I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Department Zero by Paul Crilley
Published by Pyr Books on January 24 2017
Genres: Adult, Horror
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The nitty-gritty: A clever, inter-dimensional homage to Lovecraft & Co., with lots of action, snark and humor.
So here’s the thing. When I set off after the guy who stole the spear, I really didn’t expect to end the night chained to an altar in the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral while my blood is sucked from my body by a group of insane (and unfit) cultists frantically working foot pumps in an attempt to bring the rotting corpse of a Martian invader back to life.
But them’s the breaks, honey.
In my ongoing quest to find Lovecraft-inspired fiction, I knew the moment I saw the cover for Department Zero that I had found a worthy contender for this popular subgenre. I mean, just look at it! Big, scary Cthulhu monster—check. Dark and storm-ridden sky—check. And those might not be tentacles (they look more like roots), but tentacly-looking things—check! There’s also something about the cover that told me this story would be full of humor, and boy was it. I had a blast reading this book, and even though the action and world-building were a little too much at times, I recommend this for any readers looking for a fast-paced horror novel laced with snark and sarcasm at every turn.
The story is told from the perspective of main character Harry Priest, a down-on-his-luck divorced guy who works for a company called L.A. Cleaners cleaning up crime scenes. And while it’s not the most glamorous of jobs, it’s a steady paycheck. But one day, Harry and his partner Jorge get called to a scene that is beyond anything they’ve seen before. And maybe that should have been a warning to Harry, because after that, his life gets a whole lot more complicated. Jorge steals something from the crime scene, something that belongs to some very scary and powerful people. Before he knows it, Harry is recruited into the Interstitial Crime Department, a secret organization that solves cosmic crimes in other dimensions.
Harry reluctantly joins Department Zero, the lowest department in the ICD (literally, it’s miles underground!) and finds himself working with a rather unpleasant man named Havelock Graves. Because of Jorge’s theft of the mysterious object, Graves and his co-workers have been demoted to Department Zero. But Graves has a plan to get their old jobs back. An interdimensional plot is afoot to steal two rare objects that have the power to awaken the Elder Gods—including, you guessed it, Cthulhu—who if awakened, have the ability to destroy not only our world, but every dimension that exists in the multiverse. If Graves and Priest can find the objects first, there’s a chance they could save the world.
One of my favorite things about Department Zero is Crilley’s world-building. If you’re a fan of the Cthulhu mythos, then you’ll have a great time with this book. Crilley sets up a universe where Lovecraft and other authors like L. Sprague de Camp were writing about real monsters but disguising their writings as fiction. As Priest and Graves begin their quest to save the world, they have access to many different realities and dimensions, and part of the fun of this story was following them as they discover a multitude of wondrous worlds. At the center of all these worlds is a place called Wonderland, the hub through which any dimension can be entered. Much of the story takes place in these dream-like dimensions, but Crilley also grounds his story by allowing Priest and Graves to solve part of the mystery in our world. My favorite speculative stories are ones that have one foot firmly planted in real life, and I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes where the characters visit iconic Los Angeles points of interest. One of my favorite scenes takes place at the Griffith Observatory, a place I’ve been many times myself.
The other thing that stood out for me was the relationship between Priest and Graves. Graves’ immediate dislike of Harry Priest makes for some very funny dialog, and they spend most of the story trading insults. For the most part, these sections really worked for me, although there were times when the humor was a little too over-the-top. But their relationship reminded me of some of the best “buddy films” out there, like Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours. If you love the “good cop, bad cop” dynamic, then you’ll love hanging out with Priest and Graves.
Crilley gives Priest a more personal side in the form of his ex-wife Megan and young daughter Susan, and one of the running plot lines is that Harry calls Susan every night to read to her over the phone. Even in the midst of running through multiple dimensions, Harry always tries to find time to call her, even when he’s in a different dimension and his cell service is spotty. He also feels remorse over his ex-wife Megan, who seems to be trying to keep him away from his daughter. This attempt to make Harry more sympathetic worked fairly well, but I would have liked to see that subplot more developed. This was a perfect opportunity to add some depth to the story, but Megan and Susan come off as two-dimensional and there really isn’t much character development.
As for the action, although it was thrilling and made for a very quick read, at times it felt too non-stop for me, as there are very few moments when the characters actually stop to take a breath. I loved the idea of many different dimensions, but sometimes the characters are simply running through one dimension to get to another, and we don’t really get the chance to appreciate the wonderfully creative aspects of the worlds that Crilley has created.
But those are just minor criticisms, because I had so much fun reading Department Zero. If you love the mythology of Cthulhu and the Elder Gods, or even if you’re like me and just want to learn more about that world, this book will scratch that itch. Humor and horror are an irresistible blend when done right, and Crilley has nailed it.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.
**Good news! I’m hosting a giveaway of Department Zero on January 30th (U.S./Canada only) so don’t forget to stop by and enter the giveaway and read an excerpt of the book as well!