They really don’t come back the same once they’ve been dead a while. Pete Rawlik‘s first novel Reanimators (2013) takes its cue from Lovecraft‘s classic story Herbert West — Reanimator (1922), spurts the old story full of the green reagent, and goes crazy.
The setup is ingenious; as in Lovecraft’s original story, Herbert West’s experiment goes horribly/exhilaratingly wrong, and people die. Only in Rawlik’s interpretation those people have a son, Doctor Stuart Hartwell, who then swears revenge on poor West. Somehow Hartwell also figures out a formula for reanimation, thus giving the title its plural suffix.
So far so good, but then other folks from Lovecraft’s stories start appearing. Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee (of The Shadow Out of Time), the Whateleys (of The Dunwich Horror), Doctor Muñoz (of Cool Air) and Erich Zann (of The Music of Erich Zann… and others. Every name connects to some other piece of fiction somewhere.
And the novel gets sidetracked, time and again. Some references slip in smoothly, others have to be shoehorned in. And sure, it’s fun to read about Hartwell observing a certain hill in Dunwich at a certain time, when a certain Great Old One shows up in all his glory, glowing balls and all. But does it amount to anything?
Not really. The main plotline, when it occasionally surfaces from the seething tangle of recycled references, is great; the chapter where Hartwell inadvertently creates zombies in the trenches of World War I is brilliant, as is the storyline concerning the Spanish flu epidemic. Maybe the original Reanimator story, as a born and bred pulp tale, is well suited to such tinkering (as seen in the movie adaptation and its sequels); messing with the other stories is far more difficult, and the line between good fun and preposterously ridiculous is a very thin one.
The writing, in first person and ostensibly by Hartwell, is solid and insanely serious; Rawlik has the Lovecraftian protagonist spot on. Certain chapters and episodes are excellent, but as a whole the plot barely holds together. No doubt the numerous sidetracks to other stories will tickle any hardcore Lovecraft fan; it’s fun just to spot which story is currently being cannibalized. But for the rest of humanity, it all probably comes across as slightly meh.