ometimes, the Elder Gods show up in the most unusual places. Obviously, they're crawling all over the works of Lovecraft and his followers. The early works of Ramsey Campbell are full of them. Their names are scrawled on the walls in Stephen King novel graffiti, and their dark tome has practically become a synonym for "mysterious book" (as seen in Army of Darkness and the other Evil Dead films, for example). But there are just certain places they don't belong.
Take children's books. Sure, there are adorable stuffed Cthulhus -- even some dressed as Santa Claus -- available at horror conventions. But I think they're intended more for twisted adults than for kids (the fact that I purchased one for my three-yearold son aside). I don't think that this beast and his unpronouncable relatives will be made obscure reference to in the next Oz pastiche or make a playful guest appearance on Bear in the Big Blue House. As disturbing as some of Dr. Seuss's stuff was, it never concerned the summoning of things with cuttlefish faces, dooming all the human races, to horrors from outer spaces. And though I would enjoy seeing the occasional Lovecraftian take on a western or SF novel, odds are it isn't going to happen any time soon or in any big way. The same goes for bodice-ripping tales of Yog Soggoth, or mentions of these terrors older than time on the front page of the Wall St. Journal. They just don't belong.
Which is why I'm so surprised that the Elder Gods do show up on occasion in men's adventure novels.
For those of you with too much taste to know what I'm referring to, a "men's adventure" novel is the male-targeted parallel to the female-targeted romance novel. There's more shooting than kissing. More exploding than eloping. And more loving descriptions of lethal hardware than of anything that might be crushed within a skintight camisole. The only thing these novels have in common with romances are 1) they tend to be formulaic, 2) they tend to be part of long-running series, and 3) they all have 224 pages. Although there is a house name listed on the cover, odds are there are several authors (look on the copyright page and you'll find a "thank you" note to the real writer, if the publishing company has any decency about it).
I, personally, am a sucker for the Executioner series of manly novels. There have been some 280 published to date, and I'm proud [sic] to say that I've read every one since #95 (or there abouts). They're nice, quick reads for times when you don't want to have to pay a lot of attention to what's going on and there's nobody around who you care about impressing with your choice of reading material.
Although these books aren't exactly a showcase for Nobel lauriates, most of the writing is competent at the least, and there are occasional flashes of brilliance. One story in particular featured a pair of police officers who, having become tired of playing "good cop/bad cop," liked to play "good copy/totally whacked-out cop." Danged funny, if you ask me.
Because of the type of book they are, Executioner novels tend to be grittily realistic. The amount of research that must go into these things -- in terms of global politics, tactics, and, especially, the latest military hardware -- is so staggering that it's almost depressing. If only Congress did this much work.
The action is true to real life, rather than true to Hollywood action films. There are generally no quips before or after a shooting, and things lean less toward "I'll shoot his gun out of his hand" and more toward "I fired a couple more hollowpoints into his skull for insurance." Killing without warning? Yes. Shooting people in the back? Sure. Offing gun-toting women with impunity? Yep. The Lone Ranger would definitely feel out of place on these pages. There have been a very small number of Executioner novels which touch on the supernatural. In most of them, the supernatural thingy turns out to be a trick of some kind, in the manner of the early (that is, the "good") Scooby Doo episodes. There have been a couple of stories in which divine intervention seemed to play a part, but even those left room for it to have been nothing but luck on the part of our hero. Which brings us to Leviathan, volume #276 of Don Pendleton's The Executioner. There is so much unabashedly supernatural stuff going on in this book that there is no way to deny it. Having read the signs in the innards of one of their sacrificed brethren, the minions of the Elder Gods believe their time has come and are out in force. They've raised an army of giant sea creatures, led by an inhuman apostle of Cthulhu, and attacked an off-shore oil drilling rig which has been purchased and declared an independent country by a group of recreational drug manufacturers with the help of the mob and the CIA.
Possibly to avoid copyright problems, Lovecraft's creations are never directly named. However, it's not particularly hard to figure out who the guy with the squid head is supposed to be (hint: he's been seen at horror conventions dressed as Santa), and there's a wild hunt for the Necronomicon at story's end.
And just wait until you see Cthulhu's heir fight the nuclear submarine. It's worth the price of admission.