I Am Providence is the new Lovecraftian murder mystery by Nick Mamatas. It is Lovecraftian not by virtue of taking place in the strange world of the Cthulhu Mythos, but by being set in the even stranger world of Lovecraft fandom. The events of I Am Providence (a phrase coined by H.P. Lovecraft himself) occur over the weekend of the Summer Tentacular, a Lovecraft convention in HPL’s home town of Providence, Rhode Island.
Panos Panossian—a minor genre writer with a caustic personality who loves nothing more than trolling his fellow Lovecraftians—is the victim of a gruesome murder. New author Colleen Danzig, his platonic roommate for the weekend, seems to be the only one who cares. Through her we meet a motley and curious cast of attendees who, in the pauses between their panel discussion and room parties, sort through the clues in an effort to uncover the truth. Or are they covering their tracks?
The creepiest and most unique thing about this book is that the story is narrated by the freshly-murdered victim. Not just in flash-backs but also in the post-mortem observations of his gradually decaying consciousness, even as the plot unfolds … sometimes literally around him. This point of view alternates with a third-person narrator until both converge in the story’s big reveal.
De rigeur, the plot also involves a certain forbidden book (hah, not that one!). This makes I Am Providence sort of like The Club Dumas (i.e., The Ninth Gate) if Lucas Corso were a weirdo with a table in the dealer’s room.
All of this offers plenty of opportunity for glib commentary on fandom, of which Mamatas takes full advantage. Some reviewers find his caricatures too cutting. But what’s a Lovecraftian tale without characters who are a little (or a lot) “off” in one way or another? While I’ve sadly never been to a Lovecraft convention,* I’ve been to enough sci-fi, Star Trek, comic book, and other cons that it’s obvious Mamatas has attended his fair share, too. He knows both the setting and the literature inside-out. I read the book as a knowing, maybe even self-deprecating, wink at fellow con-goers. I mean, he isn’t wrong! 🙂
The narration is brisk, clever, and witty. My two favorite puns in the book take place on page 1 and 68. Plus the author sneaks in a chuckle-worthy reference to Dan Brown.
Given Mamatas’ familiarity with the subject matter, readers will find references aplenty to Lovecraft’s works, in addition to references to the Cthulhu eco-system sustained by fans’ insatiable appetite for small press books, fanzines, blogs, and other Lovecraftiana. The author also unblinkingly confronts less savory aspects of Lovecraft’s character, including his xenophobia, sexism, and racism.
Readers of this blog will recall that Mamatas penned the 2014 novel Love Is the Law. (See the Zero Equals Two story and Thelema NOW! interview.) If you liked that one, and are a fan of HP Lovecraft—who isn’t?—you’ll get plenty of eldritch enjoyment out of this one.
I Am Providence: A Novel by Nick Mamatas was published on August 2, 2016, by Night Shade Books, trade paperback, 256 pages, list price $15.99, ISBN: 978-1-59780-835-4.
* I have, however, visited Lovecraft’s grave twice, taken a walking tour of Lovecraft-related sites in Providence, and own more Cthulhu t-shirts than I care to admit.