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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent novel using Lovecraftian ideas, June 29, 2008
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This review is from: Downward to Darkness (Paperback)
After the pornographic Satan's Lovechild, I had written off Brian McNaughton's four mythos influenced short novels. James Ambuehl, noted mythos maven, responded that the author actually had better intentions than his editor allowed, and that I might actually like these books. So I gave them another try.

Downward to Darkness was originally published in 1978 as Satan's Mistress by Carlyle Books. This corrected text/title was published in 2000 by Wildside Press. New it costs $14.95; you can get free shipping from Amazon if you order > $25 worth of stuff (like Worse Things Waiting!). Page count of this trade paperback is 141, with text starting on page 7. There is a too brief but entertaining minibio of the author on the last page. Editing was good, production qualities were good, and the cover had no art, just the title in large type. I did not do an exhaustive comparison of Satan's Mistress and Downward to Darkness, but a very cursory examination shows that there was not really anything too much different or very objectionable in Satan's Mistress, not when compared to the difference between Gemini Rising and Satan's Lovechild. There was frank sexual imagery and taboo acts referred to, but not in a pornographic sense. Rather, it was important to the strange atmosphere the author was trying to build up. Considering my modest expectations, I was quite engaged by this book. With the relatively short page count, the clever plot and the very readable prose I polished it off in one day. The way the book is written, the twisted nature of the plot is not really made clear until at the very end. It does not start off with any particular Lovecraftian elements, but eventually it all comes together in a fiendishly clever sort of way. The characters do not know what they are in the middle of until the end, and even at the end maybe only one minor character has figured it all out. Downward to Darkness is not a sequel to Gemini Rising although it has some similar thematic elements.

Patrick Laughlin is an awkward intellectual high school student with odd parents. His parents are among the intelligentsia; his father Frank is a commercial artist and his mother Rose has a PhD in English. Unlike many mythos books, these characters come alive. The author has a gift for putting you inside their point of view so the most outrageous things make a sort of sense. They live in an old mill converted into a studio for Frank, as well as their home. The mill was inherited by Rose; it later turns out it was home to an ancestor or hers, Mordred Glendower, a reputed evil magician. He and his daughter, Mirdath, lived there, and apparently he was worse than she was. Eventually the town got tired of disappearing babies and burned the place (and Mordred) to the ground. Mirdath was accorded a fate deserving of a witch, she was hanged at a crossroads. Well, time has passed, and the crossroads and adjacent potter's field have been converted into the town dump. A local Wiccan (or better, pagan), Howard Ashcroft, has had his eye on the mill for years because Mordred's library is purportedly still there. Unfortunately Rose claimed her property when her father died and moved there with her family. Ashcroft can do some low grade magic, like cast glamours, and he and his followers are still trying to maneuver their way into the mill. Unfortunately his dabbling has in effect resurrected the spirit of Mordred into the genetic make up of his male descendent, Patrick. Shades of Ephraim Waite from The Thing on the Doorstep, he is trying to get control of Patrick's body. He begins by sending Patrick visions of his red haired daughter, Mirdath, as a seductress. This bleeds out into everyone, so that Rose is rummaging about the basement looking for a hidden treasure, and Frank can't help drawing pictures of a red haired woman. We meet some other characters in the town: nosy Jane Miniter and her dogs, and naïve daughter Amy, Rupert Spencer a youngish writer who is not so successful and lives with his father, an older lawyer named George, Shana Jennings a blonde high school beauty who manipulates Patrick to do her schoolwork and her boyfriend Bruce Curtis, and an unpleasant teacher of theirs, Bob Bamberger. Ashcroft invited Amy and Patrick to a pagan celebration/black mass that Patrick counsels against going to, as he understands a virgin's virginity is usually sacrificed to everyone. This is a very similar image to the pagan orgy in Gemini Rising that was used to achieve a kind of power. Everything comes to head on Hallowe'en (sic), when the Laughlins hold a big party at the mill. Everyone and a lot of other people show up, and events really spin out of control. Thanks to Ashcroft's manipulation, Rose breaks into the cellar where there is a copy of the Necronomicon and Mordred completely seizes control of Patrick. In a very tautly written scene in the kitchen at the party, Bruce and a thuggish friend, Duke, with a very drunken Shana, are tormenting Bob Bamberger, Amy Miniter and Patrick. When Bruce is about to beat the crap out of Patrick he utters the First of the Ten Words of the Litany of Hastur. Now Mordred in Patrick's body attempts to resurrect Mirdath, who was even more a Master of the Runes than her father. Mordred was always disorganized, impatient and sloppy with details. This means he does not separate Mirdath's body from any other fragment of human/animal/plant tissue...What rises is feeling a bit peckish. Now Mr. McNaughton takes a plot device I usually can't stand and makes it really work. HPL was writing the truth, tweaking the collective nose of the world's intelligentsia that refused to accord him the same consideration. I usually hate this concept but McNaughton's prose is so good and it is so organic to the plot that it all really worked for me. George hears about all this and talks a disbelieving Rupert into tracking down the Necronomicon, but instead he has a less than productive encounter with Mirdath. George comes to realize the Necronomicon is real and really wants to get it to head off certain danger. At the same time, Patrick, still alive in a corner of his own mind, somehow manages to wrest control partially back from Mordred. Unfortunately, as Patrick-Mordred attempts to placate the Mirdath thing with a snack, Mirdath no longer recognizes him as the spirit of her father....When George arrives at the mill, among other things, he finds Rose, who has only been semiconscious since Hallowe'en, and a distracted Amy Miniter. There is a denouement of sorts in a very good final scene.

Brian McNaughton provides a terrific reading experience with this book. He puts us in the viewpoints of all the major characters, and makes them all become alive on the page. The plot comes together liked a finely wrought piece of clockwork, the action scenes are quite invigorating and the entire story has a very creepy atmosphere. This is what I expected from the author of The Throne of Bones! It is a corking good read and certainly merits a few hard earned Cthulhu bucks. I liked it so much I dove right into Worse Things Waiting, and it's even better!
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4.0 out of 5 stars a bit confused, May 28, 2013
By 
chrisam (Boston area) - See all my reviews
The title of this review refers not only to my reaction to this book but also the book itself. Billed as "a novel of the Cthulhu Mythos," there is very little of the mythos to be found within its pages. What there is of the mythos is jammed in toward the end. The rest is a mish-mash of teenage Oedipal angst.
I'm a fan of McNaughton (loved Throne of Bones), so I gave him the benefit of the doubt by ordering the sequel, Worse Things Waiting. Hope it ain't worse than this one.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome book., September 13, 2011
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You may not know the author, you may be turned off by yet another "HP Lovecraft" mythos writer, but you should give this book a chance. I didn't care for the "Lovecraft was trying to warn the world" fluff, but other than that this is a perfect homage to Lovecraft and a book every horror fan should read. It is short, well-written, and cheap. Buy this book.
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Downward to Darkness
Downward to Darkness by Brian McNaughton (Paperback - February 6, 2003)
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