I am Providence is a terrific novel. It’s a murder mystery set at a Lovecraft convention. This might sound cringeworthy at first, the sort of book open to all sorts of shitty stereotypes, but works beautifully because the novel has been written by someone who (a) has experienced the muck and guts of the fannish trenches and (b) has a clear love for Lovecraft and his influence on the field, even if Lovecraft the man was a bit of an arse.
Our protagonists are a decomposing corpse – shit stirring author and victim number one, Panos Panossian – and a newbie attendee at the convention, Colleen Danzig, who happens to be rooming with Panossian. Colleen, disturbed that no-one seems to give a shit that Panossian is dead, decides to Nancy Drew the murder herself. In the meantime Panossian’s steadily decomposing brain ruminates over his life, over Lovecraft and who might have murdered him. I found it particularly amusing how the cops investigating the murder keep dragging people to the morgue to see Panossian’s mutilated body just so his disembodied thoughts can be part of the action.
If you’ve read the reviews you’ll know that Mamatas doesn’t hold back in his observations of this sub-niche of fandom. But unlike the media who waltz into a convention space and shove their cameras into the face of the weirdest cosplayer they can find, Mamatas insights – as I note above – come from a place of deep, grimy knowledge. He’s an embedded journalist in the frontline reporting factually about the current toxic state of fandom, both at conventions and online. And he does so in away that is laugh out loud funny – I loved the line about the Ku Klux Klan holding a kaffeeklatsch. (And the nod to Zod Wallop was cute as well).
But fuck all that. It’s just a sideshow. The real delight of this novel is how Mamatas contextualises Lovecraft both in terms of his profound influence on literature and weird fiction and in regard to Lovecraft’s character (his sexism, his anti-semitism and his racism) and the hagiographic attempts to paper over these troublesome aspects of his personality. This novel loves Lovecraft and despises him in equal measure and if anything shows that ignoring what’s “problematic”, rather than confronting and dividing the good from the bad, is unhelpful and harmful.
Oh, and it’s a good murder mystery as well.
If you want to hear me ramble about the book for two minutes (and babble on about a bunch of novel I loved in 2016, with James Bradley, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K Wolfe) then have a listen to this episode of the Coode Street podcast.