Book name: Our Lady of Darkness
Author: Fritz Leiber
Publisher: Berkley Books
Format: ebook, print
Publication Date: 1977
Fritz Leiber wrote science fiction, horror and fantasy. He's even credited with having coined the term 'sword and sorcery'.
He won a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1958 plus multiple Hugo Awards in later times for novellas and both Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette.
He also wrote plays and poetry, was a chess expert and an actor.
Franz Westen in a horror writer quite loosely based on the author. A few years earlier, he drunkenly picked up a copy of a mysterious book with a notebook tied to it in a dusty secondhand bookshop.
The book was Megapolisomancy by Thibaut de Castries and it was written in the 1920s.
Westen becomes immersed in the book and with trying to identify the owner of the notebook. He becomes convinced that it was writer Clark Ashton Smith.
De Castries predicted that big cities are able to create 'secret occurrences' by virtue of their energy, their geometry, the accumulation of chemicals and power sources, and the sinister abilities of some of their inhabitants.
He studied the pyramids, the Eiffel Tower and New York architecture before heading out to California. By all accounts, he is an odd fish.
De Castries lived in San Francisco surrounded by a group of eccentrics who were stemming the tide of ennui by experimenting with the occult.
The notebook's author, who Westen is certain was Smith, interviewed de Castries many times and became acquainted with his acolytes.
From his apartment, Westen sees a brown-robed figure up at Corona Heights. He hikes up there and through binoculars identifies his own apartment.
The brown-robed figure appears to be there now, back across in the city, is Westen's home!
Westen pursues his researches in increasing personal danger and tries to solve the algebraic riddles left behind by de Castries.
This includes interviewing the ultimate eccentric - an expert on Clark Ashton Smith named Jaime Donaldus Byers.
Modern cities are just as capable of being the source of dark fantasy and horror as ancient cities, graveyards and old manor houses.
Our Lady of Darkness amply proves this. In this case, a ghost is happily making others' lives a misery in amongst the skyscrapers of 70s San Francisco.
Our Lady of Darkness is impeccably researched and showcased the Fritz Leiber's encyclopaedic knowledge of supernatural horror literature. Even the great HP Lovecraft is drawn into the hero's speculation - as well he might!
I loved this book for its combination of a relatable, likeable hero and lots of juicy detail about writers whose works I've lapped up since childhood.
Horror is a very hierarchical genre with much influence exerted from one generation of writers to another, with fans eagerly consuming the interactions between those writers to detect those lines of influence.
There is also a more directly personal element to Our Lady of Darkness in addition to the professional look at horror authors. Fritz Leiber's wife Jonquil died in 1969, and after that his struggles with alcoholism and substance abuse intensified until his return to form with this novel in 1977.
The hero is clearly based upon Fritz Leiber himself, and is described as recovering from alcoholism and the loss of his wife.
I really enjoy Our Lady of Darkness l every time I read it, and I would highly recommend it.
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