Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Book Review: The Mall of Cthulhu by Seamus Cooper

[Buy this book on Amazon
in the UK / in the US]

"A decade ago, college student Laura Harker was saved from a fate worse than death at the hands (and fangs) of a centuries-old vampire priestess and her Satanic minions. Her rescuer, an awkward, geeky folklore student named Teddy, single-handedly slew the undead occupants of the Omega Alpha sorority house, spurred into heroic action by fate itself, inexorably intertwining his and Laura's destinies. After navigating her way through law school, Laura is now a junior FBI agent assigned to the Bureau's Boston office.

"Unfortunately, she finds her job involves more paperwork than adventure. When Ted stumbles onto a group of Cthulhu cultists planning to awaken the Old Ones through mystic incantations culled from the fabled Necronomicon, he and Laura must spring into action, traveling from Boston to the seemingly-peaceful suburbs of Providence and beyond, all the way to the sanity-shattering non-Euclidian alleyways and towers of dread R'lyeh itself, in order to prevent an innocent shopping center from turning into... the Mall of Cthulhu!"


Ted and Laura have had an unlikely life. Having narrowly survived an onslaught of hot college vampires, they've clung desperately to one another during the decade that passes between the off-the-wall prologue of The Mall of Cthulhu and the first chapter proper. They're not an item, much as Ted would like them to be - Laura's particular sexual proclivities have seen to that - but bound together as the only living witnesses to the unspeakable horror of that fateful night in the Omega Alpha sorority house, they've come to rely on one another. When ten years later we pick up on them, they're both young adults in thankless employment: one slings the perfect latte for an interminable chain of coffee houses and the other trolls through ATM footage in search of an as-good-as invisible criminal. But at least they've seen their fare share of the supernatural.

So when Ted comes across a Lovecraftian cult planning to subjugate humanity under the many-tentacled horror of a rebirthed Cthulhu, he thinks to himself, could lightning have really struck him twice? Well, it has. He and Laura will soon be doing their utmost to put an end to the dastardly cult's designs before they seize the chance to realise them in a non-descript mall somewhere in Providence.

I'll admit, I had my reservations about The Mall of Cthulhu. As I said in the sophomore edition of The BoSS, "I do enjoy a bit of clever wordplay from time to time, but to structure an entire novel around a Lovecraftian pun seems a bit much." Thankfully, my worries have proven groundless, and I certainly won't be docking any points from what I gather must be Seamus Cooper's first novel for its somewhat dubious title. From the moment it gets going, which is to say immediately, The Mall of Cthulhu is fun, frivolous and outright freaky. I've never laughed so hard at mythos fiction as I did during the hours I devoted to reading this.

The plot is clearly a bit of nonsense; hardcore, humourless Lovecraft fans coming for their fix will, I fear, be disappointed. Luckily, I'm just about as familiar with that author as Laura, who after doing a little reading observes that "Lovecraft was apparently some sort of horror writer from the twenties who wrote a lot about gigantic octopus-headed creatures from other dimensions that he called 'The Old Ones' and their nameless horrible horror, and bad geometry. Or something like that." It's precisely the sort of wit embodied in that passage that makes The Mall of Cthulhu such an unadulterated pleasure.

In any case, there's enough genuine intrigue from the get-go to keep readers turning pages until they come to know, and inevitably love, the double-act at the heart of The Mall of Cthulhu. Putting to one side all the wacky supernatural goings-on, Ted and Laura are such utterly human characters, each as flawed as the other and foundering in lives they hadn't imagined they'd live, that they appeal effortlessly; the pair have such an honest, down to earth rapport, such genuine feeling for one another that it's hard not to buy into their dire derring-do.

Cooper communicates it all with lively dialogue and some genuinely electric exposition. Hiding in a dumpster from the cult, Ted "thought about opening the laptop and playing some Minesweeper or something, but then he remembered he was hiding from very bad people who told him they'd had him begging for death - correction, for the sweet mercy of death, and he thought maybe being bored might not be so bad."

The Mall of Cthulhu can be verbose on occasion, certainly, and the finale is perhaps a little anti-climactic, but by and large, Cooper's first novel is a great, break-neck read, with a tight-knit cast of appealing, charismatic characters and a narrative packed full of whimsy and darkly fantastic wonders. Equal parts comedy, horror and action as madness and mythos intertwine, Seamus Cooper has created in The Mall of Cthulhu a book that's hard to beat in terms of its sheer energy and exuberance.


The Mall of Cthulhu
by Seamus Cooper
October 2009, Night Shade

[Buy this book on Amazon
in the UK / in the US]

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