Ray Gun Reviews
SF/F reviews — and ray guns!

The Mall of Cthulhu by Seamus Cooper

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The Mall of Cthulhu by Seamus Cooper
Night Shade Books, 2009, 235pp

A geeky college student single-handedly saves a co-ed from a fate worse than death when he discovers the Omega Alpha sorority are actually a coven of vampires. Ten years later, both still bear the scars of the trauma they faced. When the two of them stumble upon a conspiracy to unleash occult forces of chaos onto an unsuspecting world, they have to find a way to overcome their personal failings to stop it.

The Mall of Cthulhu by Seamus Cooper follows the adventures of FBI agent Laura Harker and her friend and quondam rescuer Ted as they face the efforts of a white supremacist group to use the Necronomicon to waken Cthulhu and his fellow Big Baddies, as well as demons from their own pasts: the two characters bear all sorts of emotional scars from the vampires they faced. Ted wound up dropping out of college and works at the Queequeg coffee shop chain, losing himself in porn and the occasional alcoholic binge.

Laura’s life seems marginally more together. She went into law enforcement after college. But her current case at the FBI is nothing but reviewing grainy ATM footage. And her relationships (Did I mention she’s a lesbian?) always end disastrously. While she wants to blame her failure on this count on her co-dependent relationship with Ted, she knows, deep down, that she has serious trust issues stemming from her college days.

Cooper’s greatest success in the novel is that he’s able to pull it off at all. There are a lot of things potentially working against it. With a less deft hand, the characters could easily have become stereotypes: the geeky slacker nerd into Lovecraft, and the hard-as-nails lesbian cop with the heart of gold. There are the limits that writing a Cthulhu mythos pastiche impose, including a whole set of names, places and clichés tying a writer’s hands. There are also the vast emotional problems that Ted and Laura face (or are avoiding).

Yet we end up caring about Ted and Laura. Yes, they have problems. But at the time of the story at least, they are working on overcoming those problems. The events in which they find themselves involved happen fast on the heels of each other. The story is enjoyable and fast-moving; I read the entire novel in a couple of days. I wanted to know what happened next.

The telling of the story has some postmodern notes. The chapters alternate in viewpoint between Laura and Ted. You only see the complete story by triangulation. Aside from the references to the Cthulhu mythos, there are many other literary allusions. A few obvious examples: the name of the Queequeg coffee chain (Moby Dick), Laura’s surname of Harker (Dracula), and the name of the female vampire that attempts to turn Laura (Camilla, from the LeFanu story of the same name).

Yet these lit-major inside jokes never get in the way of the story. The Mall of Cthulhu feels to me much like the television show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in its later seasons. There is humor here in Cooper’s novel, often on a very college dorm level. And there is pathos — but certainly someone who faces darkness is bound to be affected by that deep evil. What can a true hero do but keep fighting?

There are some aspects of The Mall of Cthulhu that are not to my taste. I’m not sure so much of the frat house humor is necessary. I do not like the use of emoticons in a novel, nor of ALLCAPS to indicate shouting. But Cooper never goes too far. Taking The Mall of Cthulhu for what it is, the book is a lot of fun.

(Reviewed by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt)

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