The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"Do not call up that which you cannot put down."
This story is a curious case involving a young man, Charles Dexter Ward. An inquisitive scholar and antiquarian, Charles is fascinated with the history of his small town especially when he stumbles upon a secret involving his great-grandfather and a man associated with witchcraft, Joseph Curwen. Curiosity gets the better of him, and soon enough Charles unearths horrifying secrets that should have been left in his ancestor's grave. As the mystery slowly unfolds, Charles begins to change, but to what extent can only be guessed by the citizens of the town. Over time the closest neighbours to Charles' experience a wave of suspicion and horror towards his ever changing character, and as his behaviours become more maddening it forces the people to accept that black magic has returned to Paxtuxet Village, and the spirit of the murdered Curwen has come to seek out his revenge.
This is the first novel I have ever read from the author, H.P. Lovecraft. I have often heard his name closely associated with Edgar Allan Poe. Although there are no references to Poe, you can feel something of his spirit in the novel, as if greatly disturbed minds of macabre-like characters intrigue both authors thoroughly.
I was not disappointed by this rather puzzling detective novel. It kept me on my toes the whole way through until I reached the final page. I had some suspicions as to the the mystery of Charles Dexter Ward, but I was not one hundred percent certain until the final reveal. It was a strange novel, to be sure. The allusions to vampire-like creatures, sacrificial animals (and humans), and the ever-growing forces of darkness certainly made this a memorable read. I enjoyed the amount of research Lovecraft used when detailing the historical past of Salem, and his creative thinking when describing spells and blasphemous depictions upon Curwen's personal belongings. The story was so dark at times that I had trouble sleeping, mostly because I continued to vividly imagine the horrifying things Curwen did to his subject's in order to gain further knowledge of "those other spheres." I confess, even now I am still scratching my head as I tried to come to grips with this story. There are so many layers to it, so much detail that I might have to read it again to fully appreciate this detective novel. I believe this is not a story for everyone, but if you enjoy anything that has to do with witchcraft or mystical ideologies then this might be the perfect read for you. Furthermore, if you enjoy detective novels with a touch of the paranormal and horror elements, I would suggest this mind-boggling case as well.
All in all, it was a highly enjoyable read. If you do pick it up, I suggest you don't read it before bed. I had such weird nightmares, and though much of it escapes me I can still remember that chilling feeling upon waking. The novel itself isn't exactly scary, but the topics Lovecraft discusses will leave you with an unnerving feeling. Although it is fiction, a part of me wonders if this could ever be possible. I shudder at the thought of it! I suppose those haunting words to Joseph Curwen really do make sense once you finish this book: "Do not call up that which you cannot put down."
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