Titus Crow has to be one of the most hopeless occult detectives I’ve ever encountered in fiction.
As a young man he takes a job cataloguing the private library of an Aleister Crowley knock-off, realises that the creep is hypnotizing him in a transparently obvious scheme to steal his body, and shows up for work the next day! Now I hate to a hypothetical hero, but were I to be that situation I think I’d move to Norway.
His assistant and frequent listener, Henri-Laurent de Marigny, isn’t much better. de Marigny moonlights as a horror writer and when an irate scholar rocks up to his house to explain to him why he’s wrong. The writer narrates several pages about a monster attacking some Roman legionaries in ancient Britain and reveals to reader that he uses the beast’s skull as a paperweight! Come on! Even if it was dead, anyone with any understanding of Lovecrafty things would know that dead doesn’t mean inactive! That’d be like me using an atomic bomb as a doorstopper! As you can tell, such foolhardiness annoys me.
Aahh yes – I should probably mention that Titus Crow operates in a universe that is basically H.P. Lovecraft fan fiction. So expect Cthulu and the Necromnicon to be name dropped. Does anyone actually find this brand of Cosmic Horror scary? Sure, I love the atmosphere of prehistoric civilizations and unknowable monsters, but they’re either too hyperbolically weird or abstract to creep me out. The world being wrecked by Cthulu isn’t much worse the the place being bombed into annihilation, and I’ve managed to keep my sanity despite knowing that the latter remains very plausible.
All this said, as a writer Lumley is much more competent than his characters. He’s good with drawing up settings and expositional prose. There are occasional glimpses of humour that suggest Lumley would be better off writing comedic horror that Lovecraft pastiches.
The Complete Titus Crow is only for desperate Cthulu fans. I’d recommend Clark Ashton Smith or Robin Jarvis, an underrated children’s author who works a similar niche, instead.