This is a novella, published by Tor.com and sold through Macmillan. It runs about 160 pages, and it currently has 11 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Charles Thomas Tester is an African American who lives New York City in the 1920s. He’s comfortable in the multiracial, immigrant background of the city and makes his living, not quite as a con man, but through brokering magical dealings. He’s young, and his father warns him about the dangers of what he’s doing, but Tester thinks he can handle it. While pretending to be a jazz musician, he’s hired by rich eccentric Robert Suydam to play for a party. The man turns out to be pursuing an occult power. When Tester’s father is killed by police, Charles Thomas turns to the dark side, following Suydam into a scheme to overthrow civilization as we know it.

This novella is a retelling of Lovecraft’s “Horror at Red Hook.” The story is generally considered to be strongly racist, as it expresses Lovecraft’s revulsion of the mixed immigrant population he found when he moved to New York City. Tester gives us the African American perspective from the 1920s as he hides out under various personas, pretending to be subservient and to know his place, while actually being very successful at what he does. His father’s murder by the police injects a contemporary note, and Tester reacts with rage. At this point, the narrative shifts to the perspective of Detective Malone, who investigates the events at Suydam’s mansion. I thought this weakened the narrative, as I was very invested in Tester as a character at this point, and I didn’t connect with Malone at all. How this all worked out for him was afterthought.

So, the story is one thing, but the message is another. This is about racism, about how African Americans were treated in the 1920s and how they’re treated today. And, of course, it also suggests how some individuals with the weight and talent might be tempted to invoke Cthulhu to get their revenge.

Good imagery, strong characters, brings the 1920s to life. Four stars.

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