Recommended Lovecraftian Novels, by Matthew Carpenter

For a while now, I’ve been asking Lovecraftian authors, editors, and critics about their favorite Lovecraftian short stories.  I thought it would be fun to ask some of those same people about their favorite Lovecraftian novels.

First up is Matthew Carpenter.  Matt says:

I decided to exclude novels that I love but that are already widely known and highly regarded among mythos fans. This includes some of my very favorites such as The Croning by Barron, The Fuller Memorandum by Stross, The Red Tree by Kiernan, and Radiant Dawn by Goodfellow. Instead I am only including works that deserve to be more widely known, with accomplished prose, clever plotting and great Lovecraftian sensibilities. Mostly I think the mythos works best in the short story form but these novels prove me wrong.

Here are my recommended Lovecraftian novels (click titles to purchase):

Where Goeth Nyarlathotep, by Daniel Reiner – Self published in 2005 on Lulu.com, this caught me completely by surprise. Most self published mythos fiction is quite poor, and yet here is a novel that stands up to the best of the genre. Robert Adderly is a student of mathematics enjoying a quite evening with his girlfriend when she suddenly combusts spontaneously. His efforts to discover why takes him to places totally unexpected.

Worse Things Waiting, by Brian McNaughton – I am cheating here of course. To best appreciate this you really have to read the preceeding novel, Downward to Darkness and that leads you to McNaughton’s first mythos novel, Gemini Rising. Anyway, I don’t know how anyone could not be impressed by the McNaughton’s deft plotting, gallows humor, great characters and believable dialogue. What an ending!

The Midnight Eye Files: The Amulet, by Willie Meikle – So..you think you know Meikle based on a few short stories? The Midnight Eye Files is his best work, and The Amulet is pure mythos. Derek Adams is a down on his luck £250-per-day-plus-expenses gumshoe in Glasgow, what little time he isn’t chain smoking he spends getting drunk. In walks a knock out dame with a case and it is trouble (it always is isn’t it?)!

The Drums of Chaos, by Richard Tierney – Richard Tierney’s concept and vision for The Drums of Chaos is nothing less than breathtaking. It is perhaps the most brilliant premise for a Cthulhu mythos novel ever. The sweep of his research and mastery of the background material just puts me in awe. For this I forgive him the execution of the material which is less successful. Also be aware that you can’t make sense of this without reading Robert Price’s spoilerific introduction.

Delta Green: The Rules of Engagement, by John Tynes – So, you kind of want to get into Delta Green but don’t know where to start? Look no further than the best work in the whole subsubgenre, John Tynes masterful novel of suspense and espionage. Overlook the fact that FBI agent Matt Carpenter is needlessly gunned down.

14, by Peter Clines – Brilliant in so many ways, plotting, characters, prose, but what really blew me away was the underlying concept. It is a fiendishly clever book.

Matthew Carpenter

A big “thank you” to Matt for his recommendations! — Mike Davis

9 responses to “Recommended Lovecraftian Novels, by Matthew Carpenter

  1. Throne of bones, by McNaughton, is a wonderful collection of stories in a bizarre world … sort of tolkien meets clark ashton smith (or lovecraft, but more of a cas vibe). I’m glad he’s writing new stuff, thanks for the great list!

  2. Mr Davis, does clicking on the book links listed support the cause as it is coming from the page? Because, here we are again, with a new listing, and me wanting to buy everyone I do not already have.

    • Hi, Jowell. Yes, when I link to books in a post, I’ve already included the code to support the magazine. So in other words, clicking those links in the post to buy the books will support Lovecraft eZine. Thanks for asking.

  3. Mr. McNaughton died in ~ 2004, a dissipated alcoholic at age 69. He had written a series of 4 books, the first with some explicit pornographic scenes for a publisher of tawdry books cal the Satan series, starting with Satan’s Lovechild. Later in his life, working with Wildside Press he was able to tighten these up, expunge the pornography and republish them in his preferred form. Thus Satan’s Lovechild became Gemini Rising. The only 2 of the 4 that are directly linked are Downward to Darkness and Worse Things Waiting. Although a superb read,in my opinion, The House Across the Way is not Lovecraftian. The Throne of Bones is the winner to The World Fantasy award in 1985 (I think) and includes al of McNaughton’s ghoulish tales, basically Lovecraftian ghouls so of great interest to Lovecraftians. It is marvelous book.

    Although Mr. McNaughton is gone we at least have these works. Perhaps the greatest loss from his tragic death is that he never got to revise and republish the novel he wrote under the pseudonym Sheena Clayton called Tide of Desire, a genuine myths novel published on a soft core prone romance label in the early 80s that is quite a rarity (Yes, I have a copy and no, it’s not leaving the house.).

  4. In my opinion, the whole of the Delta Green canon is some amazingly good modern adaptation of how the Lovecraft Mythos might present itself today. Bleak, hopeless, corrosive… Humanity can struggle heroically against a savagely insensate universe. And at the end of the day, we have to be content with the little bit of time they’ve bought us before the Great Old Ones have their inevitable ingress.

  5. FYI, here is my review of Tide of Desire by Sheena Clayton from 2009: This is a review I never thought I would be able to write. I owe it all to an anonymous benefactor who acquired a copy of Tide of Desire from a used book dealer online, and then let me read it. James Ambuehl always said that to make a buck Brian McNaughton wrote some novels under pseudonyms in the early 1980s, Sheen Clayton (romances) and Mark Bloodstone (hard boiled stuff). I’m not sure how he knew this; perhaps Mr. McNaughton told him? Perhaps Jim can enlighten us? Tide of Desire was published under the pseudonym Sheen Clayton in 1983 by Siena Publishing Corp as a Pandora Book. It is a 252 mass market page paperback, with text starting on page 5. I found one sentence duplication but otherwise no printing errors. The rather anonymous cover shows two attractive models dressed in (1980s garb!) white, surrounded by white flowers. It looks very much like a pocketbook romance, but is not nearly as breathless as some of the shirtless male model covers so common these days. In fact just looking at the cover you would think it was quite tame, aimed at women who want some escapist fare for the beach or bus. Boy, were those readers in for a rude shock! At any rate, I don’t think any of the Sheena Clayton novels had a very big printing, and finding them is quite difficult. The only other one I know about is Perfect Love, selling used for $69 on line. I saw where the seller says it is not mythos, which Tide of Desire most explicitly is. The early 1980s is quite a distance away from the late 1990s, when Mr. McNaughton finally began to garner some well deserved recognition. For example, the author wrote the Satan series (Satan’s Lovechild, Satan’s Mistress, Satan’s Seductress and Satan’s Surrogate) in the early 1980s. At least the first was pornographic, and obviously these were aimed low based on instructions of the publisher. I doubt Mr. McNaughton made more than a few dollars for these. In the early 2000s, thanks to the wonderful staff at Wildside Press, Mr. McNaughton was given a chance to rework these books, excise any parts he didn’t want in and reprint them with new titles (Gemini Rising, Downward to Darkness, Worse Things Waiting and The House across the Way). They are revealed as modern Lovecraftian masterpieces. Alas, when Mr. McNaughton died at the untimely age of 69 in 2004, Wildside was forced to abandon its McNaughton edition, so we will never know what he may have made of Tide of Desire. That is really very much our loss, as we will see. This novel has a fair bit of nudity and rather explicit sex, although perhaps not as graphic as Satan’s Lovechild (And it made me wonder exactly *who *was the audience for this book? Do romance fans like explicit sex? It wasn’t tawdry enough for a loser looking for a porn fix. Maybe it didn’t have an audience which is why it rapidly vanished from view). In fact the behavior of the protagonist clumsily included a lot of inappropriately getting naked in a way that didn’t seem to fit with her character otherwise. On the other hand, some of the nudity was perfectly consonant with the plot.

    Before giving a synopsis, I think it is reasonable to see what evidence there is that Tide of Desire is in fact, the work of Brian McNaughton. Actually, having read it, I can safely aver that it could be by no one else. The few Harlequin-type romances I have skimmed have had a sameness of bland, disinteresting prose, with emotions said to be throbbing but actually not well depicted on the page. Tide of Desire is actually well written, not as deft as more mature McNaughton, but with the same lively characterization, clever plotting and with dialogue that rings true. Also, self servingly, one of the characters finds a novel of Mr. McNaughton in the library, Satan’s Seductress. Come on now, who else would have done that back in 1983? Also who else would use a romance title as a way to retell the Innsmouth story? Also, at one point the worship service of the Deep Ones foreshadows the short story The Doom That Came to Innsmouth. Lovecraftian names abound: the executive secretary of a foundation is EP Derby, the family name of a friend of the protagonist is Waite, etc.

    I doubt many readers will ever get to see this book, but for the record, spoilers will follow so skip to the last paragraph if that bothers you.

    Antonia Shiel is a young woman trying and failing to make it in New York. Her two passions are poetry (she is having difficulty getting published, a theme which the author always vividly brought to the page, probably due to much experience) and swimming (did I telegraph too much already, Innsmouth fans?). She is supported by a boyfriend of sorts, Steve Fisher. Both are described as nearly hairless with somewhat protuberant eyes. Antonia’s life is a bit of a shambles; she and her cat, Cthulhu, are barely making it. Yep, Cthulhu. She named it after an elder god in a Lovecraft book she read. One of my well known peeves is I cannot stand the plot device that HPL told the truth disguised as fiction, but I let that go without much fuss here, I was so glad to read this book. Out of the blue, Antonia receives a grant from the Caleb Marsh Foundation to spend a year in a cabin on Squampottis Island, Maine (I am suspicious that the name of the island was a nod to a favorite Lovecraftian adjective, squamous). Without much fuss she abandons New York and heads north. We find out that she has a somewhat tense relationship with her father. It seems when she was just a girl her mother developed some strange skin condition, acquired a shuffling gait and swathed herself in loose clothing, before vanishing when Antonia was 10. Antonia had been an Olympic hopeful in swimming; every year her hands and feet seemed to get bigger while she lost more hair. Hmmm! On the ferry to run down, squalid, ill-thought-of-by-the-other-locals-who-say-the-inhabitants-aren’t-Christian island, Antonia sees some local youths swimming and diving, all unselfconsciously nude. When one does not seem to resurface, Antonia strips down (of course), dives off the ferry and swims to warn them. This was she begins to get a sense of the islanders and their mistrust of outsiders, particularly the Marsh Fellowship winners. Not to be too coy about it, eventually she learns that Caleb was Obed’s brother and he moved to Squampottis over a religious schism; they refer to those from Innsmouth as heretics. There is even a Reformed Order of Dagon church and a monument depicting miscegenation with fishy ones from the deep in the town square. Antonia notices her physical appearance begins to alter more rapidly and she seems to have dreams about obscene rites taking place just off the beach near the cabin she is staying in. She meets the town reporter, Lance Hawkins, and they immediately hit it off and get it on. Gradually she finds out the previous Marsh fellowship winners all disappeared early on in their island stay but none of them had her physical appearance. She finds one of her old college acquaintances was a Marsh fellow and left a frantic accusatory message hidden in the pages of a McNaughton novel before she, too, disappeared. She uncovers the unpleasant fact that her mother’s maiden name is shared by some islanders, who all are talking about whether they will have sufficient grace to pass over to the next phase of immortality. Things start to come to a head when Steve shows up and reveals that he is from the island, he also has the same town look and he is trying to help her make the change. Antonia has a trance-like experience where she takes part in an aquatic human sacrifice (of a conveniently expendable nosy reporter lady from offshore), where she meets her mother, now a Deep One. Now Antonia realizes she, too, will make the change from human to Deep One, and very soon. In a plot denouement which takes place breathlessly in about 3 pages, she and Lance steal a raft and flee the island, along with Cthulhu the cat. Once off the island she is suddenly somehow free of the taint, her appearance returns to almost normal and she and Lance are free to live a romantic life….man, was that a dissatisfying conclusion! The developing tension and dreamy horror sequences that were building up such a foreboding atmosphere cry out for something else. I am sure in this retelling/riff on The Shadow over Innsmouth Mr. McNaughton had a completely different ending in mind but was constrained by the nature of the book and his publisher. Maybe that’s why we ended up with the brilliant The Doom That Came to Innsmouth. Unfortunately, as I noted, the author died before he could give his final thoughts on the subject to Wildside Press. I am assuming he would have wanted to. This was a bit of a knock off after all, but then so was Satan’s Seductress.

    I wish all Lovecraftians could have the opportunity to decide if they want to read this book (maybe they can, although my search of the databases of the San Antonio and New York public libraries for Sheena Clayton turned up zip). As it is, only the most dedicated collectors will ever see it. It is not great McNaughton but I was certainly entertained and left with the wistful wondering of what could have been. I would welcome the chance to read any of the McNaughton titles written under the names Clayton and Bloodstone, although I doubt there is more mythos waiting for me.

    And here is a quote from Brian McNaughton dating from about 2000 from the still extant but not very active alt.horror.cthulhu: “Sheena Clayton was the illegitimate daughter of Sheena, Queen of the
    Jungle, and John Clayton, Lord Greystoke. I channeled her in several
    novels, of which TIDE OF DESIRE may have been the best. It wasn’t so
    much a CM novel as a Deep Ones novel, although the heroine’s pet cat
    — who plays a crucial role — was named Cthulhu.

    The publisher mangled the ending unconscionably, and for a while I
    thought I had lost the original ending, but I recently found it. If I
    ever get around to revising/restoring it, it may appear as a
    print-on-demand book from the booksamillion.com website.”

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