The Cthulhu Encryption: A Romance of Piracy, by Brian Stableford
Published by Wildside Press, 2011
This is not a straightforward horror story. It is a complicated, fantastical, intricate and puzzling horror story. It is the fifth in a series about Auguste Dupin, narrated by an American correspondent of Edgar Allan Poe, but the author has taken the trouble to ensure that readers who are not going through the books in order will not miss out.
Since the events described in The Quintessence of August, the unnamed narrator, his friend Dupin, and Pierre Chapelain, a mesmerist, have continued to meet regularly, allowing the narrator to think of them as ‘the three musketeers’. But the Comte de Saint-Germain insists on continually tagging along, even though Dupin still does not trust him.
Chapelain’s work involves the treatment of lunatics at Bicêtre, and the story includes some interesting detail about mid-nineteenth-century European understanding of mental illness. Chapelain is concerned about one of his patients in particular: a woman dying of syphilis. She has suddenly developed a most unusual rash which soon becomes of great interest to Dupin. Her mesmeric fantasy involves the other characters in a journey into the forest of Brocceliande, where they meet a pirate and bibliotaph.
Cthulhu’s presence threatens, and shoggoths appear. And Dupin is in particular danger, even while he is watched over by his formidible concierge, Madame La Cuzon. Entwined with the action and the horror are several strands of ideas that will reward readers who choose to follow them, as the characters approach ‘the farther shores of madness’, and enlightenment.