Shadows Over Innsmouth by Stephen Jones

8/10 If you like Lovecraft, I would recommend as a book to dip in and out of.

Shadows Over Innsmouth - a collection of short stories edited by the prolific anthologist Stephen Jones - starts off with HP Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth in 1920s Massachusetts before moving through the decades in 16 subsequent short stories either based in the town of Innsmouth or related to the town’s strange inhabitants and the Deep Ones that they serve.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is one of Lovecraft’s longest stories and focuses on the decaying coastal town of Innsmouth, which was founded by Captain Obed Marsh in the 1840's. The captain brought back a wife from a Polynesian island where the human population had interbred with a sea-dwelling race called the Deep Ones, and by using rituals contacted the colony of Deep Ones living beyond Devil’s Reef in the sea off Innsmouth. In return for bountiful fish, the people of Innsmouth also began to interbreed and gradually turn into the fishy race of the sea, with rites and sacrifices organised by the Esoteric Order of the Dragon. Shunned by the surrounding towns, Innsmouth is a rotting, shuffling mass of half human / half fish creatures that lurk behind shuttered houses. One day a young man visits to have a look at the architecture, and stumbles across the horrific truth.

Lovecraft’s strong imagery of fishy-looking, cultish Innsmouth families with staring, bulging eyes and gills on their necks, who like to sacrifice strangers who come nosing around, along with the overpowering fish smell and underground tunnels hiding shadowy horrors, forms a strong baseline for the subsequent continuations or additions to the story of Innsmouth and Cthulhu. Moving through the decades we see Innsmouth destroyed and rebuilt, far flung family members being lured back or taking Innsmouth’s secrets with them to other isolated coastal communities, and hidden secrets regarding the Deep Ones that were better off left undisturbed leading many an unwary explorer down a trail of death and madness.

The anthology is made of up an all-male and mostly British cast of writers, including some well-known names such as Kim Newman and Neil Gaiman, who have a go at penning their own visions of Innsmouth and its influences, with varying degrees of success. Many, such as Basil Copper, Jack Yeovil, David A Sutton and Kim Newman return to Innsmouth in years or decades following the events which took place in Lovecraft’s story and have the fish-like Innsmouth citizens and those they worship off Devil’s Reef continuing to cling on. Others like Peter Tremayne, Brian Mooney and Brian Lumley take the action to England, where coastal communities have to battle the same fish alien race encroaching from the deep, whilst Nicholas Royle and DF Lewis just go their own crazy way.

I enjoyed Lovecraft’s original story, though I preferred At The Mountains of Madness, and although I thought there were some very good stories, Nicholas Royle’s Romania-based The Homecoming being my personal favourite, because it was so different, quite a number were similar in style, tone and plot so some of them could have been dropped without any impact on the anthology. I would have preferred a bit more variation personally – 14 of the 16 stories are told from the point of view of a young man for example. However, for somebody who enjoys some classic horror, this is a thorough investigation of the themes that Lovecraft started with, set against various decades and spun outwards to further expand the story of Cthulhu. My top five stories were:

The Homecoming by Nicholas Royle
The Big Fish by Jack Yeovil
Daoine Domhain by Peter Tremayne
Dagon’s Bell by Brian Lumley
Beyond the Reef by Basil Copper
If you like Lovecraft, I would recommend as a book to dip in and out of.

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