Reviews | Written by Graeme Reynolds 11/03/2012

Book Review: That Which Should Not Be

Review: That Which Should Not Be / Author: Brett Talley / Publisher: Journal Stone / Release Date: Out Now

The works of HP Lovecraft have inspired horror writers for the better part of the last century.  Giants such as Robert Bloch, Brian Lumley and Ramsey Campbell have added to Lovecraft’s original mythos over the years, to the point where it could be considered a sub-genre of its own. The latest author to tackle Lovecraft’s creations is Brett J Talley, who won a publishing deal with Journalstone books for his debut novel, That which should not be.

Carter Weston is a student at Miskatonic University in the nineteen twenties, who is sent to retrieve an ancient manuscript called Incendium Maleficarum (The inferno of the witch) from an isolated village by one of his professors. On his arrival, Carter meets four men in the village’s tavern who regale him with tales of their own horrific encounters with creatures of myth and superstition, all of which relate in some way to the book that he is seeking.

The four stories are very well done indeed, and tie back to the main narrative in a way that not only makes sense, but that helps drive the over-arching story forward.  Despite these stories being past tense narrations, Talley does a fantastic job of building the levels of suspense and tension, and absolutely nails not only his descriptions, but the tone of Lovecraft’s work. In addition, the stories have a much more visceral edge than the material it drew its inspiration from, so in addition to the creeping psychological dread and haunting imagery, there is plenty to keep the gore hounds happy.

If I had to nitpick (and I do), the only real problems I had with the book were due to the style it was written in. Because the book is based on a “found journal” it meant that everything was written in Carter’s voice as he transcribes the four stories and then tells his own. It meant that in some instances the voice didn’t quite match up to the character telling the story. This was most apparent in the first story with the fur trapper, as I would have expected his language to be rougher around the edges than it was. As this is a narration of a narration though, it was not something that bothered me too much.

The other issue I had with the book were some of the character names. Harker, Seward and Bathory are all nods to Dracula and the vampire myth in general. Using names from classic literature in this manner pulled me out of the story a little bit, if I’m honest. Not sufficiently to spoil the book, but enough that my sense of disbelief wavered the tiniest bit when I read the names.

Those very minor niggles aside, this is a fantastic debut novel and fits right into the Lovecraft mythology. Even if Lovecraft is not usually your thing, I would still say that this book is worth checking out; such is the quality of the writing and the gripping nature of the stories being told. It more than deserves the nomination it received for this year’s Bram Stoker awards.

Suffice to say that when I finished this book, I had an uncontrollable urge to go back and read some of the original Lovecraft classics. I can’t give it a better recommendation than that.

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