Review: Ghouls of the Miskatonic by Graham McNeill

Ghouls of the Miskatonic is the first book in the Dark Waters triology by Graham McNeill. It is set in the ficitional town of Arkham and the university of Miskatonic, both of which were created by H.P. Lovecraft. The plot of the book involves the discovery of a young woman’s mutilated corpse on the campus, which ultimately brings together a motley group of characters ranging from a college proffesor to a Pinkerton agent and a bootlegger/thug. They soon discover themselves up against a force that not only threatens the town of Arkham, but their own sanity. McNeil has a good handle on the mythos that Lovecraft created in his short fiction and does a good job on expanding it through his characters and the conflict that they face over the course of the plot.

If you’re not familiar with Lovecraft’s mythos and ‘Elder Gods’, McNeill writes in a way in which the reader learns along with the characters through various encounters and situations along the way rather then bogging down the plot with needless exposition and ‘telling’. I felt that McNeill did a good job of keeping the overall plot going while revealing what the ‘Elder Gods’ were and what their plans were for humanity.

McNeill’s other strong point was use of description and action. He’s the type of writer that can paint the proverbial picture in your mind with his use of words. This makes his action scenes powerful and unlike Lovecraft he provides graphic descriptions of the creatures which are fantastic and horrorific which make for powerful reading.

Ghouls of the Miskatonic features several characters that really stood out me. In particular the reporter and photographer from the local newspaper as well as the thug/bootlegger, Finn. Unfortunately some of the other characters felt rather flat.

McNeill can get carried away with his use of description at times. There were a few times early in the book where he spent a bit too long describing a rather banal setting where a more concise one would’ve been sufficent. I felt that these scenes really dragged down the plot and felt more like filler. There’s also a rather long scene where the characters finally meet up and discuss recent events. Instead of simply telling the reader that the characters recap, McNeill spends way too much time spelling out information that he already went over earlier. I found myself skimming over these parts since it was far too redundant.  There are few other times where he repeats the same information or drawing it out too long.

Luckily, McNeill manages to get the plot back on track and the final confrontation is a great one. His style really shines during the raid/rescue attempt and it was one of those scenes where I found myself glued to the page. At no point was I certain that any of the main characters would survive. Great stuff which ends up bringing the main plot line to a good conclusion. Since this is the first book of the triology there are of course loose ends that aren’t closed. The way the book ends, I defintely want to read the next one.

Overall I enjoyed this book. It was a fun read with the plodding plot line of a typical investigation/detective/crime novel mixed with supernatural horror/weird fiction. McNeil isn’t merely writing a homage to Lovecraft’s mythos but adding to the pantheon.

I would recommend it to any horror fan that enjoys supernatural horror and/or Lovecraftian-esque stories.

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