REVIEW SUMMARY: This homage to H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West – Reanimator” breathes life into minor Lovecraft characters. A slower pace and certain characterization stylings will get the reader into the mood of the source material.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: While getting his revenge on Dr. Herbert West, Dr. Stuart Hartwell romps through the author’s favorite Lovecraft stories.
PROS: A great way to pay a visit to the fictional world of H.P. Lovecraft; compelling cover art.
CONS: Pacing is incredibly slow especially at the beginning; episodic action often felt forced; I never connected with the protagonist
BOTTOM LINE: Readers well versed in Lovecraft lore will find a lot to love, but readers new to the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft may have a tough time getting their bearings.
Odd things are afoot in the sleepy new England town of Arkham. Strange creatures stalk the night, and even stranger research is happening at and around Miskatonic University. Dr. Stuart Hartwell is determined to get his revenge on Dr. Herbert West, the twisted man whose reanimation experiments were responsible for the deaths of Hartwell’s parents. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft (and certain fans of some early 80s cheesy horror flicks) may recognize the title of the book and the name Herbert West.
Pete Rawlik’s Reanimators is certainly not a retelling of the original story “Herbert West – Reanimator“, but more a revisiting. When they first meet, Stuart Hartwell is a colleague of West’s, and suspects the strange medical student is up to no good. He spies on West and his friend Daniel Cain, sabotages their experiments and steals their research. Hartwell is determined to develop a safer reagent, one that won’t turn the resurrected people into violent zombies. After receiving his medical degree, Hartwell runs his physicians practice out of the first floor of his home, and it becomes more and more difficult to keep his co-workers from finding the basement laboratory that is nearly overrun with lab rats.
Over the years, Hartwell’s research continues, and he’s learned all he can from injecting rats with his serums. After a violent reaction, some rats reanimate as a semblance of their previous selves, where others become violent, mindless creatures. It’s time to move to humans and perfect the reagent. Hartwell is a respected doctor in the community, so it’s nothing for him to suggest inoculations to his patients. Over the course of ten years, he injects most of the living residents of Arkham with his reagent, allowing many of them to later recover from what would usually be fatal diseases or injuries. All this time, Hartwell has no idea that he’s become just as much of a monster as Herbert West. Hartwell believes in what he’s doing, he justifies it all to himself. He didn’t quite justified it to this reviewer, and I never quite connected with why he was doing what he was doing.
Spanning decades, Reanimators is a veritable “who’s-who” of Lovecraftian fiction. Hartwell is financed by an amnesic Professor Peaslee, later works with Dr. Munoz, interacts with Lavinia Whateley, works with many of the senior doctors from Miskatonic and ultimately is strong-armed into helping the mutilated and reanimated Clapman-Lee break into Sefton Asylum to help free Allen Halsey, and there are countless other cameos from well known Lovecraft characters. On the one hand, readers familiar with the source material will have a “Ooh! Who are we going to run into next!” experience, but on the other hand, it gives Reanimators more the choppy feeling of a fix-up novel rather than adoring homage, and readers new to Lovecraftian lore may feel lost.
Rawlik is writing in someone else’s world, and that comes with challenges, only some of which were successfully surmounted. For the reader to meet as many Lovecraft characters as possibly, Hartwell needs to be all over Massachusetts, from Innsmouth to Dunwich, Miskatonic University to Aylesbury, and also needs to follow West and Cain to France. Getting him there often felt forced, especially once I realized Hartwell was only travelling to a certain location so he could peek in on another character’s story, so to speak. Hartwell has plenty of opportunities to kill or injure West, but he can’t take them, because West needs to be around later in the story for Clapham-Lee to take care of. The pacing is often slow and choppy, and the first half of the novel was a slog for me to get through. I found the last few chapters to be the best writing in the book, Clapham-Lee becomes a truly horrific villain, and I liked the change of point of view for the Confession letter of Daniel Cain and the statement of Frank Elwood.
Rawlik has certainly done his research, and this is not his first foray into writing within the confines of Lovecraft country. Rawlik’s articles and Lovecraftian fiction have appeared multiple anthologies and literary magazines, and most recently the opening chapter of Reanimators was published as a stand alone story titled “The Arkham Terror” at The Lovecraft Ezine. Readers already well versed in Lovecraft fiction will probably get a kick out of Reanimators, but ultimately this novel didn’t work for me.