THE TRIALS OF OBED MARSH is a novel by Matthew Davenport (Broken Nights, The Statement of Andrew Doran). It is a prequel pastiche written in homage of H.P. Lovecraft's immortal THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH. Obed Marsh was a posthumous character in that novel, being a sea captain who made the monstrous pact with the Deep Ones that condemned his hometown to degeneration into horrific fish monsters.
Anyone who is familiar with my writing (Cthulhu Armageddon, The Tower of Zhaal) knows I'm a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan. So much so that I fully was aware of who Obed Marsh was by the title as well as intrigued at someone choosing to write an expansion on his backstory only given in hints by the original Lovecraft novella. Indeed, Obed Marsh is one of the few characters in H.P. Lovecraft's short stories who can be said to have an actual story arc since the majority of characters were either depraved and insane to begin with or fall shockingly fast. Not so here.
The Trials of Obed Marsh follows Obed Marsh as he leaves his dying fishing village and searches for a way to save it. He encounters the mysterious people of an island and rather foolishly believes he can manipulate them into providing him with gold along with other useful items to sell. Soon, he discovers their supernatural powers are real but let's his greed overcome him. The book follows his degeneration and rationalizations right until we see what becomes of him.
By nature, this is a book which can't really be appreciated unless you've made a recent read of The Shadows over Innsmouth. It's a book for Lovecraft fans by a Lovecraft fan and that impacts my appreciation. Nevertheless, I'm not going to judge a cat for not being a dog. If you're a fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft then I think you're going to enjoy this work. Part of what I like about this book is the focus isn't on the Lovecraftian abominations or even the Deep Ones themselves. It is, ironically enough, a very Christian themed work in an atheist materialist universe. In this universe, Obed Marsh is a figure doomed by the principles of Pride, Greed, and other sins he cannot overcome despite his best effort. In proper Dickens-esque fashion, he's aware of these flaws but his struggles are things he cannot overcome.
I also appreciate how the people of Innsmouth bear a portion of the guilt for their ultimate damnation. They are all too eager to paper over the blasphemy, murder, rape, and other crimes which are at the heart of their deal with the Deep Ones. I tend to think there's an element of racism involved as they all believe themselves incapable of being fooled by the "dumb natives."
Ironically, I think the Deep Ones actually get a bit of a heroic upgrade as they're individuals who don't try to deceive Obed or the Innsmouthers. While they make their deals with ulterior motives, they are never dishonest about the costs or price of what they're offering. Obed Marsh walks into his deal with his eyes wide-open.
The supporting cast isn't badly defined, even though the main character remains Obed Marsh throughout and everything is seen from his perspective. His wife, his son, the townsfolk, and his crew are all individuals who reflect what he supposedly values more than gold but who are the means to ultimately torment him. I was especially fond of the Deep One's high priest as he remained sensible and stoic throughout--all the better to serve as the Devil who leads Obed to his doom. Though, again, it's not his fault as while he showed Obed Marsh the way, he didn't force him to walk it.
Overall, I have to give this book a good 4 out of 5 stars because it's a solid piece of writing throughout. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will enjoy the book as it manages to tell the origin story of the accursed town quite well with few if any contradictions to the original text. The book is remarkably inexpensive on Kindle but I actually bought a physical copy because I enjoyed it enough to put in my collection.
1. So, tell us a bit about yourself, Matthew.
I’m a guy in Iowa who likes to write books and do Escape Rooms with my partner in life and crime, Ren. A lot of my local efforts are in helping other authors find the resources to make their writings available to the masses, through my website davenportwrites.com. Originally, I’m from a one horse town that lost its horse in Upstate New York, called Harrisville. I moved to Iowa to follow a career in Archaeology, but the reality of the bills related to an Archaeology education led me taking a more serious look at both my author career and my “day job.”
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but in 2009 I took it a step further and decided to write an entire book during NaNoWriMo. I failed by half of the required 50,000 words, but saved the rest to finish in 2010. Since then, I’ve tried to put out at least one book a year, with my goal being at least 2. I’ve done a few collaborations, and I like to explore different styles of writing as well as different genres, but always seem to come back to either horror or adventure in some manner or fashion.
2. What are your books? I've read all of them but want you to explain them to the reader?
I have a few series and stand alone novels. The first of which, The Trials of Obed Marsh, was my first dive into the darker worlds of H.P. Lovecraft. I spent lot of time researching not only the fictional history laid out by Lovecraft for that story, but also, as it’s a book about sailors and trade routes, the different paths, weather patterns, and cultures of the sailing and trade industries in the early 19th century. It’s a book that is horror, but not like today’s horror, in that there’s very little gore or literary jump scares. This book is about the dark path that a man can willingly travel when he has only the best interests of his family and crew at heart. While I wrote it as a prequel to Lovecraft’s A Shadow Over Innsmouth, it can be read by people completely foreign to his mythos. The road to Hell is a universally understood tale.
I didn’t stop there, as far as Lovecraft is concerned, and probably never will, but I needed something less dark and more exciting in my next project. My Andrew Doran series, (2 books and a short story currently) follows a globe-trotting adventurer during the 1940’s as he tries to keep the different artifacts of the Cthulhu Mythos out of Nazi, or other evil hands. Along the way, he runs into just about everything you could think of, and then some and makes some interesting allies and enemies.
In 2015, I decided that I wanted to write with my brother, Mike. He’s always had a huge imagination, but sometimes has a problem finding a creative outlet. I asked him to come up with a plot and send it to me. We went back and forth, with me making suggestions and him crafting an entire world that would become the book Broken Nights. Broken Nights follows Jason Night, a failed hobby shop owner who has suffered serious loss in a city that has too much loss already. Deciding that he can’t let the tragedies of his life be repeated, he signs up for an Amazon Prime account and starts taking MMA classes. In the dark of the night, he becomes Darden Valley’s Guardian. Things heat up when his sister, also struggling with the same tragedies, discovers her brother’s nightly activities and demands that he let her help him.
3. You write a lot of Cthulhu Mythos fiction. What attracts you to H.P. Lovecraft's world?
A lot of the time, when authors work in another author’s world, they refer to it as a sandbox (ie: I love playing in that author’s sandbox.), referring to the world structure put forth by the author. I’ve always felt that comparison has never been apt. For most authors, it’s more like Legos. Things are built, and you don’t want to tear them down beyond their core components, you just want to build on them and make them fit.
Lovecraft’s worlds are nothing like that. They actually fit the sandbox reference, in that Lovecraft has created an entire universe that encompasses everything and his sandbox really is his writing style. While his creatures are great and fun to play with, you can write an entirely Mythos related story by keeping to a theme. A protagonist that doesn’t have all of the information, goes on a lengthy investigation, and every tidbit of information during this investigation dials up the scare and/or dread. Oh, and always end on the darkest possible note that you can. That’s fun. That’s the definition of fun when I’m writing or reading. I’ll play with the monsters all day, but if I can leave a book feeling empathy for a tortured protagonist, than I’ve succeeded at life.
4. Andrew Doran has been described as "Indiana Jones meets the Cthulhu Mythos", do you feel that's a fair description?
The fairest. My archaeology career lent itself toward enjoying the fandom that is the Indiana Jones series, and, I don’t remember when or how, but I started fantasizing about if Dr. Jones ever were to fall into the world of Lovecraft and how that might play out. It was in those early fantasies that Dr. Andrew Doran, my bearded Anthropologist from Miskatonic University, was born.
5. Why do a novel about Obed Marsh, a posthumous character from The Shadow Over Innsmouth?
Zadok Allen has a big scene in The Shadow Over Innsmouth in which he paints a picture of a beautiful town and a man who wanted to bring it to prosperity. While Shadow is easily my favorite Lovecraft story, it’s really the end of one. Most of Lovecraft’s stories are that way. Someone shows up, things have already gone to hell, and someone gives a long exposition about the time that they went to hell. Give Thing on the Doorstep a read and you’ll see what I mean. So, I decided that a great story would be the one that told the journey from the myth of the man to the man we see in Shadow.
6. Superheroes are big now but come in many different shapes and sizes. What sort of hero is the protagonist of Broken Nights?
Jason is the average person struck with tragedy. He’s not a billionaire playboy with an alcohol problem. He has almost no money. When you meet him he’s bumming a room off of his sister and running a failing hobby shop. He’s a superhero on a budget and with responsibilities. He’s tough, but only because he needs to be, and he’s not alone. No brooding on gargoyles, he’s got a couch and a Coors when he needs to brood.
7. What is the difference between writing in a world created by someone else (H.P. Lovecraft) versus your own original work?
Lovecraft has certain rules. I write in Lovecraft’s world because I like writing in a different voice, and I like those themes that I mentioned earlier. There’s also a lot less world building when I write in Lovecraft’s realm, and the world building I do, I have references for. When I write in a world that I create, I can just take off. The world building is a huge part of that process, and is a lot of fun. It’s also more personal. When someone reads a world that I built, I’m hanging on their every word, hoping that they’ll love my story enough to make it their new favorite fandom. That’s my true goal, if I’m completely honest. I want someone to someday see my works in the same light they see his, or Star Wars. I want people to go to Cons dressed as Jason Night or Andrew Doran.
8. Can you describe the heroes (and villain protagonist) of your books?
In The Trials of Obed Marsh, there are two main characters. Obed Marsh is both the protagonist and antagonist of his tail. He’s fighting his own struggle and pushing his personal line of right and wrong back so that he can justify the costs it takes to make his home a prosperous place. He’s pushed by the second, a native he meets during his trades, named Walakea.
Andrew Doran is the pulp adventurer. He collects cohorts on his missions who are just as stubborn and obsessed as he is, but for their own various reasons. He’s driven to keep the world safe from the horrors that it isn’t even aware of. Monsters hide behind the veil, ready to throw the world into chaos and only Dr. Doran stands between the world and those monsters. He wears the burden, but makes it look easy as he downs a glass of Bourbon.
Jason and Amy Night, the sibling team of Broken Nights, are complementary in their skillsets and identical in their grief. They both want to make their corner of the world a better place, and their different skillsets sometimes put them at odds. Like any brother and sister team, when they can make themselves work together they can be a well-oiled machine.
9. Recently, you were a self-published author but have gone on to work with Crossroad Press. What caused this decision?
The move to Crossroad was made for a lot of reasons. Up until recently, I’ve done a lot of the work a publisher would do, myself. It’s tiring and takes a lot of time. I am also aware of my limitations. Crossroad can help me get my heroes in front of the right audience, something that I had only managed to do in part up until this point.
That being said, I still believe that some of my works should remain self-published. Specifically, I have a how-to book that helps walk authors through the process if they are unaware of it, and it’s important that they know that the person who wrote that how-to actually knows the process. Of course, I’ll keep sending every title I can to Crossroad until they tell me to stop. I love what they’ve done with my books and love the amount of time that I’ve freed up for more writing.
10. Both Andrew Doran and Broken Nights are series. Do you have an idea when they'll end or intend to continue with them indefinitely?
I think Andrew Doran is going to continue for quite a while. I can’t help but enjoy diving back into the Andrew Doran stories as much as possible, and he’s great for killing writer’s block. If I don’t have a story idea brewing right now, then I’ll write some Andrew Doran.
Broken Nights is a slightly bigger question, as I’m working on that with my brother. He and I have only talked as far as a trilogy. I don’t have any plans, as of yet, to take that any further. That being said, I don’t think that universe is going to end at book 3. I introduced a character in the upcoming second book in the Broken Nights trilogy, Broken Nights: Strange Worlds, who I think might enjoy her own spinoff series. It would be a mix of Supernatural and X-Files, I think.
11. How has fan reaction between to your books so far?
Great! No one really talks about The Trials of Obed Marsh, but that seems to be the book everyone wants. When I meet Broken Nights fans, they are always fun. I have had several of them tell me things (I totally disagree, but love them for their opinion) like, “This is better than the Netflix superhero shows.” I love hearing that. That tells me that someone sat down, read that and thought it was somehow better than a show or series of shows that I am passionately addicted to.
Andrew Doran fans are the most vocal, though. Between other authors who have begged me to write more, to fans who have followed me to multiple signing events, to actual fan letters that I’ve received, I have never felt more like a rockstar. I say that as if it happens all of the time, but it doesn’t. Maybe a few times per year an Andrew Doran fan will reach out, or beg to know when the next one is, but it is one of the greatest feelings anyone can experience.
12. Any controversies or interesting stories from publication?
Not that I know of. Stay tuned, I’m sure there will be a huge fight between Spielberg and Ridley Scott for the rights to the Andrew Doran movie.
13. What can we expect from you next?
Broken Nights: Strange Worlds, the sequel to the first Broken Nights book will come out soon, I’m hoping. Book One asked what it would take to make a normal person into a real superhero in a world of pain and reality. Book Two, I’m hoping answer the question of what a realistic superhero will do when faced with an earth-shattering revelation regarding how the actually is.
I’m currently working on a horror novel that focuses on a star salesman recruited by the Devil into his organization that convinces people to sell their souls. Much like The Trials of Obed Marsh, it will ask the question of how far should someone go for a comfortable life. It tells the story through the unique view of a sales representative, with commissions and that special culture, and examines the relationship between an honest profession tainted by a dishonest product. I’m also working on the third Andrew Doran novel. Stay tuned.
THE STATEMENT OF ANDREW DORAN is a Indiana Jones versus H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos novel with the titular character standing in for Doctor Jones. Andrew Doran is an adventurer archaeologist who was fired from Miskatonic University for suggesting they should maybe not openly share the supernatural books that have the power to destroy the world. Also, the fact he's a smug git. Unfortunately, Andrew Doran is needed because the Nazis have stolen the Necronomicon and plan to use its power to win the war.