A murder mystery at a Lovecraft convention, but does it have anything to do with Lovecraft?
Nick Mamatas’ I Am Providence is steeped in Lovecraft, but in not necessarily as you might expect. So what’s it about then?
A horror writer Colleen Danzig is a first time attendee of the Summer Tentacular, the big annual event for H P Lovecraft enthusiasts in Providence. She ends up sharing a room with another writer in order to save money. Panossian, the other writer, is there especially to sell a special book. Instead, he ends up being murdered and his face removed. What we have is a murder mystery set in the trappings of a fandom convention dedicated to Lovecraft, and not really a horror novel at all. It is not actually very Lovecraftian in style, even though chapter titles are named after famous Lovecraft stories (as they might appear in a popular Lovecraft anthology), and the title is taken from the I Am Providence inscribed on Lovecraft’s headstone.
Much of the novel follows around Colleen Danzig, but we also have portions from the first person perspective of the dead Panossian. This turns out to be rewarding as Panossian is a much more interesting character. The differing perspectives give several characters more depth, though I did find that Mamatas didn’t deliver some of that depth as early as I would have liked. As a novel, I Am Providence is well constructed, with good overall pacing and engaging dialog. This is the first book I have read by Nick Mamatas and it is very well crafted. There’s also a bit of a sub-plot about a search for Lovecraft’s cat which left me wanting another chapter of just that.
Now, two things I didn’t care for in I Am Providence.
The Summer Tentacular is an annual Lovecraft fandom event in Providence. Necronomicon (and other Lovecraft events, such as the H P Lovecraft Film Festival ) are actual events. You can find a lot of amateur fandom at these events, but you can also find talented writers, film makers and some serious scholars. I Am Providence draws close enough to actual events and real people but dwells exclusively on negative stereotypes associated with both, with an extra helping of presentism. Much of the time, you can laugh like you do while watching the nerd-centric Big Bang Theory, but in some instances this comes across like Mazes & Monsters exploitation.
The second aspect of the book I didn’t care for is that in a very few instances, some critical scenes were uneven, as if the author made a second pass through the novel and dropped them in, but didn’t subsequently review and revise them to ensure that they coalesced with the rest of the novel. Fortunately, only two stood out to me. Read the book. If you don’t notice them, then its me, not you.
Despite the negatives, should you read it? I know some Lovecraft fans and scholars who will read it if only to gnash their teeth at how Mamatas abuses Lovecraft fans and Lovecraft. But despite these negatives, I can say it was an enjoyable read and worth your time if you enjoy modern murder mysteries.
If you need a grade scale for review purposes, lets call this a 4/5. I’ll deny Mamatas that last point for treating Lovecraft fans as another species of neckbeard loser.