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Book Review: Weirder Shadows over Innsmouth, edited by Stephen Jones

Weirder Shadows

“One of the best Lovecraft-inspired anthologies ever!”

Weirder Shadows Over InnsmouthFor the uninitiated, Fedogan & Bremer is a small press outfit that during the 1990s and 2000s rivalled Arkham House, both in the quality of the books it produced and the kind of writers it published. Beautiful hardcover volumes containing the reprinted work of the likes of Hugh B Cave with ‘Death Stalks the Night’ and Robert Bloch with The Early Fears’ came out alongside new original novels and anthologies that were still very much in the Weird Tales tradition (‘The House of the Toad’ by Richard L Tierney, Robert M Price’s ‘The New Lovecraft Circle’). In recent years Fedogan & Bremer has been inactive for reasons described with tact and discretion by Stephen Jones in his introduction to Weirder Shadows over Innsmouth, a book that, while being excellent in its own right, also heralds the very welcome return of the Fedogan & Bremer imprint to the publishing scene.

H P Lovecraft’s tale ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth’ has provided the inspiration for countless creative works over the years. Everything from Chaosium Publishing’s The Innsmouth Cycle anthology to Stuart Gordon’s 2001 movie adaptation Dagon owe their origins to Lovecraft’s classic tale. Stephen Jones edited his first all-original Innsmouth-inspired anthology for Fedogan & Bremer back in 1994. It was published as a paperback in the UK by Gollancz, and the endeavour was successful enough for a follow-up volume, entitled Weird Shadows over Innsmouth, to come out in 2005.

By the law of diminishing returns, the pessimistic might expect the third volume of a series inspired by a single story and from the same editor to display a noticeable fatigue. The fact that this is by no means the case, and that the latest instalment may well be the best in the series so far, is a testament both to Mr Jones’ skill as an editor and the talents of the authors he has picked to contribute this time around.

The book kicks off, after a short poem by Lovecraft himself entitled The Port, with the late John Glasby’s ‘Innsmouth Bane’. It’s a splendid way to get the anthology going, being set twenty years after the events of HPL’s original, and packing enough action and disturbing imagery into its fourteen pages to make the reader hungry for more.

Kim Newman’s Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in ‘The Case of the French Spy’ is a delightful change of style and pace, and is a bit like ‘The Famous Five Meet Dagon’ with its breathless childhood adventure narrative and a very sweet ending – excellent stuff. ‘Innsmouth Clay’ by Derleth and Lovecraft follows, and, like the Glasby, is another short direct Innsmouth sequel, this time about a sculptor who finds himself making something suspiciously recognisable out of the local clay.

Reggie Oliver is up next with ‘The Archbishop’s Well’. Oliver’s story is everything you might expect from this master of the short form, offering a Lovecraft-Jamesian hybrid set in the cathedral city of Morchester and involving academics removing the lid from an ancient well with predictable, but no less enjoyable, results.

‘You Don’t Want to Know’ by Adrian Cole is Mike Hammer versus Cthulhu as detective Nick Nightmare is employed to find a refugee from Innsmouth who is trying desperately to return to his home town. It’s a lot of fun and Cole nails the noir style perfectly. Caitlin R Kiernan contributes three tales, sprinkled through the volume. The first of these, ‘Fish Bride’, deals with the fascinating idea of an Innsmouth brothel. The second, ‘On the Reef’, tells of a cult that meets once a year in the name of the Deep Ones, and the third, ‘The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings’, is a tiny tale of anatomical transformation. They’re all beautifully written and an absolute pleasure to read.

Conrad Williams contributes ‘The Hag’s Stone’. Set off the coast of Guernsey and based on a real location, it tells the tale of an elderly man who takes a holiday at an abandoned fort near the sea. His dreams are plagued by a hideous creature that has what look like baskets hanging from its waist. Could it have anything to do with the serial killer known as The Fisherman who only kills women and takes their wombs? This is cracking stuff from Mr Williams that manages to be melancholy, disturbing, and properly horrific.

Angela Slatter is next with ‘The Song of Sighs’, about a very special college campus and the secret held by one of its lecturers. To say any more would be to spoil it, but it’s another delicious tale from a very fine author indeed. Ms Slatter is along later in the volume as well with a short lyrical piece entitled ‘Rising, Not Dreaming’.

Brian Hodge gives us ‘The Same Deep Waters as You’, an excellent novelette in which animal whisperer Kerry Larimer gets taken to an isolated island by government representatives to do some very special whispering indeed.

The volume is rounded out by similarly excellent contributions by Ramsey Campbell, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Michael Marshall Smith and Brian Lumley. There isn’t space to write about them all here but instead of reading this you really should be going out and buying this book now. One of the best Lovecraft-inspired anthologies ever, Weirder Shadows over Innsmouth doesn’t have a bad story in it. Full marks to Mr Jones and his authors for breathing new life into the subgenre, whether it be by natural methods or through the gills they hopefully haven’t acquired as a result of meddling with those Weird and Shadowy things best left alone by the rest of us.

JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT

Publisher: Fedogan & Bremer
Hardback (350pp)
Release Date: November 2013

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1 comment

  1. andrea norwood

    I love H.P.Lovecraft! I have his best anthology tales movie at home.

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