"The Fear Institute" is the third in the Johannes Cabal series. I'd echo other reviewers and say that you don't need to have read the first two to enjoy this latest outing. A very interesting outing it is, too. Cabal is an unapologetic, unabashed necromancer, with a streak of pragmatism a mile wide, and a streak of sarcasm and distaste for fools which is, if possible, slightly wider. It's indicative of the subtlety of the author that Cabal isn't a gibbering villain intent on world domination - he is simply a professional, who has set out on a particularly unpleasant vocation for reasons of his own, and is acquitting himself as such.
Whilst Cabal is the focal point of the book, and clearly the dominant personality on every page, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the author's talent with his world, and with other characters. The world is constructed carefully, each area wonderfully provided with a lushness of detail; it is easy to visualise each of the exotic locales that Cabal visits with his companions. My only complaint is that each location seems slightly silo'd from the others - they can each feel like separate and distinct `mini adventures', without much connective cloth between them.
By contrast, the supporting characters suffer almost the opposite problem. From single appearance non-entities to several of the larger supporting cast in the book, I never really got a feel for any personalities. Most character seemed to exist largely to act as plot indicators, or as someone for Cabal to spar with (mostly verbally). It's a shame that some of these characters didn't get more of a chance to show off their depth, but I suppose this was limited by the pacing, which is more Boys Own Adventure than War & Peace. I'd also add that all of the characters shine in dialogue - whilst we don't get much in the way of introspection outside of Johannes Cabal, we do get a lot of witty repartee, which succeeds at being cleverly constructed, simply clever, and bitingly funny.
The plot is largely silliness, an excuse to romp about the aforementioned lush backgrounds, watching Cabal make snide remarks at people. The appropriation of the Lovecraft mythos was a bit of a surprise, but though it may grate on a devotee, it eventually merges pleasantly into the narrative.
Overall, it's a freewheeling ramble through an interesting enough world; but the star here is Johannes Cabal, the central character, laced with bitterness, irony, and dialogue filled with particularly dark humour; definitely worth reading.