Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: Peter Rawlik's "Reanimators"

Seriously, check out this cover. You'd
have to be some kind of moron not
to want to read it immediately.
Reanimators (2013) [Amazon]
Peter Rawlik

Why did I buy it?
Just look at that pulpy cover. Art Deco out the wazoo, two guys with syringes full of glowing fluid in an old-timey cityscape, postures clearly suggesting action and pursuit! Plus it promises to tell—even expand upon!—Herbert West's story through the perspective of an apparently rather determined nemesis! While David Gale's flying severed head has left any purported rival to Dr. West with some pretty big shoes to fill, I'm a total sucker for this "new side of an old story" approach (Philip Jos√© Farmer, who once wrote a Tarzan story as if it had been written by William S. Burroughs instead of Edgar Rice Burroughs, was the all-time grandmaster), and have almost zero sales resistance. So I grabbed it off the shelf while hunting for candidates for the Fact Desk and vowed to read it.

How is it?
It starts off in the grand pulp tradition, with an agitated narrator promising to explain where all those bodies came from. We soon find ourselves caught up in the first few chapters of Lovecraft's original 6-part serial "Herbert West, Reanimator" (check it out here), except this time we find out that zombie Dean Halsey's rampage left Dr. West with a pretty pissed-off nemesis in the form of the freshly-orphaned Dr. Stuart Hartwell. Our bereaved protagonist decides to dedicate his life to Revenge, and determines to beat West at the reanimation game while he's at it. It's not long before the novel's scope has expanded from the original events of HWR to include appearances by a number of prominent characters and events on the Lovecraftian timeline, from both the Old Man's own works and those of a few of his contemporaries. Sometimes the overlap is a local character whose own encounter with the unnameable lies in their future; sometimes we're treated to behind-the-scenes details that flesh out a familiar story, most notably "The Shadow out of Time" and "The Dunwich Horror." The danger of an approach like this is that readers who aren't familiar with Lovecraft's universe might end up feeling like they're sitting at a table with a bunch of horror geeks trading impenetrable in-jokes. While I can't speak from the perspective of those appallingly ignorant creatures, everything seems to be smoothly woven together into a tale that is enhanced by a knowledge of the classic works of the Cthulhu Mythos but stands alone just fine without it. No matter how well-versed you are, though, you're bound to find yourself occasionally turning to Wikipedia to see why a character's name sounds familiar, or whether Summerisle is where you think it is.
   One problem I had early on was the portrayal of Herbert West as a clueless bungler, constantly two or three steps behind his hidden nemesis. But wait! We all think of the amazing Jeffrey Combs when the name of that cursed Herbert West comes up, but that's the movie. If you go back to the source, you'll find that the original Dr. Herbert West wasn't exactly a sharply-defined character. Each chapter of the serialized story was intended to be a quick jab of horror, a slow burn build-up that drags out the revelation of a final shocking twist, like cramming five paragraphs between "hanging from the door handle..." and "...was a stainless steel hook!" West was just a nebulous blur, blond and bloody, without any particular character at all beyond "Mad Scientist." Once I got my fanboy outrage under control, his hapless fumbling was easier to take. Even better, the novel's focus soon relegates Dr. West to the sidelines, offering all manner of ichorous delights as Dr. Hartwell finds that he just can't get away from the weird shit. From zombie outbreaks to the bloody trenches of World War I, even if you just can't get over your beloved Herbert West being slandered as a dunce, there should be more than enough else in the book to keep you happy.

Look, I don't have time to read all this crap. Sum it up!
Overall, Reanimators is a terrific throwback to the glory days of pulp horror, and if you're not familiar with H.P. Lovecraft and the cosmic horrors he introduced to the world, it'll definitely whet your appetite for the classic works that started it all. Why not start with two of the finest collections of Cthulhu Mythos tales on the market today, Ross E. Lockhart's The Book of Cthulhu and The Book of Cthulhu II? I swear, I'm going to do a proper review of those soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Insert facts here.