Every so often, I come across a book I go into expecting to enjoy only to be sorely disappointed. I Am Providence should have hit all the sweet spots. Female writer at a Lovecraft conference? Murder mystery? I love those things! I’m going to love this book!
Only I didn’t love I Am Providence. In fact, I didn’t even like it.
The protagonist, Colleen, puts on her Mystery Solving boots when her conference roommate Panossian is brutally murdered. Now, again, I’m a fan of murder mysteries. Give me some Charlaine Harris and P.D. James any day. Only, Colleen’s meddling comes across as just that – meddling. She has no real reason to think the police can’t solve this one on their own, or to continue digging when all she’s doing is clearly antagonizing everyone around her. She constantly gets it wrong and gets herself into more trouble. In short, she seems to flub everything she tries her hand at. Which I suppose is realistic, when it comes down to it – these things are better left to law enforcement, right?
Even the touches of Con Culture we’re exposed to come across as ham-handed. Yes, sexism and misogyny are rampant at these kinds of things. Any girl who’s spent time in the Nerd World can tell you that. But Colleen’s opponents come across as cardboard figures, lacking any real menace or conviction. The in-fighting seems petty and ridiculous, more childish than necessary. It was hard to take any of it seriously.
It doesn’t help that the murder victim was so thoroughly unlikable, it’s hard to care that he’s dead. I must say that the one real Lovecraftian twist was the narration from the corpse’s point of view. There’s a sort of intrinsic horror to be found in the notion of being trapped in one’s rotting body after death. As Panossian’s consciousness observes the aftermath of his murder with a sort of detached bewilderment, we get a look at the conference attendees and the investigation as it unfolds. Turns out, there isn’t a single likable character in the bunch. Everyone’s a creep or an asshole. And with Colleen so hard to like as a protagonist, there’s not really anyone to root for.
The ending fell flat for me. I suppose Mamatas left it somewhat open-ended to add to the unsettling atmosphere, but all it got from me was a “WTF?” The twist (if you can call it that) was a sore letdown, and the whole thing just felt a bit ridiculous.
I rated I Am Providence 2/5 stars. I felt like it had so much potential. Mamatas’s writing was solid, and if he’d taken time to develop the concept further it could have been a much stronger story. But the whole thing read almost like sub-par fanfic about the Lovecraftian community. What a waste!