Throughout the late 80’s and into the 90’s, British author Brian Lumley wrote a series of horror/sci-fi novels about Harry Keough, famed writer and sometime employee of a special branch of the British government who could, among other things, speak to the dead, teleport, and would later become a lusty vampire over the course of five novels. Deliriously violent, overwritten, and a little bizarre in its handling of sex, Lumley nonetheless wrote a series of compulsively readable novels about a man who lived (and died, and lived again) for the dead.
Lumley’s novels–hammered out at something like one a year in both the main series and in new collections and expanded stories, tells the story of Harry Keogh, called “the Necroscope” by both the living and the dead for his ability to communicate with the other side. The stories were a curious mix of Soviet espionage, serial killer thriller, hard sci-fi involving the intersection of magic and math, and gradually, transdimensional vampire stories.
If it’s not clear, each novel is packed (bloated, like a blood-filled vampire, even) with plots, sub-plots, and call-backs to the Necroscope’s fictional history, which took him from our world into the vampire dominated dimension of Starside, where metamorphic bloodsuckers rule over a population of terrified humans, herded as either food, slaves, or fodder for the vats where new, strange, and ultimately grotesque creatures are created.
So much of what makes Lumley’s novels so bad that they’re good is the evocative, often overblown language, and the extremes with which its prose is written. Lumley aims his stories squarely at a world filled with mind-reading spies, and sees the battle between the East and West as a stark conflict between good and evil. At their core, the characters are on one side or another, for us or against us, Harry being at the ultimate extreme of virtue before being tricked into infection by a vampire (the ways of contracting the curse are numerous and bizarre) gradually nudges him towards extreme evil. By the end of Harry’s run, he’s actually facing off with what might be the literal embodiment of evil on Starside in the form of the ancient vampire Shaithan, whose millenia of vampirism have rendered his body more snout-nosed beast than man.
Lumley actually provides a rationale for the vampires’ wickedness via their parasites which give them their immense power while also driving their most base and primal impulses to the forefront. In fact, one of the hallmarks of the series is the way the author goes on at length explaining things (to the point of exasperation), from the ancient feuds between vampire lords to the mechanics behind Harry’s ability to use the Mobius Continuum to leap instantaneously from one location to another.
Harry Keogh is such an odd construction: part private detective, part spy, part supernatural avenger. And if it seems like a lot to cram into one character without them exploding, well it is a lot, and Lumley actually did pile on so many traits that the character couldn’t survive the overload, ultimately meeting his fictional end in 1991’s Deadspawn. Not to worry, though: Lumley was able to keep the franchise going thanks to–what else–long, lost secret sons born on Starside, each of whom inherited separate parts of Harry’s strange powers and choosing different sides in the vampire-human conflict. Plus, in the years since, Lumley has penned eight other novels about the “lost” history of Harry Keogh with additional stories about E-Branch. But for the real, pure jolt of Necroscope goodness, I’d recommend checking out the first five novels.