The Lovecraft Squad: All Hallows Horror by John Llewellyn Probert & Stephen Jones is the 1st novel in a new series following the exploits of a secret organization dedicated to battling the eldritch monstrosities given form in H. P. Lovecraft's fevered imagination.
Zombies and Cthulhu—need I say more? This novel takes elements from the Zombie Apocalypse! series and weaves them expertly with elements from the H.P. Lovecraft mythos to bring us an energetic and detailed view of a world teetering on the brink of destruction by way of the eldritch gods.
Written by author John Llewellyn Probert and created by Stephen Jones comes the tale of a secret organization, the Human Protection League, tasked with the monitoring and dealing with of Cthulhu and his accompanying monsters. Bob Chambers—who works for the department inside the HPL titled the Cthulhu Investigation Division, aka The Lovecraft Squad—has been sent abroad to Britain where a suspicious report in a local newspaper has raised some eyebrows. Two mischievous teens stumbled upon some old bones and a mysterious clay pot that happened to be found at the birthplace of author H.G. Wells. The bones had the surprising effect of causing insanity on those who had accessed them. Chambers is called upon to find out the cause, and it quickly spirals from here.
When Chambers has his own unpleasant reaction to the bones, and the clay pot is broken revealing ancient scrolls containing text, we are also introduced to intrepid journalist for the News of Britain, Karen Shepworth. Looking for the next big story, she quickly offers to take the scrolls to her ex-professor at Oxford Dr. Rosalie Cruttenden to translate.
When the text is revealed, the three of them have a terrifying experience where they get a glimpse of an apocalyptic future surrounding an ancient church, complete with hordes of the walking dead. The scrolls are believed to be to be the missing story from The Canterbury Tales, written by famous author Geoffrey Chaucer. It is revealed that Thomas Moreby may have had a hand in the design of the church in their dreams, thereby tying in the Zombie Apocalypse! series. Soon after, the News of Britain is hosting a contest where two winners will have the chance to go on a four-night ghost hunt at the very same church—All Hallows Church, with its mysterious past of unexplained deaths and paranormal happenings—along with a team of investigators.
This is where it gets particularly intense and truly terrifying, as mentioned here once we see the church and get an idea of its sordid past:
There were the usual stories of strange noises or lights coming from the building, but it was the details in some of the tales that had caused his fingers to tremble and his mouth to turn as dry as the paper he was holding by the time he had finished the articles. A strange, luminous hopping thing with flesh whiter than moonlight that had been seen amid the gravestones on summer nights; horrible sounds that seemed to come from deeper than the church foundations could possibly go; a multitude of twisted human-like creatures seen simply in silhouette and from a distance, their shambling march stopped only by the boundary wall that had apparently been constructed with the purpose of keeping things in rather than others out.
For the few tramps who had dared spend the night near the church’s walls the story remained the same—they were invariably found dead come the morning, their eyes opened wider than any normal man’s, the orbs bulging from their sockets, “as if something had tried to suck them out” to quote a local publican of the time.
Chambers, Shepworth, Dr. Cruttenden, a pseudo-parapsychologist Peter Chesney, Father Michael Traynor, and the two contest winners—unemployed Paul Hale and psychic Ronnie Quesnel—must work together to survive. This motley crew finds themselves facing more than they could ever imagine when they are locked inside the church to try and prove the existence of its notorious ghosts. By the end of the first evening, they are unwittingly well on their way to unleashing masses of the undead and raising Cthulhu himself.
With no shortage of psychological horror, and in the vein of Lovecraft himself, there are many visions and precognitive dreams included. In a throwback to Dante, our heroes must navigate through the nine circles of hell in order to save the world and themselves. There is also an added element of the corruption of the Catholic Church: they choose Father Traynor to go with the group in order to find and destroy any evidence that would implicate the church in any wrongdoing associated with it.
Traynor’s throat had dried up again. He took another sip of water and wished dearly that it were something stronger.
“What kind of things are you concerned they might find?” he asked.
“Images, writings, the documents I mentioned earlier. When All Hallows was desanctified, a group of our Holy Brethren was charged with the searching of the place. Unfortunately, due to tragic events that befell two of them, their efforts remained peremptory at best. A further visit was planned, but it was difficult to recruit individuals willing to go there. Their faith simply wasn’t strong enough.” He gave the priest a steely look. “I trust that is not going to be a problem here?”
I also really enjoyed that the HPL had been created in the mid-1930s by J. Edgar Hoover and that Lovecraft had actually written about their true exploits in the guise of fiction. This was a fantastic nugget they added, and it provided a rich background to build upon.
We are given a quick glimpse at the horrible things that lie ahead early on when the teenagers are put in their terrible situation. The action starts early and continues throughout, definitely building at a quick pace by the half-way point, after which it’s like the downhill slope of the tallest roller coaster, slamming you right into the thick of it.
I also want to mention the format of the book and how it included items such as newspaper articles, interoffice memos, and artifacts from the story itself. It was a wonderful choice that I loved, keeping it interactive, breaking up the monotony, and providing a stimulating experience for readers.
This one is a winner, bringing together two horror genres successfully and never compromising on the details or fear-inducing situations. It is the first in a trilogy that I can’t wait to read to the end.
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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter @akeller9.