Nothing epitomizes the fun summer geek read more than Seamus Cooper's Mall of Cthulhu (Night Shade). A charming buddy team - lesbian FBI agent Laura and loser barista Ted - fight monsters and white supremacists in a Providence mall.
When the novel opens, Ted and Laura are still trying to get over a trauma they shared ten years ago in college. During freshman year, they discovered that a local sorority was actually a den of vampires, and nerdy folklore student Ted had to slay them all (including his roommate). While Ted had to chop up a house full of monsters, Laura had to deal with the fact that the one girl she was finally going to have sex with was actually a throat-chomping minion of evil.
Over the years they've dealt with this horrifying experience by sticking together as best friends, partly because this defining moment in both their lives is something nobody else would believe. Laura has become an ultra-competent FBI agent who is bored with investigating ATM fraud. And Ted has become an ultra-competent latte-maker for a Starbucks-esque chain. But when a group of Cthulhu cultists shoot up Ted's coffee shop, they discover that there's nothing like awakening the Old Ones and destroying the world to really wipe that boredom away.
Their quest for the cultists leads them to a Providence mall, and into a den of white supremacists who are hoping the Old Ones will cleanse the world of people that Lovecraft famously called "mongrel races." This whole bit is both funny and canny: author Cooper knows his Lovecraft, and there is some great quippage about Lovecraft's infamous racism and why his stories appeal to white supremacists who fear that their once-great race is on the wane. Lovecraft himself imagined that Cthulhu and his spawn would consort with "mongrels" out to destroy white people. But in the twenty-first century (as Ted explains), perhaps white supremacists are so disturbed by the mixed-race future that they're even willing to turn to Cthulhu - at least the great tentacled monster will destroy a world the racists feel has been lost already.
Cooper's writing is more like knockoff Joss Whedon than H.P. Lovecraft, and often the book feels like a graphic novel lacking the pictures that would really give it punch. What I mean is that there are no moments of literary brilliance - or pulpy weirdness - but there is a strong, fun adventure story and a lot of good jokes. Especially if you are a Lovecraft nerd like I am.
The novel's setting in a world of malls and chain stores and deranged white people works quite well, too. Of course a twenty-first century Cthulhu city would erupt into life in the middle of a mall, raised by white guys chanting from stuff written on their laptops. This is the geek version of militant white terrorism, so of course it can only be stopped by a daring duo comprised of a well-read geek and a kickass lesbian. And an underfunded branch of the FBI that deals with the paranormal, of course.
We never go much below the surface of our characters, but if you're looking for brooding introspection this is the wrong novel. If, however, you're looking for a good, monstery time, Mall of Cthulhu won't disappoint.