Novels that partially satisfy disappoint more deeply than books that are simply outright bad. The Lovecraft Squad: All Hallows Horror (2017) has commendable attributes. After a creaky opening, in which two boys rummaging around a construction site discover centuries-old human remains, the narrative starts to engage. Unfortunately, although author John Llewellyn Probert gets quite a bit of momentum going in this tale set in 1994, he doesn’t succeed in sustaining it.
American Bob Chambers is called to England to investigate the boys’ findings. Chambers is a member of the Cthulhu Investigation Division of the Human Protection League. He gets railroaded into giving an interview to comely journalist Karen Shepworth, who is unaware of his affiliation with the arcane branch of the FBI. When a manuscript unearthed with the skull and bones requires interpreting, Karen leads Bob to an academic with expertise in Medieval Studies. While the scholar is deciphering, the threesome experience disturbing visions: “They were images of the events described on the final page of the document. Images of horror and despair, of disease and of chaos.”
The manuscript is connected to a missing story from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Links are made to All Hallows Church, reputedly one of the most haunted structures in Britain. A group expedition to the notorious edifice is deemed warranted. The sanctioned seven participants in the probe include the previously discussed troika, a de rigueur man of the cloth, and a charlatan parapsychologist. Supernatural manifestations come fast and furious, as the dead begin to rise. It’s not a pretty sight: “Scraps of muscle and clothing still adhered to the limbs of some and the ribcages of others, but the occupants of this graveyard had been here a long time and there was very little left that was not bone. Despite this, maggots tumbled from every orifice—from eyeless sockets, nasal cavities, from ear canals and mouths from which the lower jaw had long been dislocated and lost.”
Though laced with similarly vivid images, the narrative ultimately loses its impetus. After coming across as a homage to Richard Matheson’s Hell House combined with the Cthulhu Mythos, there’s some ill-advised Dante’s Inferno thrown into the mix. While the depictions of Hell are appropriately Boschian, the journey through the Nine Circles begins to feel like the literary equivalent of purgatory.
The Lovecraft Squad: All Hallows Horror, though written by Probert, was created by the venerable Stephen Jones. As a first book of a new series, the novel ends on a cliffhanger. Despite this being a common practice, it’s risky. If the reader isn’t hooked, then there’s little reason to give the follow-up novel a try. In the case of The Lovecraft Squad, the initial premise has some promise. A look at the sophomore effort isn’t out of the question.