I love the pulp era of fiction from the early 20th century. At least, I love it in theory. I like the idea of smart men fighting evil, exploring strange areas and wrestling with both science fiction and magical enemies. I like plucky sidekicks and reporters who don’t know when to quit. I am super fond of sexy killers who are usually not evil, just working for their mastermind father.
What I am not so crazy about is the actual stories from the period. Quite a few of them are racist as fuck and the less said about the treatment of women, the better. So what does a person do when they want to capture the flavor of the era but with modern tastes?
In search of that flavor, I came across Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont. The premise reads lick a gimmick, the writers of Doc Savage, the Shadow and a pre-Messiah L. Ron Hubbard, team up to investigate the mysterious death of H.P. Lovecraft. Along the way, they discover a plot that threatens all of Chinatown!
Yeah, that almost sounds too goofy to read but Malmont makes it work. for one thing, it is a very grounded story about some remarkable writers. Lester Dent and Walter Gibson are fascinating people in real life and it comes across in this story. Gibson was a pioneer in stage magic books while Dent had a fatherly interest in teaching young boys as much as about science as he could. These two are the stars of the book and their adventures are believable.
The plot itself is also rooted in reality. It involves some poison, some Chinese history and an interesting take on H.P. Lovecraft that makes him sympathetic without sugarcoating the man’s really horrid racism.
Other famous writers make cameos but I won’t spoil them here. As good as the adventure was, I found the discussions about pulp fiction to be the highlight of the book. If you are a fan of the pulps, or just curious about them, this functions as a really good primer and proof that their form of writing has a lot to offer the world.