THE LOVECRAFT SQUAD: ALL HALLOWS HORROR is the first in a promised trilogy of novels using a concept created by prolific horror and dark fantasy editor Stephen Jones. While it has its moments of effective horror – thanks mostly to John Llewellyn Probert’s prose style – this debut suffers from an derivative plot structure that dulls its overall intentions.
Bob Chambers is a member of the Human Protection League, often nicknamed “The Lovecraft Squad,” an FBI-sanctioned group that investigates and prevents occult occurrences throughout the world. Or, as Chambers himself explains, “Occasions when dark powers have tried to break through, evil forces that exist just on the other side of our reality and want to make this world their own.”
Chambers’ latest project is the All Hallows Church in Blackheath, a town just outside of London, England. Strange events over its entire history have given the Church a reputation as “the most haunted place in the country.” Chambers joins an assembled group of researchers, parapsychologists, a newspaper journalist, and two winners of a local contest who will spend four nights inside All Hallows Church investigating the possible cause of the Church’ reputation, while cutting off all communication and access to the outside world.
Soon each member of the expedition team is exposed to the dreadful secrets held within the Church that use the building’s architectural design as its conduit.
Even the must casual reader of horror fiction will recognize how Probert borrows from Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE for the construction of his narrative (even if they are more familiar with the movie adaptation than the source novel itself). This familiarity constantly distracts from the intended suspense and horror of the story with the nagging feeling that we’ve been here before.
Yet Probert manages to create memorable and truly frightening scenes thanks to the building tension of his prose style. This is particularly evident in the rare occasions when he ventures outside the imitative plot. One notable example is when Father Michael Traynor, the representative of the Catholic Church assigned to the investigative team, confronts a personification of the evil that resides inside All Hallows as he approaches its gates. Scenes like this and others scattered throughout the story show us what the novel might have been were it not constricted by its predicable plot.
Stephen Jones’s many anthologies include works inspired by the H. P. Lovecraft canon. So it’s no surprise that the concept of a Lovecraft Squad, entrusted with preventing unseen evil from taking over our world, should come from him. It’s a clever idea that both pays homage to the ideas expressed in Lovecraft’s fiction, while giving it a more contemporary setting.
But the concept is ill used in this opening novel. The fault again is with the structure that obliges Probert to explore the back-stories of the other expedition members along with Chambers. While they are all convincing, Chambers and the purpose of the Lovecraft Squad gets lost in the shuffle between the various secondary characters.
Perhaps the forthcoming titles of the trilogy will make better use of Jones’s concept. For the moment, ALL HOLLOWS HORRORS has little to recommend to horror fiction fans and even less to the millions of longtime Lovecraft devotees. —Alan Cranis