Greetings, readers. You may recall last year when I reviewed Greg Lamberson’s novel DESPERATE SOULS, second in the series of occult detective novels he’s been working on called The Jake Helman Files. Jake Helman, the hero of the series, is an average schmoe of a private investigator forced into decidedly non-average situations — a genetics firm of dubious ethical fiber (in the first novel, PERSONAL DEMONS) and an insidious street drug linked to voodoo rituals (in DESPERATE SOULS). Having encountered what might be termed The Hidden World, The Hidden World has also encountered him, and he is thus “marked,” forever damned to find himself embroiled in the schemes of higher and lower planes of existence.
In his latest adventure, COSMIC FORCES (releasing from Medallion Press October 2011), Helman finds himself hired by the Mayor’s wife to spy on her husband, as she believes he is carrying on an affair and wishes for evidence to use in court that she might divorce him. While Helman would usually dismiss such cases as below him (and interfering with his continued vigilance over the Tower, the dark heart of the genetics firm he’d tangled with previously), something in her voice and bearing convinces Helman to take the case.
What seems like a routine spousal investigation quickly embroils Helman in a powerful secret society which has influenced world events for the benefit of its members’ bank accounts. Two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Moon Landing…all to make a very small group of men very, very wealthy. Investigating further leads Helman into a deeper, darker mystery, one which has both Heaven and Hell very, very nervous. Ultimately, Helman will have to put his trust in the combined hands of Cain and Abel (yes, THAT Cain and Abel) to protect Earth, Heaven, and Hell from an unspeakable force known as the Destroyer of Souls…
H.P. Lovecraft is best known for his creation of the Cthulhu Mythos, and the entities, personalities and tomes found within. In the years since Lovecraft began writing, hundreds of other authors have contributed to the Mythos, including August Derleth, Ramsey Campbell, C.J. Henderson, Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Lin Carter, Stephen King, Robert M. Price and countless others. Many of these stories will reference Abdul Alhazred, his book the Necronomicon, Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, or Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young. Many of these will attempt to evoke a sensation of “Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.”
What many fail to capture is perhaps the number one theme of Lovecraft’s fiction: that Man is cosmically insignificant and the universe at large does not give a damn for humanity’s continued existence or demise. That there are powers at work above and beyond human comprehension, whose motives and efforts are alien and discomforting. There is no salvation or damnation with death, just a complete cessation of being.
This despairing cosmic nihilism is what Greg Lamberson has captured so brilliantly. The Destroyer of Souls is an enigmatic and alien entity, divorced from both Heaven and Hell and yet existing in both the spirit and material realms. Its activities on Earth, as its name suggests, results in the complete destruction of souls, the dissipation of that metaphysical energy preventing souls from reaching either Heaven or Hell. This is a beast that is both predatory and parasitic, understanding the sentience of its prey but uncaring beyond its next meal.
Beyond this cosmic nihilism, this outing for Jake Helman continues the incredible, gritty vibrancy of the previous volumes. New York City (and in COSMIC FORCES, an excursion to Buffalo, NY, which both Greg and I call home) is absolutely alive here, intricately detailed and populated with believable, complex characters, with heroes, villains and supporting characters compellingly written, especially dialogue. Greg has a fantastic ear for conversations in print, which I can only assume is a holdover from his career as a filmmaker.
Additionally, Greg continues to pull no punches with poor Jake Helman; he is as scarred physically by his experiences with the supernatural as he is mentally and emotionally. He suffers constantly for his actions in a way I’m unused to seeing “heroes” suffer. If I had to offer a guess, I’d say in the next book Jake is going to lose a limb, at the rate things are going.
As with DESPERATE SOULS, my only quibble is that I think Greg is a little too free with the horror movie references. I can readily suspend disbelief for genetically-engineered horrors, zonbies, Cain being a seven foot tall naked sarcastic demon and ultimate doom lurking in Lake Erie (remember, I live close to its shores), but I find my credibility stretched when a character with no real passion — or nerdity — for horror films can look at his tattered reflection in the mirror and reference MR. SARDONICUS in his inner monologue. This is, of course, a minor quibble on my part, and such references are kept largely on the down-low.
All in all, The Jake Helman Files continue to be a magnificent addition to the ranks of occult detectives, with Jake Helman’s glass eye deserving a place of honor next to Carl Kolchak’s seersucker suit and Teddy London’s .45 (Betty) and knife (Veronica). I’d call this series an absolute must-read for any horror or hardboiled detective fan, because Greg Lamberson delivers the goods, and does so in spades.