Tuesday, 9 June 2009

‘Necroscope: Harry and the Pirates’ – Brian Lumley (Tor)


One of the things that got me into fantasy, as a kid, were the absolutely gorgeous book covers that I would come across when I was on holiday. I’d go to the local shop for sweets but stick around for ages afterwards looking at book covers and blurbs. Fearsome looking dragons, mighty heroes and... What was this? Big thick looking books with vampire skulls on the front and mention of shadowy secret agencies on the back. This was the first time I came across Brian Lumley's 'Necroscope' series. Isn’t it funny though that a series can grab your eye but you never get round to picking it up and trying it out? That’s what happened with the Necroscope and I. For a whole number of reasons I never got round to trying Brian Lumley out until a couple of days ago when ‘Harry and the Pirates’ came through the door...

Harry Keogh is the Necroscope, a man who can talk to the dead in their graves. This wouldn’t be too bad if the dead weren’t aware of his powers; as it is Harry must put up with the teeming masses of the ‘Great Majority’ all trying to talk to him at once! The events in ‘Harry and the Pirates’ take place at a time when Harry is trying to track down his missing wife and child. This quest is Harry’s main focus but things have a habit of happening to the Necroscope when he least expects it...

The blurb on the back of the US edition of ‘Harry and the Pirates’ says that the book features three new Harry Keogh novellas (the Solaris edition has more stories but I’ve heard that some of these are repeated from other books...) Calling ‘Old Man with a Blade’ a novella is a bit of a stretch though as it’s only three pages long! (What’s the minimum word count for a novella by the way?) ‘Old Man’ also doesn’t gel with the other two stories particularly well as Harry only gets a fleeting mention and doesn’t come across as the main focus of the story at all. It’s not a bad story though (it just doesn’t seem to fit...) and gives the reader a hint of weird horizons beyond those that we know. It’s an unsettling read as well...

The real meat in this book can be found in the stories ‘For the Dead Travel Slowly’ and ‘Harry and the Pirates’. ‘For the Dead Travel Slowly’ opens the collection and was my first introduction to Brian Lumley’s writing. It was a shame then that such a dark and foreboding story (of a monstrous ‘Thing’ lurking in the woods near Harry’s childhood home) is weighed down by Lumley’s insistence on talking about things in far more detail than is perhaps needed. I can see how this might be useful for people being introduced to the Necroscope for the first time as Harry’s abilities do need expanding upon and his history needs to be told. What I don’t think was needed was the introspection that Harry goes into every time something happens to him. Harry spends a lot of time going over things in his head and I felt like the story was urging him to hurry up so things could keep moving... The climatic scenes are well worth sticking around for though as Harry must fight what feels like the whole forest before the ‘Thing’ can kill its prey...

My favourite story of the three is ‘Harry and the Pirates’ and, looking back, it’s because Lumley takes Harry of centre stage (just a little bit) and concentrates on the stories told by two dead pirates, one of whom has an ulterior motive for getting the Necroscope hooked on his tale...
Harry’s rather dry narrative is swapped for an engaging tale of piracy on the high seas and the unexpected turn that events take when something falls from the sky. Both pirates involved have their own distinct voices and spin a yarn full of the crashing of cannon fire and the shivers of a ship where something isn’t quite right... I saw the ending coming but still had a lot of fun reading this tale.

I wondered if ‘Harry and the Pirates’ might be good place for new readers to jump on board (no pun intended) but I think it’s a book that’s more for long time readers who know Harry’s history and are familiar with Lumley’s writing style. This didn’t stop me enjoying it though and you might just find me searching out the other books in the series...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

2 comments:

Hagelrat said...

I loved the early Necroscope books!

Graeme Flory said...

If I get time, I'll probably go back and read some of the early books.