Book Review: I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Night Shade Books (August 2, 2016)
Length: 256 pages
Looks like 2016 is shaping up to be another pretty busy year for Lovecraftian horror or Lovecraft-inspired fiction, with even more titles set to hit shelves later this summer and in the fall. If you read only one this year though, I highly recommend making it I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas. I found this part murder mystery, part dark comedy, and part fandom commentary delightfully odd and cheeky! While it doesn’t exactly read like your typical Lovecraftian novel, a huge bulk of my enjoyment was actually rooted in how refreshingly unexpected it was.
Anyway, I think the setting says it all. The entire story takes place over the course of a weekend at the Summer Tentacular, the Providence-based annual convention for readers, writers, collectors, and scholars of H.P. Lovecraft and all things Lovecraftian. Colleen Danzig is total newcomer, attending the Tentacular for the first time hoping to promote herself and her recently published story by networking with fellow authors and fans. However, doubts begin to fill her mind as she goes around meeting the other eccentric and sometimes socially awkward congoers, many of whom are regulars that are part of a closely-knit group. One thing that’s certain is that they all seem to really despise another writer named Panos Panossian, a rather obnoxious shit disturber who just so happens to be the guy sharing a room with Colleen during the con.
And then Panossian turns up dead, with his face sliced clean off. Scuttlebutt has it that he was murdered because of a book in his possession, and not just any book, because this was an ultra-rare edition of Arkham, one of five copies bound in human skin which could fetch a pretty penny from the right collector. Colleen believes that whoever killed Panossian did it to steal the book, and then took the victim’s face too in order to create their own Necronomicon-type grimoire bound in human skin. She’s entirely convinced that the murderer is a congoer, but who? It doesn’t help that no one else seems to be all that torn up about Panossian’s death; the guy had made a lot of enemies during his time in the community. Where to start investigating, when pretty much anyone can be a suspect?
I Am Providence is a novel with many bizarre characteristics, and most unusual of all is perhaps the fact that half of it is told from the perspective of the dead Panossian himself as his body lies lifeless and faceless in the police station morgue. Somehow a part of his consciousness remained behind in death, but perhaps not for much longer, and now he’s stuck in the black void able to hear but not see anything that happens around his corpse. He can’t really remember who killed him either, and can only rely on his memories farther back to try and figure out who might have done it.
Any way you look at it, I Am Providence is something of strange book, and it took me a while to really get into the rhythm. There were times where it came off sounding like a satirical or even scathing commentary on the subculture of fandom and fan conventions, brutally mocking the extreme personalities or poking fun at the ridiculous wars that spark over controversies on the internet. The fictional Summer Tentacular convention with its esoteric and insular community of Lovecraftians is the perfect setup for Mamatas to present even wilder, more outlandish situations and behaviors. I wasn’t put out by this exactly, but neither did I see the humor in it right away, until I realized what the author was trying to do. Once I got the joke, so to speak, reading this became a lot easier and enjoyable.
Now might also be a good time for me to confess, while I appreciate a lot of Lovecraftian horror and HPL inspired fiction, I don’t necessarily consider myself a fan of the work by Lovecraft himself. I think he’s overly verbose, his prose clunky and heavily strained. When it comes to his stories, however, the man did have a wealth of interesting ideas and I love the body of narrative surrounding the mythos he created. Plus, his influence is undeniable. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy reading books inspired by his work; it’s fascinating to see the various cool things different authors can do with the elements from Lovecraft’s dark worlds and stories. I Am Providence stands out from the rest by doing something a little different because it doesn’t really explore the mythos in a conventional sense, instead taking an almost meta-fiction approach to the genre. I had a great time with this novel, and thought it also featured a very compelling murder mystery, but I think those who are very knowledgeable and savvy with their Lovecraft lore will appreciate the subtle nuances even more.
Bottom line? Whether or not you’re a fan of Lovecraft or Lovecraftian fiction, if the idea of a unique and quirky murder mystery sounds appealing to you, this book could be worth your while. The author’s take on the fringe subset of the sci-fi and fantasy convention scene is also quite interesting, even when it’s not always flattering. What I got from it though, is that love it or hate it, fandom can take many forms. What makes it great is that we’re all in it together. I Am Providence ended up being a smart, entertaining and truly one-of-a-kind experience, darkly funny and unexpected. Not to mention, very tentacle-y. I look forward to more from Nick Mamatas.