Monday, May 31, 2010
SHADOWS BEND by David Barbour and Richard Raleigh
This is a book I had for quite a while, and I'd heard quite a bit of hype about it. It's a fictionalized teaming of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, battling Cthulhoid menaces, and while it's interesting in some ways, it fails at being either exciting or horrific.
It opens with Lovecraft arriving in Cross Plains, TX, to see Howard, and many of his early scenes are done as fish-out-of-water comedy. Lovecraft, the stuffy New Englander with British affectations, doesn't fit into rural Texas of 1935! He's in a panic, and has to see Howard. Turns out H.P. has been given a kachina doll with possibly evil powers, and the two need to head to California to meet up with Clark Ashton Smith (who has a possible copy of the real "Necronomicon") for them to consult.
On the way, they latch on to an Ivy-League educated prostitute, Glory, and they're pursued on the way by amorphous beings who are unacquainted with the English language and seek to destroy.
It's got an interesting concept, to be sure, and the characterizations are well-done. We get both men's good and bad points, their learning and artistry along with their prejudices and neuroses. The most appealing character in the book is Clark Ashton Smith, presented as a very centered and sane person, at peace with himself and his life. But sometimes it doesn't ring true, especially at one point where Howard refers to his "girl," Novalyne Price, who I think by this time had broken up with him and was involved with someone else. (I'll have to watch THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD again...) There's also a reference to Howard creating "Red Sonja," who really was a product of 70s comic books with a name taken from a minor character in a Howard historical story. But outside the Big Three, the characterizations are fairly flat. Glory never really comes to life, and seems more of a plot device than anything else. An aged Native American shaman is almost offensively cliched.
And the interactions between the two lead characters are what made it readable to me, because the actual plot is so lumbering and meandering that there's little real menace and excitement to it. There's some secret in the kachina that Lovecraft and Howard have to take to some location in the Southwest to prevent the Old Ones from coming back. That's pretty much it. There's a halfway clever angle of Lovecraft being perturbed about how what he had considered his fictional creations turn out to be real and telepathically transmitted to him in dreams, but more could be done with it. And all peters out in the end, rather anticlimactically.
There's too many inaccuracies about the real-life characters, and too much dullness in the plot, to make this worthwhile. A sad misfire, because I can tell they really wanted to do something special.