The Elder Ice is a short novella that takes its inspiration from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. The narrator and protagonist is Harry Stubbs, an ex-boxer who now works as a debt collector for a solicitor in 1920s South London. Harry finds himself on the trail of a mysterious artefact, brought back by Ernest Shackleton from his Antarctic expedition, and the story follows his quest to retrieve it.
The period language and setting is well written: atmospheric and immersive. I found Harry to be well developed and likeable. He clearly has brawn from his previous life as a boxer and isn’t afraid to use it to his advantage. But he’s no one-dimensional thug and is thoughtful, interesting and believable. There is dark humour running throughout and although there are some grisly scenes, nothing is gratuitous. The mystery skips along at a brisk pace, and Hambling kept me intrigued and entertained in equal measure.
One thing I enjoyed immensely was reading about the South Norwood locale. Having lived in Crystal Palace a few years ago, it was wonderful to picture familiar roads as they would have been nearly a hundred years earlier.
I’m not hugely familiar with Lovecraft’s work, having only read a few of his better known stories, but Hambling invokes a similar unsettling mood which I loved. I enjoyed the unravelling mystery, and the clever use of real history around Ernest Shackleton. My only criticism would be the slightly under-developed secondary characters: I found them to be much less easy to picture and think they could have done with a little more fleshing out. But it’s a minor quibble over an otherwise highly engaging story.
This was an enjoyable short novella and the first time I’ve read any of Hambling’s writing. I’ll definitely be seeking out his other stories in the future.