Title: The Deadly Grimoire
Author: Rosemary Jones
Published by: Aconyte
Publication date: 15th March 2022
Genre: Horror/Media Tie-in
A daring actress and a barnstorming pilot team up to save the world from supernatural disaster in this uncanny pulp adventure set in the world of Arkham Horror
Betsy Baxter is the plucky stunt-actor star of the 1920s serial adventure, The Flapper Detective. While researching a wing-walking scene, she meets the fearless Winifred Habbamock and discovers a shared background of eerie encounters and eldritch phenomena. For years, Betsy has been investigating the disappearance of an old friend during the horror-struck filming of The Mask of Silver, when she learns of his reappearance in Arkham, she and Winifred hit the road to investigate. But Arkham is full of mysteries and danger. Betsy will need all her skills, and new allies, to prevent an otherworldly cataclysm from consuming her and all of Arkham.
I was granted an ARC of The Deadly Grimoire by Acontye Publishing via NetGalley. Many thanks for the approval and I hope you find my review satisfactory.
The Deadly Grimoire is the latest in Aconytes Arkham Horror tie-in series and follows on from the happenings in Mask of Silver. I didn’t realise this was a sequel until part way through reading the novel and only when I came to the understanding I didn’t know some of the backstory that was being discussed. As such, I’d say that The Deadly Grimoire can stand on its own two feet.
Betsy Baxter is a Hollywood Film Star, Stunt Woman, Studio Owner and Fashionista. She also lost the love of her life, Max, in a terrible fire accident a few years ago. So when she hears of one of her co-workers returning from the midst of that terrible fire unscathed she hot-foots it to Arkham to solve the mystery, much like her big-screen name; The Flapper Detective. Alongside is Winifred Habbamock; who helps the novel tie in with the Arkham Horror card game as she is a playable character. A fearless woman of the skies and pilot of early aviation. When in Arkham Betsy stumbles upon Tom, whom she saves from being assaulted by some ‘thuggie-baddie’ types and a dastardly daring way, learns about The Deadly Grimoire and embarks on a rip-roaring adventure… sort of.
The pacing of The Deadly Grimoire is slow. It takes a long time for the heroes to arrive in Arkham and the coastal town of Innsworth and by the time the horror aspect of the story comes to the fore it all feels a bit ‘Too little, too late.’ While the aspects of horror are needled into the story it felt to me as though there was more emphasis on the eras women’s right and empowerments movement. While these are certainly valid and topical commentary, it seemed like the focus of the novel was shifted to these topics rather than concentrating on the Arkham Horror aspects of the narrative. There was very little horror in this supposed horror novel. And more commentary from Betsy about how she could turn instances into future movies. It all became very draining, very quickly.
I am discovering very quickly that a lot of female lead characters are written as flawless. In The Deadly Grimoire, I couldn’t relate to Betsy Baxter because there was no perceived flaw in her character. Whenever something went wrong, it was her that solved the problem. Her that got the other characters out of the pickles or her brilliant ideas that got them out of trouble. Alongside the humble bragging of being the best stunt-woman or having her own studio in a mans world… I felt like I was being preached to rather than taken on an enjoyable horror novel.
The side character Farnsworth, Betsy’s butler, had more about him than the main cast in the sassiness with which he spoke and unforced sense of page presence. Maybe the purpose of the novel, horror in Arkham, was lost somewhere along the line? Other than forcing people to drink sea-weed tea and some vague movings in windows, I don’t know where the cosmic horror in this novel was.
As the plot chugged along, more characters were introduced. Nova, an illegal speakeasy owner and rum-smuggler and a Miskatonic University Professor who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with seaweed. These two serve as the books antagonists who are both morally grey in how they are written. As such the reader is often left guessing which of these two is the true bad-guy? I felt there was no true turning point to this novel though, there was no vial reveal of ‘It’s you‘ the plot just keeps chugging away and then it suddenly ends. Rather unsatisfactory.
For a book titled The Deadly Grimoire, we’re told a lot about the titular book and a false, red-herring of the same name. This aspect of the story is where the book is brightest. When it’s focused on what it’s meant to be about. Something spooky happening, hints of rituals and dire happenings that the Grimoire influences. There’s some real potential here that’s been missed. There just isn’t enough of it in between the aforementioned empowerment.
However, after all that bad news, some good. Rosemary Jones is fantastic at setting the scene. Many of the locations mentioned in The Deadly Grimoire, gave such a vivid impression. The bookstore in Innsworth made me feel so welcome and homey, while the harshness outside the bookshop door made me feel chilled to the bone. I adored her stage setting and the decoration she added to the scenes she weaved.
While The Deadly Grimoire wasn’t a hit for me in terms of characters and plot, this isn’t the last time I’ll visit the Arkham Horror story setting. Since reading some of these books I’ve started playing the card game and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t see that ending here just because I couldn’t personally connect with an abrasive lead character.
An Arkham Horror novel that felt a little bit too light in the horror department and heavy on the girl power. Wasn’t to my tastes but not enough to make me quit the setting. Better luck next time!