Title: Smoke and Dagger: A Spectra Files Prequel
Author: Douglas Wynne
Narrator: Matthew Cohn
Date Published: 11-7-2019
Category: weird fiction, small press,Lovecraftian, horror, audiobook
Smoke and Dagger: A SPECTRA Files Prequel by Douglas Wynne and narrated by Matthew Cohn is 4 hours and twenty minutes of pulp Cthulhu Mythos action.
Matthew Cohn is an NYC actor and producer who has a few audio book productions under his belt, per the audible website. He is articulate and has a smooth narration style that adds to the story. He is able to add accents and vocal characterizations that make each character unique and easy to differentiate. I think a good narrator has the ability to make you forget that you are listening to an audio-book and allow you to immerse yourself in the story. Their voice and characterizations are not too overwhelming to the story. This narrator was a good fit for the story and does a good job bringing it to life.
I have read Douglas Wynne’s Lovecraftian fiction in the past and like what he brings to the table. One thing I appreciate is that, while he does have a more humanity-centric focus, he does not lose the existential horror element that is so central to Lovecraft’s works. One thing I find annoying about some modern Mythos authors is that they use the imagery but completely ignore Lovecraft’s underlying themes of the insignificance of humanity to cold uncaring cosmic forces. What made Lovecraft so groundbreaking in his time and even today is that his protagonists were not broad-chested hulking heroes who saved the world and the damsels in distress against evil. His “heroes”” were researchers and artists who were seeking knowledge and perhaps power, but what they found made them wish to return to blissful ignorance. Wynne’s characters sometimes triumph over the roiling chaotic and uncaring creatures of the Cthulhu Mythos, for a time at least. However, he is able retains an essence of Lovecraft in his work while having his own style.
Smoke and Daggers remind me of a hard-boiled detective story. I went into the audio-book with no knowledge of the premise of the book. I wasn’t sure where the story was going when I listened to the prologue. However, it quickly picked up as we are introduced to the main character and her initiation into a secret society. I had no idea that there was going to be elements of the story that were based on actual occult history. I was super excited when one of my favorite figures of American occult history, Jack Parsons, made his way into the story and was featured prominently. Wynne weaved the truth and fiction together nicely and the Mythos element seamlessly fit into the historical events. I read a biography of Parsons, “Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons” and what Wynne has written about him fits with what I have read previously.
While there are characters that you may recognize from other SPECTRA novels, this story can easily be read with no prior knowledge of this series. Overall the story was a lot of fun and the audio-book production was top notch! The story is fast-paced and didn’t require much concentration to keep track of what was going on. However I was constantly at the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next. I’m currently slogging through The Game of Thrones books and this was a nice break. My only complaint is that it is a little short, coming in a a little more than 4 hours. It is definitely worth a listen!