The Statement of Andrew Doran
Macabre Ink/Crossroad Press
In the vast majority of stories set in the Cthulhu Mythos, or within the broader genre of Lovecraftian or Cosmic Horror, it is a trope that if any character – whether protagonist, antagonist or some part of the supporting cast – comes into contact with a being from the Mythos, or any of the magic that comes from the void between dimensions that said beings inhabit, then there will be an incredibly high price to pay. That price is usually something to do with one’s sanity being slowly (or rapidly) peeled away as the true face of the uncaring cosmos is revealed; a soul being corrupted or completely destroyed; or, at best, some combination of the two that doesn’t happen immediately but is cursed to haunt the character until their shortened and untimely death in the near future. That’s all well and proper, and such an intrinsic part of Lovecraft’s writing, and the genre that has expanded upon his writings, that I would be concerned to see a story in the genre that didn’t include it; it wouldn’t be a Cosmic Horror story, or something inspired by Lovecraft.
However, I must admit that it is nice to see a piece of Mythos fiction that features a protagonist who is fully aware of the myriad dangers of the void, but who is still skilful and disciplined enough to be able to effectively wield those powers without immediately turning insane or being mutated into a fleshy blob that can only scream telepathically. Sometimes it’s a good thing to buck the general trend of a genre, as long as it’s actually done properly – an excellent example is the Midnight Eye series of novels by my favourite author, William Meikle, which features a Glaswegian private detective who becomes embroiled in Lovecraftian shenanigans and can occasionally pull off a success without his mind being irreparably shattered. Another great example is the book that I’ve just finished reading, and is therefore the subject of this review – The Statement of Andrew Doran by Matthew Davenport. The titular Doran is a professor, mythologist and occultist who divides his time between studying various elements of the Lovecraftian deities and the cults who worship them, studying forbidden texts to understand the basis of the evils done by the deities, and fighting anyone foolish enough to try and use them for evil. He’s a fantastic creation, unashamedly in the style of iconic and archetypical adventurers such as Indiana Jones – someone not afraid to use guns, swords and his bare fists at times to fight foes trying to end the world through Lovecraftian means – not to mention a hefty dose of void magic when appropriate.
Set in the early 1940s during the Second World War, with the United States on the brink of joining the war against Germany and Japan, The Statement of Andrew Doran sees the professor pursue the Necronomicon when it is stolen from Miskatonic University by agents of the Nazi regime, fighting his way across Spain, France, Switzerland and Germany in an attempt to stop the nefarious Traum Kult from unleashing the apocalypse on Earth. Fast-paced, action-packed and extremely well-written, by the time I was half-way through the novel I was enjoying myself more than I have in quite some time. Because while we get fantastical, almost cinematic action sequences (a fight against undead Nazi soldiers while fighting through a heavily-armed convoy is a particular favourite of mine), and some of the genre’s obligatory dream-like sequences where entities such as Cthulhu are witnessed, there are also some intriguing ideas ventured by the author.
For example, the Necronomicon is stolen by the Nazis from Mistaktonic University at the beginning of the novel, and there’s an interesting relationship between Doran and the university administration that’s really only hinted at by Davenport. I rather enjoyed the idea that the senior faculty left the dreaded, forbidden tome on open display for students to read, in order to see what they would conjure from the book and they could take advantage of once the unfortunate student was driven insane or killed. Davenport also weaves together a number of genre archetypes, such as creatures, cults and deities, to evoke a world in which the theft of the Necronomicon, and the desperate efforts to get it back, are merely on plot amongst many being undertaken by cultists and other groups and individuals. This is brilliantly illustrated by an early section set onboard a trawler heading from the United States to neutral Spain, with Doran encountering some oddly fish-like men who are guarding a mysterious set of packages heading for the Spanish coastline, and having to disrupt their plot in order to proceed with his journey.
Doran himself is also an interesting and well fleshed-out character. Although he starts off as an obvious homage to Indiana Jones, with a desire to keep forbidden tomes in museums (or preferably all to himself) and an eager readiness to punch foes in the face, the author slowly but surely gives him more depth as the novel moves forward. We get to see how his efforts to get the Necronomicon back affect him, both physically and mentally; and his relationship with a supporting character that appears about a third of the way through the book is incredibly well done, doing an excellent job of subverting the often stale genre trope of ‘suspicious companion who doesn’t seem quite human.’
Cheerfully pilfering the best and most exciting elements of the genre – the Necronomicon, Cthulhu, Herbert West – and deftly bringing them together, Mr Davenport has written a fantastically pulpy, fists-swinging, guns-blazing, magical lightning-hurling action-adventure that readily proves that not all Mythos tales need to be grim, foreboding and often achingly depressing in order to be successful or authentic; Davenport shows that it is possible to use all of the tropes of the genre, and be faithful to them, while still producing an incredibly enjoyable adventure. The Statement of Andrew Doran is a credit to both the author and the publisher – once again the fantastic Crossroad Press – and I cannot recommend this heartily enough; I greatly look forward to reading the sequel and any other books that come in the series.