In the mountainous Kootenai region of Idaho, there exists a town named Eliada. The dream of a rich industrialist named Garrison Harper, by the year 1911 Eliada is a booming Utopia fiercely devoted to the ideals of Community, Compassion and Hygeine. Of course, there’s a darker undercurrent, as in every Utopia: the town is being planned across strict eugenic principles, as a place where the strong are being bred apart from the weak, a philosophy that has its roots in the newly-established Eugenics Records Office in New York City.
In the hill country near Eliada, another set of plans is being brought to fruition. An ancient, unknowable entity is engaging in a breeding programme of its own, preying upon the simple hill peoples to further its own species’ ends. The minds and bodies of the unfortunate inhabitants of the forests are being incorporated into the life cycle of this being, which has as its aim the destruction of the human world.
Into this tinderbox wanders Jason Thistledown, recently orphaned after his town of Cracked Wheel in Montana was wiped off the face of the earth by a terrible plague. When he arrives in the town of Eliada, it falls to him and Doctor Andrew Waggoner, a Black man being pressured by local KKK thugs into leaving town, to figure out the dual mysteries of the area.
This was an interesting book, a mix of Lovecraft’s body and cosmic horror with the actual racist and awful eugenics policies he would have been a fan of in his day. It reminded me of something like Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers, mixed with the milieu of Deadwood. The clearest inspiration, though is Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, which pioneered the concept of a small town slowly getting transformed into something different by ancient forces.
In theory, the ideas of early twentieth century eugenics programs mixing with period pulp fiction is a really good one, and in practice this is mostly true. I did find the book a little overstuffed with subplots and viewpoint characters, some of whom only appear for a chapter or two. In my mind, the horror of Lovecraft generally comes across best when you’re stuck with one person engaging with the events. Seeing exactly how the sausage is made undercuts the unknowability and fear generated by the premise. The book is a ripping read, though, with a good eye for period detail and mannerisms. I’d recommend it to fans of Lovecraft and King, and I’m interested in seeking out more works by author David Nickle.