When the going gets weird, the weird grow tentacles

Blending the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson with the dark writing of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos is a match made in heaven, or perhaps some outer dimension, but the two were not contemporaries so they never collaborated, but what if they had?

Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas’ book The Damned Highway: Fear and Loathing in Arkham is the closest thing to such a collaboration. It is a funny and hallucinogenic imagining of a road trip undertaken by Thompson from his Colorado hideaway to the darkest corners of New England and his encounters with the cultists that live where he discovers dark forces are on the move to assist the biggest Cthulhu worshipper of them all, U.S. President Richard Nixon.

The novel is essentially a pastiche of Thompson’s writing style and, for anyone familiar with it, it’s a remarkably faithful facsimile. It is rife with Thompson’s usual mutterings about drugs, authority, handguns and the same sort of creative cursing that he would have used. And like any good Thompson story, it throbs with the undercurrent of violence which threatens to erupt at any moment and often does. It’s very much in the style of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the book for which Thompson is most famous.

The Lovecraftian elements of the story include the settings of Arkham and Innsmouth which are famous outposts in the Chtulhu universe where dark cultists wait for the arrival of the Old Ones. During his adventures, Thompson, who is never named as such, encounters a variety of bizarre characters who may, or may not, be worshippers of the ancient gods.

During his investigations, he discovers the link between the cults and Richard Nixon’s attempt to be re-elected as U.S. President in 1968, the year in which the novel is set. It seems that if Nixon sweeps all 50 states during the campaign, Cthulhu will awake as the sunken isle of R’leyh emerges from the ocean’s depths. Thompson, more worried about Nixon than the elder god, sets off to Washington for a climactic showdown with Nixon.

The cover is also very much reminiscent of the Ralph Steadman illustrations which accompanied some of Thompson’s best-known work. I only wish that there were more of them inside the book. The novel is published by Dark Horse, an imprint more famous for its comic books, so if anyone can add illustrations to a book, it is them. It might even make a good graphic novel some day.

I found this book to be utterly addictive and had a hard time putting it down. Fans of Thompson and Lovecraft will thoroughly enjoy this crossover tour-de-force. Even if you’ve never read either of the authors who inspired this work, you’ll surely get swept up by the insanity of this story and will undoubtedly rush out to read books by them. Not only that, but you’ll probably want to check out more of the works by the men who wrote this love-letter to gonzo writing and eldrich horror.

A review copy of this book was provided by D