Necroscope

June 20, 2015 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

NecroscopeNecroscope by Brian Lumley

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Man, do I remember this book.  I discovered horror when I was in high school, thanks to Stephen King, and the Necroscope books always caught my eye whenever I browsed the bookstore, enough so that I have no idea why I never read it.  I may have appreciated this novel more had I read it back in high school, but now, I feel like the book is kind of a mess.

There’s something odd about Lumley’s narrative.  I can’t quite place it, but there’s something about his descriptions and dialogue that are jarring to me.  There are odd bits interspersed into the narrative that take me out of the illusion of the story.  It also didn’t help that the story jumps around in time.  The book starts off in the present (-ish) day, then dives into a lengthy flashback, which jumps between two characters and also goes into flashbacks.  Oh, and the hero of the story, Harry Keogh, features in about half the novel, but mostly in his formative years.  Once he gets to be, you know, the hero, there’s only about 100 pages left in the story.  It feels jumbled, and without focus, and it was hard for me to stay invested in the story.

For some reason, I thought this was going to be a vampire novel, and while the novel does feature a vampire (otherwise the cover art would be out of place), the story is really about ESP and other psychic abilities.  In fact, the story starts off featuring two types of these abilities — necromancy, which is the art of reading secrets from dead bodies; and necroscopy, which is the ability to communicate with the dead — but then as the story progresses, more and more abilities are drawn in, muddying the story.  By the end of the novel, it felt more like I was reading a science fiction novel than a horror novel, and while that would be fine under normal conditions, I can’t help but feel like I was misled by the way the book was marketed.

Harry’s ability allows him not just to talk to the dead, but also to glean skills from them by essentially allowing them to take over and do their own thing.  At different parts of the story, he’s a math prodigy, a successful novelist, a skilled fighter, and has mastered the art of ice skating, but through no efforts of his own.  Harry winds up being a shell, really, just a conduit through which dead people can use their skills.  It’s a clever enough idea, but once you realize that the heroes aren’t Harry, but those he channels, he becomes less a sympathetic character and more just an ordinary person with no real skills of his own.  It seemed to be a failure in his character development, and I think that had a big effect on how I responded to the book.

I wonder how relevant this book would be to someone who didn’t grow up in the ’80s, though, or at least know enough about the Cold War.  So much of the setting and theme revolve around the Soviet Union and the KGB, and while it does take me back to high school (which is really the perfect frame of mind for me to read the book, given that’s all I was reading at the time) it dates the work as much as the female stereotypes do in 1950s science fiction.

Despite all that, the book didn’t feel like a slog.  It read quickly, and I felt engaged enough in what was going on to keep reading to see where it was going.  I just didn’t see that it was a worthwhile read.  When I started reading this, and looked at the rest of the books in the series (four more in this one, and eleven others in tangential series), I was a bit apprehensive about tackling a series that big (my plan is that if I start a series I like, I’ll go ahead and finish the whole thing before starting on something else (and yes, that makes me apprehensive about getting around to The Wheel of Time)), but now that I’ve finished the book, I’m not that interested in continuing on.

Ultimately, the book feels forced, and a little stupid.  I think it’s a good representation of what horror was back in the ’80s, but I’ve moved beyond just wanting to be scared, preferring to read a story that’s emotionally compelling.  Necroscope, unfortunately, doesn’t have that.

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1 Comment

  1. Joseph V DeMartino said,

    This book, if I remember correctly, came out during the great horror boom of the 80s and 90s. So pretty much if you were writing anything in the horror genre or if your book contained even one element that could be construed as horror you were good to go. Which explains how this got published. Too bad it’s so difficult to get horror published now.

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