I finally read my first Lovecraft book! As soon as I saw that this fit into one of my reading challenges – a book set in Rhode Island for my Reading in New England Challenge – I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to read it. H. P. Lovecraft is one of those authors I feel like I have to experience at some point, but I didn’t know where to start. I think The Case of Charles Dexter Ward was an excellent introduction to Lovecraft, and I’m looking forward to reading more!
Charles Dexter Ward has been a patient at a mental hospital for years, ever since he abandoned what had long been the focus of his studies, antiquities, and turned to something much darker. One day, after a visit from his doctors, Charles disappears. The only clues his room yields are an open window and a layer of dust. The investigation into his disappearance leads to the discovery of sinister secrets. Spirits are being raised, dark forces trifled with, and a sinister supernatural force threatens the residents of a peaceful Rhode Island town.
“Do not call up that which you cannot put down.”
The title of this book is misleading, because, while Charles Dexter Ward sets in motion the events of the novel, he is not the main character. That said, the identity of the main character is kind of a spoiler, so I’m not going to tell you who it is, or their relation to Ward. I will say, that it’s a great twist.
After reading The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, I can see why Lovecraft is the master of horror. Since this is a very short book, I decided to go into it knowing very little. All I know was that it is set in Providence, Rhode Island (because that’s the reason it fit into my reading challenge). For some reason, the setting, and the fact that the title strongly suggests a mystery, made me think this book was going to be somewhat mild (i.e. no scary, Cthulu-like monsters). I was wrong. This book is definitely horror, though it’s written in the context of a mystery, which I think was clever.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a horror novel, since that isn’t my usual genre, but this book made me want to read more. It was creepy in all the right ways, with just the right amount of mystery and even a bit of a historical aspect. The twists were unexpected without very much misdirection, which is something I really appreciate in literature because it’s really difficult to accomplish.
I don’t want to discuss the characters too much, because of spoilers, but I really enjoyed them all. I was surprised by the amount of character personality Lovecraft was able to fit into such a short book. I also loved that none of the characters are as they seem at first; most of the twists involve characters acting in really unexpected ways, which was fun to read.
I think The Case of Charles Dexter Ward lived up to the Lovecraft hype. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the beginning, which was slower than I would have liked. It begins in a way that’s almost clinical (hence the title), and I just don’t think it fit all that well with the rest of the story. Still, I understand what Lovecraft was trying to do, and I did really enjoy the rest of the novel.
Overall, I’m very glad I ended up reading The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and would highly recommend it to any fans of horror or dark books with supernatural elements.