Gumshoe Mythos: Noir and Lovecraft fiction

By Matthew Carpenter.

It seems that some genres were just meant to be together. For the Cthulhu mythos, noir detective stories seem like a natural fit.

After all, in Lovecraft’s stories we often see from the viewpoint of an introverted antiquarian chasing down some minor bit of genealogy or history, who ends up uncovering something quite terrible. Moving over to the viewpoint of a jaded detective or world weary private investigator requires very little effort. In fact, such characters have more appeal to most of us than a reclusive scholar.

Here are some examples of this in recent mythos fiction:

The Tales of Inspector Legrasse (CJ Henderson, Mythos Books, 2005, ISBN 978-0972854511)

CJ Henderson is famous for his tales of detectives exploring supernatural nooks and crannies. In this series of linked stories he fleshes out the experiences of a character HPL introduced in “The Call of Cthulhu”, showing that the Cthulhu cult was not done with M. Legrasse after the events in the Louisiana swamps in 1907.

The Midnight Eye Files: The Amulet (William Meikle, KHP Publishers, 2005, ISBN 978-0976791461)

This book is a real treat! Derek Adams is a down on his luck detective in Glasgow, Scotland, working for £250 a day, plus expenses. He spends most of his day chain smoking and getting drunk. In walks a dame with a case and it’s trouble. Big trouble. Cthulhu sized trouble. Fortunately for fans, Derek squeaks through to have further adventures in other books involving Norse gods and werewolves.

Hard Boiled Cthulhu: Two Fisted Tales of Tentacled Terror (ed James Ambuehl, Elder Signs Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0975922972)

I admit it. I am a sucker for this stuff. I skipped sleeping for two nights to read “Hard Boiled Cthulhu” when it came out. 21 mythos detective stories is a hard bargain to pass up. There are some really brilliant gems in here, including “The Roaches in the Walls” by James Chambers and “Some Thoughts on the Problem of Order” by Simon Bucher-Jones. I am not sure humor ever translates well, but for English language readers “Eldritch Fells” is about the funniest mythos story ever.

Deadstock (Jeffrey Thomas, Solaris, 2007, ISBN 978-1844164479)

Jeffrey Thomas created Punktown, a city on the planet Oasis, where humans and aliens mix uneasily in a festering sea of desperation and crime (All of the Punktown books are well worth reading.). Deadstock is a sequel to an earlier book, “Monstrocity”, but it happens to be of more interest to noir fans. In “Deadstock”, Jeremy Stake, a down-on-his-luck private investigator, has been hired to find the missing toy of a wealthy industrialist’s daughter. Need I say that this case is more trouble than it’s worth?

Looking for Darla (Ron Shiflet, Elder Signs Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1934501139)

For a while, Ron Shiflet was producing highly readable mythos stories but now he has moved on to other things. Looking for Darla is a collection of his short stories and quite a few of them are about private investigators or other unsavory types swept up in mythos goings on. Some stories of interest are “Looking for Darla,” “Don’t Monkey with a Monkey,” and “Case of the Missing Grimoire.” However, my favorite story in the whole book was “The Parasite,” which was not gumshoe at all.

Cthulhu Unbound 1, Cthulhu Unbound 2 (ed Thomas Brannan and John Sunseri, Permuted Press, 2009, ISBN numbers 978-1934861134 and 978-1934861141)

Permuted Press gave us some wonderfully eclectic anthologies of Cthulhu mythos fiction. They are not specifically gumshoe collections, but each volume did have one story that was a delightful example of the genre. In volume 1 “Turf” by Rick Moore is about a gangster who suddenly competing for his turf with a new and shadowy rival. In volume 2 “The Long, Deep Dream” by Peter Clines is one of the absolutely finest Cthulhu mythos stories I have ever read. A gumshoe is given a case and it turns him around in unimaginable directions.

Southern Gods (John Honor Jacobs, Nightshade Books, 2011, ISBN 978-1597802857)

This is not exactly a Cthulhu mythos books but it shares thematic elements with Lovecraft, as well as a few names, and what the heck, it’s a terrific read. Bull Ingram is a World War II veteran who can only find work as a PI and maybe occasionally as an enforcer. He is hired in Memphis, TN, by a radio disc jockey to find a mysterious musician, Johnny Hastur, whose brand of the blues is causing havoc across the back roads of the south.

Dance of the Damned (Alan Bligh, Fantasy Flight Games, 2011, ISBN 978-1589949706)

Fantasy Flight Games is the company that produces the role playing game “Arkham Horror”, a sort of table top version of Chaosium’s “Call of Cthulhu”. They have been pretty successful with this franchise, with several other games spinning off the original. It was only a matter of time before they gave us novels based on their characters and scenarios from “Arkham Horror”! I know about at least four other books in this series but I think “Dance of the Damned” is the best. In 1920s Arkham and Kingsport some characters, including the tough PI Tony Morgan, when some dame’s beau disappears after stealing a very ancient and valuable artifact. This is quite a diverting little book!

If the reader will take the trouble to, um, investigate, it turns out that gumshoes very comfortably find a place in a noir mythos world. I am sure we will see more such work in the future because it is such an appropriate pairing.

This post is by Matthew Carpenter.

9 responses to “Gumshoe Mythos: Noir and Lovecraft fiction

  1. I have Hard Boiled Cthulhu on the shelf – still trying to get to it. Just recently finished The Book of Cthulhu. I remember Joe Pulver’s story “To Live and Die in Arkham” had a hard boiled atmosphere (at least for someone who typically doesn’t read detective stories). Pulver is always excellent. I second the vote for Nightmare’s Disciple.

  2. I have to agree with Mike about “Nightmare’s Disciple.” It kept me riveted.
    Two other anthologies I would take with me to a desert island would be “Shadows Over Baker Street,” and “Lin Carter’s Doctor Anton Zarnak.”

  3. I have read “Shadows over Baker Street” twice, an excellent collection, to be sure. I just finished “Southern Gods” a few weeks ago, and it was pretty good.

    When I think of the noir/mythos story, I usually think of Laird Barron, who has a bunch of tales in that vein. “The Imago Sequence” is a rather wonderful example.

    And who can forget Kim Newman’s “The Big Fish”?

    Thanks for the list, Matt. It’s always good to have suggestions from like-minded folks.

  4. I’d like to chime in with thanks to Matt for posting that list and forcing me to go buy more books (twist my arm!!!).

    I’d also like to add my own recommendation for Lovecraft noir films, to augment your reading (most of you probably know these already, but just in case) — The Resurrected (starring Christopher Sarandon as our requisite PI) is a terrific, grim variation on the theme of Lovecraft’s “Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” and of course there is the very tongue in cheek HBO movie “Cast a Deadly Spell” and its loose sequel “Witch Hunt” if you enjoy seeing Lovecraftian tropes played with on the screen.

  5. I would have to agree that detective fiction and Lovecraft are a great fit! Maybe it’s the Poe influence … My novella “The Order” in Dreaming in Darkness is a supernatural thriller of occult intrigue and secret societies that features a retired detective turned author who gets called back on duty to assist in a ritual murder case. As he delves deeper into the case, he starts to receive mysterious letters and have strange visions of a giant sea creature called The Old One.

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