It’s going to be very difficult to review Jonathan L. Howard’s new book, After the End of the World, not because it’s a difficult book to read (far from it!), but because it’s so bizarre (yet so much fun), it’s hard to explain exactly what the charm of the book is.
To begin with, it’s a sequel, sort of, to his earlier book, Carter and Lovecraft, and I’m not sure whether you need to have read the first book to understand or enjoy this one. It certainly helps (and if you’re a fan of the weird, you definitely should read them in order, if only because Carter and Lovecraft is such a wonderful book all by itself). Suffice it to say that Dan Carter is a former police detective who happens to be descended from one Randolph Carter (if you’re familiar with the work of H. P. Lovecraft, that name will definitely ring a bell for you), and who, in the first book, ends up co-owning a bookstore with Emily Lovecraft, an African American woman who is (and I’m still not sure how this happened, given the man’s famous racism) descended from the writer H. P. Lovecraft. In the course of their previous adventure, the two of them ended up folding reality so that certain things from their timeline (Providence, Rhode Island, for instance) do not exist and have never existed in this current timeline. Providence is now Arkham, and its local college is Miskatonic University, not Brown.
If the previous paragraph has you confused, then I recommend against reading After the End of the World, because there’s lots more like that in the book.
The beginning of After the End of the World takes place in this alternate reality in the middle of World War II, when the Nazis annihilate Moscow and the surrounding countryside with what appears to be a nuclear bomb. Naturally, this changes the course of the war and the future of the world (without a Soviet Union, there is no Cold War, for instance). In the present, Nazi Germany is a world power and the United States has made its accommodations with them (the Holocaust did not happen, or not the way it happened in our timeline).
Carter is drawn into an investigation of a major scientific collaboration between the people at Miskatonic University and some high powered Nazi scientists, where the results of the experiments so far seem to be too good to be true, and at the same time Lovecraft finds that she has, somehow, a very rare copy of the Necronomicon, a book that (in our reality) was made up by H. P. Lovecraft but in this reality is a real, and very dangerous, thing.
Bizarre human sacrifices, questions about how the Nazis really managed to destroy the Soviet Union and whether or not reality can be unfolded back to our understanding of it, suspenseful confrontations in an isolated island off the coast of Alaska, what happened to the James Bond novels without a Cold War background, the fate of Great Britain after this version of World War II, and the actual stopping of time altogether: this book is a wonderful, enthralling, truly strange read. The characters are quirky but believable, the plot picks you up and carries you along, and while the book is satisfying in itself (and more satisfying as a sequel to Carter and Lovecraft), there’s a hint that more adventures may be in the offing. If they’re as good as the first two books, then I’m eagerly looking forward to reading them. Come to the Field Library and check them out for yourself.