David Hambling’s attempts to bring the world of Lovecraft to a turn-of-the-20th-century London have ensnared my imagination. I enjoyed Elder Ice well enough, though I felt its elements of Lovecraftian horror and suspense were slightly understated. In stark contrast, Broken Meats did quite a bit better with these elements, relying less on references and reinforcing the strange and aberrant elements by introducing a secret society or two, an insane and charismatic dead sorcerer, and an absolutely fascinating support character in the face of Yang, a member of the Chinese underworld, come to London for a reason no one can figure out.
Yang needs a guide, and that’s where our very own Harry Stubbs comes in. Since the events of the Elder Ice, Harry has been unlucky in finding the respectable work he wishes for himself – a man with a boxer’s physique like his has a certain set of preconceptions working against him. But Stubbs is an example as to how appearance-based preconceptions really don’t work; as we share his headspace, Harry’s intellect shines through, and his voice is both clever and jocular depending on the situation. His loyalty is also inspiring, and the rapport built between him and Yang makes for a very satisfying friendship I didn’t expect.
Speaking of defying expectations, Broken Meats has a lot of plot twists! The story thrilled and surprised me especially towards its end; I give myself points for suspecting a character’s motivations for giving Harry some curious information that didn’t entirely click with me early on during a scene in a pub…but I didn’t quite see all of it and when Hambling revealed it to me, I was impressed.
The pacing is excellent, exactly as it needs to be to keep a perfect balance between light-hearted scenes and the darker, more sinister events eating away at Harry’s well-constructed and rational world. An edge of chaos is felt and carefully kept at bay for most of the book until Stubbs is placed in situations that directly wrestle control away from him, and that’s when the heartbeat of the Lovecraftian essence of these stories can be felt the strongest.
When reviewing the Elder Ice, I mentioned that a few lines of the dialogue pulled me out of the world; happy to say, that’s no longer the case. Either Hambling has improved, or I’ve become less of a nit-picker! Though seeing as how very invested I was in Broken Meats, I do believe the prose, the plot, the pacing, and the character dynamics are much improved! This being said, I am a firm believer in continual improvement, and I’m looking forward to reading the remaining two Harry Stubbs Adventures to see if that is indeed the case here. Hambling’s next title, Alien Stars is quite a bit larger than these past two novellas, standing at 231 pages; as reference, Broken Meats was 144, and The Elder Ice was a bare 88. I do believe Alien Stars is easily a novel at this length!
At any rate, Broken Meats gets a 4.5/5 from me, with a bump to Five Stars on Goodreads.
You’ll enjoy this if:
- You’re interested in turn-of-the-century London;
- You like boxing, as Harry thinks in boxing terms often enough, you’ll find plenty to bite into, here;
- You like characters who’re not caricatures over the way they look;
- You like the Cthulhu mythos, but better;
- Secret, esoteric societies do anything for you;
- And More, Prob’ly!