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Denied the em dash
on March 4, 2012
I've been running a Delta Green campaign for several years now and as I wrap it up this year I finally managed to read some of the fiction by one of the Call of Cthulhu setting's original creators, Dennis Detwiller. I'm not generally a fan of historical fiction, but I make an exception for all things Delta Green.
I needn't have worried. Although the book is subtitled "A Call of Cthulhu Mythos Novel of World War II," the historical setting is only peripherally related to first third of the book. After that, Denied to the Enemy forks into two paths: Burma and Australia. In fact, if you removed the first third of the book, the characters' speech and mannerisms are modern enough that you wouldn't know this Denied to the Enemy takes place in World War II.
The book begins with two characters, the all-American Delta Green agent Arnold and the diminutive British PISCES agent Barnsby. Of the two, Barnsby is far more interesting; a peculiar character who always wears gloves and has a pretty fiancée. It turns out Barnsby's a psychic and his abilities are pivotal in tracking down a book that leads to the remaining two-thirds of the novel.
Unfortunately Barnsby disappears (for good reasons) and is replaced by Joe Camp, who isn't quite as interesting. Camp is a fish out of water in Australia and for the most part just follows the lead of a group of allied Aborigines. They have a parallel in the Gurkha that feature in the parallel Burma plot - loyal, wise in the ways of the Mythos, and seemingly immune to the sanity-snapping sights that bring white men to their knees.
Intertwining these two plots is a time-traveling battle between Yithians. A traitor amongst the ancient race is planning to destroy the world and it's up to the assassin known only as the One to stop him. This can get confusing at times, as there's really no single narrative to keep things on track - One doesn't show up often and reading his alien perspective can be tiring.
It's clear that Detwiller is a gifted author. He has a command of descriptive prose that honors Lovecraft, whom at times he intentionally mimics. On the other hand, Detwiller has a habit of telling instead of showing, with great swaths of text describing events after they happened. There's very few reveals here; it's more background for a role-playing campaign than an overarching story.
The print edition is legendary for both its historical gaffes and its typos. My history is sporadic at best so I didn't pick up on the criticisms leveled by other reviewers, but the typos certainly distracted me. En dashes were used instead of em dashes, which frequently muddled the text. I understand that the Kindle edition has fixed these problems.
Although World War II aficionados will be disappointed, Denied to the Enemy features the full panoply of Lovecraftian villains. It's not a "Mythos hoedown" by any means, but there's enough to keep Delta Green fans interested: deep ones, tcho-tcho, flying polyps, yithians, and surprisingly few Nazis. The real core market is a select few: fans of "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" and "Shadow Out of Time." Denied to the Enemy extrapolates and explores both.
My modern Delta Green campaign has a similar buddy relationship between the rough Arnold and the reserved Barnsby. There's an undeniable pulp feel to my game, something that might not always suit more traditional Call of Cthulhu play, but if Denied to the Enemy is any indication of the creators' tastes we've been true to the spirit of Delta Green all along.