

Review of The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle

I borrowed an audio copy of The Ballad of Black Tom (by Victor LaValle) from my local library.

Description from Goodreads:

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his black skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their trained cops. But when he delivers an occult page to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

Review:

I found this a really powerful novella. It deftly shows how easily the injustice and cruelty of everyday racism can push even good men to monster-like acts. (I was going to say turn them into monsters. But I don’t think Tom is ever a monster; just emotionally beaten by the racial realities of the 1920s.) I found it especially poignant how, even after the fact, the primary white character erases Tom from the event, effectively hiding the embodiment of white America’s sins (and his own participation in it) from himself, rendering it moot. All in all, I found this atmospheric and evocative. Plus, Kevin R. Free did a great job with the narration. A+