Wednesday Mini Book Review: The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril


The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, by Paul Malmont (Simon and Schuster, 2006). A fully delightful novel, simultaneously skilled and thrilling pulp adventure mixed with serious literary skill, meta-commentary on the nature and attraction of pulp fiction, and a full-on fan wallow in the pleasures of a bang-up narrative in which the corpse of H.P. Lovecraft tries to deliver a world-saving message to Robert Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard in a New York bar (while, separate from the action across the room, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster plan their next move), where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby help Walter Gibson (the real "Maxwell Grant") keep on the trail of a sinister Chinese man with a mysterious and horrible plan all across Manhattan to a secret counterfeiting plant, where a chemist named Edward Elmer Smith helps save Manhattan from a poison gas attack.

This novel features some of the best fight scenes I've read in years, vivid sailing action, mysterious statues in abandoned theaters in the dark heart of Chinatown, and loads of believable and lovable characters (the love and exasperation and crisis and renewal in the relationship between Lester and Norma Dent is especially winning), most of them real people, fighting for love and vengeance and self-respect and a reason to live.

First-time novelist Paul Malmont is a second generation fanatic for the lost pop art of American pulp fiction, of the Shadow and Doc Savage and the shudder pulps and the science fiction rags, and says in his introduction that his goal is to "introduce you to some old friends of mine, and make their days come alive again. I will let their voices speak and let their hearts fill with life one more time." He succeeds, gloriously. This novel provides special depths of pleasure for those who have, like Malmont, romanticized and fantasized about pulp characters and creators; but it also stands apart from these fannish pleasures as a gripping novel exploring and explaining a fascinating and colorful Lost World.