I have a confession to make: Up until relatively recently, I had never read anything by H.P. Lovecraft. I know, right? I both clearly know and appreciate Lovecraft’s influence on the genre and it’s not that I didn’t try to delve into his work. It’s just that every time I did, it didn’t grab me. Maybe it was his style, maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset. Regardless, though, reading Pete Rawlik’s Reanimators solved that problem.
Set in the same universe as Lovecraft’s Herbert West: Reanimator, the book follows Dr. Stuart Hartwell and his attempts to ruin his rival Herbert West. Once both students at Miskatonic University, West’s mad experiments with the raising the dead led to the death of Hartwell’s parents, leading to his lifelong obsession with revenge.
When I cracked open the pages of Reanimators, I didn’t know what to expect. My familiarity with Lovecraft was (and to some degree still is) limited to the movies Re-Animator and Dagon, and the mythical beast Cthulhu (as far as knowing what it looked like) and possibly countless other things I’m either forgetting or didn’t realize they were Lovecraftian. So I delved into Rawlik’s novel with a little trepidation and a bit of excitement. From the first page I was hooked.
One of the best things about Reanimators is how seamlessly Rawlik intertwines the Lovecraft mythos with his own. He creates his own world in the influential author’s universe, one that pays both homage and adds another level of enjoyment to Lovecraft’s work. So good, in fact, is Reanimators that before I even finished the novel, I picked up and read the short story that ties so closely to it to get the full experience (more on that in a minute).
But Rawlik doesn’t just include West in his novel. The author has said that the main character Hartwell is from Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. There’s an appearance by someone from Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. And while I didn’t see Cthulhu milling about, there were at least two other Lovecraft nods that I did notice, so I can only imagine what bigger fans of the author will unearth.
The beauty of this book is the Lovecraftian themes and acknowledgements never feel forced (at least from the Herbert West storyline). As I said, prior to starting Reanimators, I was a Lovecraft virgin – as far as his writing was concerned. However, after completing the first hundred or so pages, I took a quick break to read the short story written by the grandfather of horror that inspired this novel. Admittedly, I was a bit underwhelmed by the story (both the movie and Rawlik’s book are far superior), but even with that I am very happy I read it as it really adds another layer to Reanimators and the two go hand-in-hand fantastically.
If there’s one minor hiccup with an overwhelmingly entertaining novel, it’s the introduction of a character that may or may not be a vampire. Turning up about halfway through the book, this storyline is a bit of a sidestep and slows the otherwise quickly-paced novel down a bit (albeit briefly). I cannot say if this is another homage to authors past or Rawlik’s own creation, but it feels like the character belongs in a book of his own rather than Reanimators.
Yet, even with that, I still immensely enjoyed Reanimators as it’s an incredibly impressive first novel from Rawlik. While at its core it’s a tale of revenge (one of my favorite genres), it also delves into mystery, suspense, horror, and a little bit of self-discovery for our main character along the way that is neither forced nor contrived, but instead inevitable. Dare I say it, this is a great Lovecraft primer for those – like myself – who have either never read his work or find it difficult to get into his style (I’ve actually just started The Dunwich Horror because of this book). And for those fans of Lovecraft out there, I implore you to read it as well, if only for my selfish reasons to discuss it with someone in the comments below. Bonus: if you want to get just a taste of Rawlik’s voice, be sure to check out The Issue of Dr. Jekyll, a short story found exclusively here at HorrorTalk.