Nobody enjoys admitting to the passing of time, but the truth is it has been almost 25 years since Brian Lumley first introduced Harry Keogh, the Necroscope. And since that premiere, the many tales of Keogh — and his ability to communicate with the dead and travel to any point in space and time — remain the most popular of all of Lumley’s prolific creations.
This latest entry in the Keogh saga, NECROSCOPE: HARRY AND THE PIRATES AND OTHER TALES FROM THE LOST YEARS, is a collection of two novellas and a shorter piece published for the first time in the U.S. It falls under the same category as the previous work THE LOST YEARS. That is, they take place in that period before he finished Harry off and passed his impressive powers on to his inheritors.
Perhaps aware of the many new readers discovering the Necroscope, Lumley begins this collection with a friendly and inviting “Introducing Harry Keogh: Necroscope,” where he traces the beginning and evolution of Keogh, his possible position among the many celebrated fictional characters of the same first name, and concludes with a chronological listing of the entire books in the series.
“For the Dead Travel Slowly,” the first novella, finds Harry taking some time away from his Edinburgh headquarters. While visiting an old friend, Harry senses an evil presence deep in the woods of Hazeldine. It is an ancient, huge, tree-like monster that emits orders that alter emotions, but also feeds on human bodies, trapping their dead souls. Alternating between the perspective of Harry and “The Thing,” the story generates several genuine shudders as we learn of the monster’s history and powers. And added tension comes from the resistance of the local police to believe Harry’s warnings and destroy the monster.
The title tale, “Harry and the Pirates,” is a bit problematic. It’s basically a rousing good story of a pirate crew and a strange, alluring golden cloth that falls from the sky, related mostly to Harry by the dead spirit of the crew’s first mate. But Lumley struggles at first to directly involve Harry into the story. He is simply a listener, until he experiences an odd and painful interference. And it is this interference that eventually pulls him directly into the action, especially as the novella concludes. It comes off a bit lopsided, but is rescued by Lumley’s bravado and swaggering prose style.
The concluding “End Piece: Old Man with a Blade,” is a delightful oddity. Way too brief for a novella, it is — by Lumley’s own admission in his introduction — more of a vignette. After a few opening sentences, anyone can guess who and what the Old Man is. But this is perhaps the first encounter with the Necroscope from the Old Man’s point-of-view. And their relationship — “old friends” as Lumley confirms — is at last briefly and movingly expressed.
Lumley’s style is strong and assured throughout the entire collection. Amazingly, especially when you consider how many books the legend of Keogh has filled, with all its varying tangents and mutations, this latest addition is a very user-friendly introduction to the entire series.New readers will soon find themselves as familiar with the character as the many long-time followers.
So if this inventive, often frightening and always entertaining series hasn’t yet caught your attention, well, now’s your chance. —Alan Cranis