I don’t know whether it is worth making a distinction between ‘Lovecraftian’ as an adjective to describe stories or ‘Cthulhu-Mythos’ as a category to put stories in. I can see a distinction, in that H.P.Lovecraft had a particular writing style and his fiction writing was not entirely within that brand of horror-with-cosmic elements. Writers can borrow from the Great Old Ones backstory that Lovecraft originated but adopt quite different styles of writing and plot. Charles Stross’s early Laundry novels contain Lovecraft elements but are framed as pastiches of spy novels and parodies of modern management culture. Nick Mamatas’s novel Move Underground adopted a Cthulhu-based horror for a story about Jack Kerouac and Beat culture.
The Ballad of Black Tom has elements of both. It isn’t a pastiche of Lovecraft or an attempt to capture they style or plot conventions of a Lovecraft story. It does specifically name-check Cthulhu and includes characters and events from Lovecraft’s particularly xenophobic story ‘The Horror at Red Hook’ http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/hrh.aspx . However, it is also ‘Lovecraftian’ in the sense of presenting a perspective on Lovecraft’s stories. The difference being is that it provides a perspective that Lovecraft himself would be incapable of.
Charles Thomas Tester is a young black man from Harlem in the 1920s, who makes his living trading in sinister merchandise. When we first meet him he is on an errand to deliver a particularly Lovecraftian artefact – a forbidden book containing an eldritch alphabet. His journey from Harlem to Queens involves him navigating the tense racial politics of early Twentieth century New York. Stepping beyond Harlem marks him as a person out of place and somebody to be viewed with suspicion. This first encounter leads in turn to two others. First with the wealthy eccentric Robert Suydam and then with two detectives apparently watching Suydam – the thuggish private dick Howard and the more thoughtful NYPD Detective Malone.
Tester finds himself drawn into the plot of what is a kind of prequel to Lovecraft’s ‘Horror at Red Hook’ but Tester has a viewpoint and motives unlike those of either Suydam or Malone. In the Call of Cthulhu, Lovecraft casts the various followers and cultists of Cthulhu as various indigenous peoples and given no more motive for attempting to bring about the end of all things than ignorance or weak-mindedness. The Ballad of Black Tom considers a different motive – that people marginalised, shut out, persecuted or systematically alienated from society might consider the end of all things as a reasonable alternative to continued persecution.
The first half of the story follows Tester up to the point of a gathering at Suydam’s house. The second half follows Malone and begins to parallel more events mentioned within Lovecraft’s ‘Horror at Red Hook’. Connecting the two are events that explain why Charles Thomas Tester may choose to become the more supernatural figure of ‘Black Tom’.
Victor LaValle has found an interesting way to engage with Lovecraft’s writing both in terms of its pop-cultural influence but also in terms of how Lovecraft’s racist fears informed and shaped them.