Fun With Dead Things
by Brian Lumley, 1986
I read half a dozen books by Brian Lumley in the early eighties, all on Lovecraftean themes. These included the Titus Crow and Borea adventures. I remember loving them.
Then Lumley turned to new material, his Necroscope series. This was more original than expanding on Lovecraft's themes, perhaps, but it wasn't what I was looking for at the time so I set them aside to collect dust. Recently, due to a Goodreads buddy read, I decided to give them a go.
The prolog of this first book is seriously boring. Chapter 1 has its dramatic moments, but the book really only catches the reader's attention at Chapter 2 when we are introduced to young Harry Keogh, the hero of the series. Harry is a likeable teenager with the usual teenage problems of school, bullies, and girls. Oh, and he channels the dead.
But Harry is not the only necroscope in town, er, the world. The Russians have their own channeler of the dead, the Romanian, Boris Dragosani. He works it a bit differently than our Harry, though, with his hands deep in the guts of corpses, tearing away their secrets. Then he sells these secrets to the KGB.
Lumley certainly evokes a feeling for Romania, its sense of history, its place in the world, and under the shadow of the tottering colossus to the east. The book is set during the Cold War, when tensions between the two superpowers were high. Showing England and Romania, as satellites of the US and USSR, respectively, garners sympathy for both nations and their inhabitants. In the shadow of the two rival giants, these smaller nations were often manipulated into a fight that neither wanted.
There's a drawn-out subplot about Boris's sexual frustration, but curiously, Boris is also likeable, in his way. After all, he didn't ask to be a necromancer. But eventually, he asks to become a Wamphyri, a vampire.
Boris gains his powers from a Fifteenth Century Walachian nobleman who became a vampire and was imprisoned in a forgotten tomb. No, it's not Dracula, but it could have been.
Things do start to get interesting after Harry and Boris meet and declare one another the enemy. Soon both of them use the dead to gain new skills; eventually, Harry learns to teleport and Boris learns to kill with only a glance.
Curious to me, every single psychic in “Necroscope” is male. Having been involved with a parapsychological research group, I've found the majority of talented psychics to be female.
As I said, years earlier I read Lumley's Titus Crow series and other books which are derived from themes and characters out of Lovecraft's mythos. But Lumley is not Lovecraft so his stories are more adventuresome than horrifying. He does the same thing here, but instead derives primarily from Bram Stoker. At times, he merges the two myth-cycles and for me that's very appealing. After all, I do the same thing.
In both series, there are teams of psychics who are fighting the forces of evil. Or aiding them, as the case might be. Back when this was written, there were often stories in the press about the USSR's experiments with psychic phenomena. There was speculation that Russian spies would be able to use their minds to kill the President of the United States or divert atom bombs. This theme was used to humorous effect in “The Men Who Stared at Goats”.
I found “Necroscope” more interesting as an idea than as an actual book, but there's still good material here. The action-packed ending heads right back into Lovecraftean territory, with Harry walking into angles that should not exist and popping up in a scene that I found hilarious in its audacity. More important though, there's some deep thought about the nature of Time, Space, and Eternity that seriously got me to thinking. It's worth a read for that alone.