Necroscope by Brian Lumley
From the undead vampire in the Romanian mausoleum, Boris Dragosani tries to draw an evil force so powerful he will gain supremacy in the ultra-secret paranormal agency he works for in Russia. His official job is as a necroscope – his speciality is tearing secrets from the souls of newly-dead traitors.
And England too has her necroscope – her communicator with the dead. When Harry Keogh is recruited by the British Secret Service to take on the paranormal menace from behind the Iron curtain, the stage is set for the most horrifying, violent supernatural confrontation ever….
I first read Necroscope by Brian Lumley way back in the early nineties after stumbling across and then swiftly devouring Lumley’s other series, the Psychomech trilogy. I was keen to read more of his work and Necroscope was already on book three or four when I started so I knew there would be plenty to continue reading if I enjoyed the first book.
The novel begins with a brief prologue outlining the business of E-Branch, the United Kingdom’s most secretive agency. Set during the Cold War era seventies and eighties, E-Branch recruits those people with ‘special gifts’. Using these abilities, like telepathy or far-seeing, the department are the vanguard against their communist equivalent in Russia.
Once the business of E-Branch is established the reader gets to learn the history of the novel’s two main characters. Harry Keogh seems, at first glance, to be an ordinary young boy but as his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood are charted it becomes clear that he is anything but average.
Meanwhile thousands of miles away Boris Dragosani is beginning a career in the Russian version of E-Branch. As with Harry’s story we get glimpses of Boris growing up and insight into the sinister vampiric evil that has tainted him since before he was born.
The depiction of vampires in Necroscope is pitch perfect. There are only a couple of vampires in the first novel but the reader really gets a good handle on their duplicitous nature. No wishy washy sparkliness here. Lumley’s vampires are rotten, parasitic creatures. They are unquestionably evil, one hundred percent self absorbed and utterly treasonous.
It is inevitable that when circumstances finally bring the two opposing forces of Harry and Boris together that an epic showdown ensues. There is a particularly satisfying dénouement for one of the characters and the seeds are sown for the next book in the series.
Boris and Harry are two sides of the same dark coin. While Boris will literally rip the secrets from a cadaver, Harry will communicate directly with the deceased’s spirit. Boris is brutal and abusive, while Harry will engage and debate. Boris’ talent has a grotesque physical element, darkly depicted as the novel begins, but Harry’s skill is purely mental. The author takes great pains to differentiate between these two men. Boris has the power of the necromancer but Harry is the Necroscope. The Great Majority, the dead, are terrified of revealing their secrets to Boris but Harry is their champion.
Time travel plays an important part in the novel and is very vividly depicted. Harry learns that he can use metaphysical doorways to move between points in time and space using a technique called the Möbius strip. I still remain impressed how Lumley deftly explains the complicated mathematics that are used as the basis for this power that Harry develops.
Currently the complete Necroscope saga stands at fifteen novels. I have only ever read the first eight. Based on my re-read of the first book, I think it is high time I remedied this oversight. If you have never read any Brian Lumley before, this is a great place to start. I’m sure you will find yourself going back for more.