My review of The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont has been posted on SFSignal.
PROS: Strong characterizations of Lester and Norma Dent, Walter Gibson, L. Ron Hubbard and the pulp business in general; draws a fine line between where reality ends and where pulp begins; well interwoven with a story of China just before World War II.
CONS: Would like to have seen more Lovecraft…but that’s a quibble.
BOTTOM LINE:Fantastic re-imagining if you are into the pulps, and a great adventure story even if you are not.
Take a rivalry between Walter Gibson (author/creator of The Shadow and prolific pulp writer) and Lester Dent (author of most of the Doc Savage pulps, a prolific writer in his own right) and give them their own pulp adventure/mystery to solve. Throw in youngsters (at the time) L. Ron Hubbard and Robert Heinlein. Include the death (murder?) of H.P. Lovecraft and intertwine it all with a storyline of the Chinese pre-World War II battles, and you have Malmont’s fascinating The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril.
The adventure begins as the two pulp giants (Dent and Gibson) argue about a story concerning Chinese tong wars in 1909 based in China and New York City’s Chinatown called “The Sweet Flower War”. Both claim it is a real story without an ending, and argue whether it would make good pulp or not. The rivalry and argument lead Dent and his wife Norma to Chinatown to investigate, to try to find the true ending. Gibson, meanwhile, learns of Lovecrafts death, and decides to head to Providence to attend the funeral, shadowed (pun intended) by Hubbard. In Providence, Lovecraft’s Aunt tells Gibson and Hubbard that Lovecraft was indeed murdered. As Dent was pulled to his story, Gibson, the inquisitive writer always seeking a story feels compelled to investigate.
A separate storyline involving Zhang Mei, a Chinese warlord also known as the Dragon of Terror and Peril, is intertwined, and ultimately brings all the storylines and Dent/Gibson together in the end.