The Lovecraft Squad – aka The Human Protection League, aka The HPL (get the reference, Lovecraft fans?) aka the CID (Cthulhu Investigation Division) – are a paranormal research group with a very special mission: to defend humanity from a whole plethora of supernatural horrors, including Cthulhu and the Elder Gods.
Today’s mission centres around a desanctified church in South London, where a skull, a long bone, and a manuscript called The Soothsayer’s Tale (which may have been written by Geoffrey Chaucer) have recently been discovered by a couple of very sweary schoolboys. Doctor Bob Chambers and his team have been sent in to investigate, and because the investigation has been organised by a tabloid newspaper, Chambers is forced to reluctantly entertain some civilians including a journalist who is more hindrance than help. Also, because The Lovecraft Squad is eager to tick all the haunted house boxes (Richard Matheson’s Hell House and Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape were obviously big influences here), Chambers and his squad are subject to a four-day lockdown which means that they’re sealed inside this deconsecrated nightmare with no hope of escape… sort of. And a nightmare it quickly becomes, because All Hallows Church is the conduit for an ancient horror that’s about to raise deadly havoc. What lies underneath this sinister building? Is it the entrance to the nine circles of Hell?
On the whole, The Lovecraft Squad is an entertaining if heavily clichéd addition to the haunted house genre. It starts well and keeps the tension high for the first third of the story (even when you can guess what’s coming, it’s still an enjoyable and occasionally queasy journey) and gets stodgy and slightly monotonous in the middle before revving back up into a vivid pulling-out-all-the-stops climax. But there are two big problems with the narrative – several of the characters are deeply irritating (Chambers’ lack of backstory really makes him hard to enjoy) and the circles of Hell / Dante’s Inferno / demonic architecture elements sometimes make the novel read like a clunky rehash of Fulci’s The Beyond or Michele Soavi’s The Church (still, you can’t go far wrong by evoking a bit of classic Italian splatter.) But, most disappointingly, for a story that’s so heavily inspired by Lovecraft’s wonderfully weird fiction, it doesn’t even come close to emulating the Lovecraft spirit. In fact, it just feels a little bit like it jumped on the Lovecraft bandwagon and has no real reason to be there.
Still, as the first in a new series, it’s a nicely unpleasant rollercoaster ride and nasty enough to make us want to read whatever comes next.
THE LOVECRAFT SQUAD: ALL HALLOWS HORROR / AUTHOR: JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT, STEPHEN JONES / PUBLISHER: PEGASUS / RELEASE DATE: 4TH APRIL