Do you ever wonder if Lovecraft’s account of the Old Ones was true? I’m pretty sure you have. You’re a reader of speculative fiction. Now and again, your compass points toward the weird and you almost believe there’s other stuff out there: aliens, ghosts, alternate realities and Elder Gods. You’ve wondered. When something large and dark moves behind the trees at night, you’ve wondered.
If not for all that wondering, the Cthulhu mythos might not be what it is, a many-tentacled leviathan of ranks and names that writers have been adding to since Lovecraft’s first story. Some shape, some borrow, all in homage to an idea as old as storytelling. Asking ‘what if’ and giving the best answer possible. In the case of tales bearing the ‘Lovecraftian’ label, as scarily as possible.
With ‘Department Zero,’ author Paul Crilley approaches the mythos from a different direction. His characters do their share of flailing in fear, which is one of my favourite aspects of the original ‘Call Of Cthulhu,’ but they also quip, snipe and fumble from one dire situation to another. ‘Department Zero’ is laugh out loud funny.
Harry Priest always wanted to work in law enforcement. The closest he’s gotten is cleaning up crime scenes. He’s good humoured about it and his ability or need to see the lighter side of things is Harry’s most endearing quality. Called to clean up a particularly gory scene, Harry stumbles into an inter-dimensional conspiracy. Cthulhu is real and so are the Martians from ‘War Of The Worlds’. There are worlds where magic works and elves co-exist with humans. Like most realities, these alternate worlds have their own version of law enforcement and they’re hiring.
After one thrilling day, doing the job he always dreamed of, Harry and his team end up in Department Zero, cleaning up after crime scenes. Fortunately or not, another particularly gory scene provides a clue to getting back upstairs. Along the way, Harry will escape from certain death multiple times, sustain multiple head wounds and lose track of multiple priceless artefacts. He’ll do it all with his self-depreciating humour which doesn’t quite cover a keen need to succeed. Not just because he wants to save the world, but because he quite likes being alive and because he has something to live for: a seven year-old daughter.
I enjoyed reading ‘Department Zero’ more than I expected to. It’s not Urban Fantasy, which I have a hard time with, but is similar in tone with the hero being plucky and the bad guys being dastardly. There is no learning curve here, though. Or there wasn’t for me. I didn’t have to pick my way through yet another version of how the fey work, with the author assuming I knew it all already. Here, the alternate realities are many and they’re based on worlds I’ve read before. All the worlds. It’s fun and there aren’t a lot of unexplained rules. In fact, it’s chaos, but I never got lost.
The silliness did wear a tiny bit, with all the quipping and sniping and everyone always having something clever to say. The humour really suited the story, though. I mean, we’re talking about a universe filled with dimensional doorways, talking monkeys and entropy guns made of bone. And Cthulhu! It’s the ultimate mishmash of fantasy and Science Fiction and every other genre in between, so why not have a little fun with it. I snickered and chuckled and laughed and generally had a really good time while reading. The plot is also worthwhile. You may think you know what to expect going in, but there are a few surprises in store.
Harry’s voice wins the day, though. He’s just such an easy character to like. Serious when he needs to be, brave and loyal as a good hero should be, but also wonderfully flawed. I liked him a lot and I’d like to read more about him, so I hope Paul Crilley plans to write more adventures for his team. There are a lot of other worlds in this multiverse to explore. More crime, more doomsdays and the possibility of advancement out of Department Zero.
Recommended for readers of Science Fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal…and you know what? Recommended for anyone who likes genre fiction.
(pub: Pyr/Prometheus, 2016. 302 pages, paperback and ebook. Paperback: Price: $11.97 (US), £13.58 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-63388-201-0. Ebook: Price: $ 9.99 (US), £ 6.59 (UK). ASIN: B01AQNYP6K)