If you haven’t been reading Douglas Wynne’s SPECTRA Files books, then you are missing out. The first two volumes, Red Equinox (review here) and Black January, are darn near perfect examples of how Lovecraftian horror can be successfully combined with physical/tangible threats, all while never betraying the mythos’ core sense of existential dread.
Cthulhu Blues, the third and final book in the series, will be released on September 15. I was lucky enough to read an early draft, which allowed me to satisfy my burning curiosity about how the series might conclude AND provide you with an early review.
A bit of disclosure before we dive into things: I have a serious man crush on Douglas Wynne. Despite how uncomfortable this must make him (and his family), we still became friends. In fact, Doug was kind enough to write me into his latest book as a character who dies a horrible, excruciating death.
Huh. Maybe that’s his way of trying to tell me something.
Anyway, let’s dive into things, shall we?
In the first two novels, it was strongly hinted that a force would attempt to bring Cthulhu into our world. As you might imagine, that’s exactly what someone is trying to do, utilizing children born to the witnesses of the first incursion in Boston.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Becca’s experiences during the last two books have caused her to start singing in her sleep–and it ain’t Bob Dylan tunes. Brooks wants to help her, but he also has to keep his thumb on things that are happening back at SPECTRA–including a major weapons test that makes the atom bomb look like a bug bite.
So, so much.
If Red Equinox was a roller coaster and Black January was a haunted house, then Cthulhu Blues is both–sort of like that monster-filled trans dimensional rollercoaster from the opening of the Dungeons & Dragon cartoon, only with a much better story.
There’s plenty of great military action for meatheads like me, including a scene with our old friend Lung Crawthok that absolutely begs to be put to film one day. SPECTRA is also at its dysfunctional best, vacillating between a top level military branch and a cancerous den of vipers.
Meanwhile, Brooks is forced to work with a partner he can’t stand as they attempt to hunt down a bunch of kids who may or may not be possessed. He also helps Becca as she attempts to figure out why she’s singing in an ancient language during the middle of the night.
Wynne peppers the book with plenty of Lovecraft’s best beasties, which he’s somehow able to bring fully into our world while still making them appear so otherworldly that even the most jaded observer can’t help but marvel at their image (or go completely insane).
For folks like me who loved the first two installments, we get some solid resolution to many of the SPECTRA FILES series’ lingering threads…and it’s not always pretty. That’s a good thing, by the way. It’s fun reading a book where you truly don’t know if the people who should survive the danger they’re in actually will.
On the technical side of things, Wynne dials back much of his trademark descriptive prose in favor of a great deal more present narration along with some of the series’ best dialogue work to date. I’ve always enjoyed Wynne’s knack for ominous/flowing exposition, but it could sometimes overtake or even stall out his narrative momentum completely. In Cthulhu Blues, however, he seems to have finally found the right balance, resulting in story with a breathtaking pace that refuses to let you put the book down (i.e. you’ll probably end up reading this one on the toilet a few times).
What Doesn’t Work
One of the biggest mistakes you’ll see in modern Lovecraftian horror is the insistence upon making Lovecraft’s creatures into nothing more than big, squishy kaiju–particularly when it comes to Cthulhu.
To Wynne’s credit, he makes Big C’s appearance suitably horrifying, from both a physical and psychological standpoint, without turning the creature into a tentacled Godzilla. Unfortunately, the book’s final act is overshadowed by two other incredible set pieces that came before it–so much so that it almost doesn’t feel like a true finale. Thankfully, the way the book’s characters process and react to what happens (the ones who survive, anyway) helps to ensure that the reader gets plenty of closure by the time they reach final page.
Also, this should go without saying, but if you haven’t read the first two volumes, you’re going to have a hard time keeping up. I know that seems obvious, but the fact that the word ‘Cthulhu’ is on the cover means there will likely be a sizable portion of folks who attempt to read this one first.
Despite a slightly underwhelming finale, Cthulhu Blues is brilliant. A high-octane ride of existential dread that wonderfully concludes one of the best modern Lovecraftian book series you’ll ever read.
If you haven’t red Red Equinox or Black January yet, then do that first. I envy the journey you are about to take. If you have read them, however, then prepare for a conclusion that combines the best elements of the previous volumes into one hell of a great tale.
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