I'm writing this review the day before Vin Suprynowicz's new novel, The Miskatonic Manuscript, hits the shelves ... but unless you're one of my financial supporters (see the right sidebar!), you won't be able to read it until a minute or so after midnight on December 11th, its official release date.
Before getting into the review proper, let me hit you with a link and possibly bore you with encomia.
That link should take you to Vin Suprynowicz's preferred bookseller, AbeBooks, and more importantly to a list of all the books by Vin Suprynowicz that you can get there (including, as of some time on the 11th, the new book).
Updated links, later in the morning:
Click here for the hardcover limited edition of The Miskatonic Manuscript at AbeBooks
Click Here for the ebook edition of The Miskatonic Manuscript at Amazon
I can't brag that I've read every word ever written for publication by Vin, but I've tried. I've read the collections of his print essays (Send in the Waco Killers and The Ballad of Carl Drega). I've read his doorstop of a first novel, The Black Arrow. I've read the first two novels in his current series centering on rare book sellers/hunters Matthew Hunter and Chantal Stevens (The Testament of James and now The Miskatonic Manuscript). And I've followed his editorial career at the Las Vegas Review-Journal and later on his blog.
Every time Vin writes and I read, whether the material is fiction or non-fiction, I come away an edified and improved individual ... and I also come away hungry for more. Oh, and angry, and occasionally moved to tears ... nobody tears the state a new asshole, or sympathetically portrays its victims, quite the way Vin does. So in advance of the review, just know that I encourage you to read this book and every other thing you can find by the guy.
OK, the review, with spoilers kept as minimal as I can keep them:
The Miskatonic Manuscript is the second volume (following The Testament of James) in a continuing series (with a third story advertised as on the way!) featuring the crew at Providence, Rhode Island's Books on Benefit. The main characters are owner Matthew Hunter, his mate Chantal Stevens, and (in my opinion) the store itself. Books on Benefit is no ordinary bookstore and its crew are no ordinary booksellers. In addition to selling musty old paperbacks to walk-ins, they deal in rare and collectible books. The entire crew, human and feline alike, are more than cardboard cutouts -- they do play key roles. And I don't think it a stretch to infer that Hunter and Stevens bear some resemblances to the author and his mate, The Brunette.
In The Miskatonic Manuscript, as in the previous novel, the MacGuffin is a lost manuscript -- this time a notebook rumored to have been kept by HP Lovecraft, relating to one of his early stories (that story is included as an appendix to the novel) but perhaps holding the key to a distinctively non-fictional device and what that device can do.
Another resemblance between the two novels: The characters clearly hate -- at least as much as Suprynowicz himself does -- the "war on drugs." In a very big way. They also clearly love, and are clearly familiar with, the class of "drugs" known to their devotees as entheogens and to their state detractors as "hallucinogens." I am not going to infer from the text that Suprynowicz himself has a lot of experience with those substances, for the simple reason that doing so might be dangerous to him ... but I do have some such experience myself. Let's just assume he's a damn good researcher and leave it at that, OK?
One key question posed in The Miskatonic Manuscript is: "What if you fought a War on Drugs, and someone fought back?" The answer is laid out in a style tactically reminiscent both of Suprynowicz's own The Black Arrow and Bill Brannon's Let Us Prey. Those segments, and the careful explanation of the rationale, are worth the price of this book all by themselves. At some point in the probably not-too-distant future, I expect -- and hope -- they'll be cited as prescient.
But there's more! This is not just a polemic disguised as a story. I don't want to do a bunch of spoiling here, but there are otherworldly creatures, and other worlds, and a storyline that stands up well next to the best of a broad genre that I'd classify as beginning with H Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines and running through the adventures of Doc Savage by Lester Dent, aka Kenneth Robeson. "Adventure tales," more or less, with a strong flavor of the supernatural as super-science. Great stuff!
If you grew up devouring the re-published (and sometimes re-created, for better or worse) "pulp" adventure, science fiction and swords and sorcery tales of an era that straddled World War II, the Hunter/Stevens stories are going to take you back, in a good way.
For the story, and the storycraft, read this book.
But, again, there's more! My copy of The Miskatonic Manuscript is copy number 19 of a numbered, signed, hardcover first edition of 650 (and yes, it was a "free" review copy -- there's my interest disclosure). There's an ebook version available ... but you will want the physical version on your home's most prominent book shelf, so you might want to order ASAP. When Vin puts out a novel, he also puts out a product of superb physical quality. There was a leather-bound edition of The Black Arrow. These limited editions of The Testament of James and The Miskatonic Manuscript aren't leather-bound, but they are beautifully produced, obviously printed on high quality paper stock and come with library-quality dust jackets. Jacket design by Carl Bussjaeger on both volumes ... and on The Miskatonic Manuscript, cover art by Boris Vallejo!
I could probably keep yelling "but there's more!" for quite awhile, but I'm going to simmer down. The next book Vin writes that I can't recommend will be the first book Vin writes that I can't recommend. And I don't expect to ever see that book.