Like Anne Rice, Brian Lumley has paid some serious rent on the backs
of vampires. Unlike Anne Rice, the vampires of his Necroscope and
Vampire World books aren’t dandified opera-goers with fangs,
but slug-infested, filthy monsters. And it has, in fact, been that
way even before he hit the big-time with his latest series of novels. ‘A
Coven of Vampires’, originally a Fedogan and Bremer collection,
is now being reprinted by Subterranean Press. It's all vampires,
all the time, and none of them are opera-goers. Those who like Lumley’s
writing, who enjoy hearing their evil uncle try to thrill them, will
find much to like in this book, which Lumley describes in his preface
as dedicated to “Weird Tales, EC comics, Christopher Lee, Richard
Matheson and etc.”
This is an entertaining collection of re-runs. Lumley’s preface
is certainly an excellent addition, as he recounts his childhood fascination
with the pulps. Bob Eggleton’s cover illustration is beautiful,
his etching at the back of the book evocative. The updated version by
Subterranean Press offers more illustrations, including gorgeous vignettes
between the stories and endpapers that make the collection even more
First, there are the stories. Good though they are, they’re all
re-runs. There are none original to this collection, and none set in
Lumley’s most famous vampire-oriented creation. The seeds of that
creation are clearly seen in these early stretch-your-definition-and-it’s-a-vampire
'What Dark God?' is a jocular little new-style Cthulhu Mythos story.
Its predictability does not detract the entertainment value. Strangers
on a train step into the wrong compartment. How many will emerge? Lumley’s
crabby old man voice carries the proceedings.
‘Back Row’ has that Lumley voice down pat, this time as an
old codger witnesses something horrific in the back row of his local
a bargain matinee.
‘The Strange Years’ is a 1970's tale of eco-disaster that
is still relevant and frightening. It anticipates ‘Dust’,
the recent novel by Charles Pellegrino.
‘The Kiss of the Lamia’ is a bit of Conan-style heroic fantasy-horror
starring Tara Khash. It serves as a nice reminder that horror fiction
is not the sole province of the vampire story, as Lumley himself has
demonstrated with his Vampire World books.
‘Recognition’ is the typical Cthulhu Mythos story, but focuses
on an interesting idea, the old ‘If you can see them then they
can see you,’ carried to the monsterific extreme.
‘The Thief Immortal’ is something like a math problem crossed
with a horror story. In the telling, it comes out more on the math problem
side than the horror story side.
‘Necros’ is a re-write of ‘Back Row’, with a
Grecian island setting. Lumley does this setting well, and the story
an effectively chilling climax.
If you’re looking for Lovecraft, you need look no farther than ‘The
Thing from the Blasted Heath’. This is a sequel to ‘The Color
Out of Space’, and though it shares some of the clumsiness common
to Lovecraftiana, like most of Lumley’s stories, it does contain
an entertaining monster.
‘Uzzi’ is both the tale of an unusual vampiric entity and
of mean-spirited revenge. The two elements work together nicely.
‘Haggopian’ is another Cthulhu Mythos tale, this time a sort-of
sequel to ‘The Shadow Out of Innsmouth’. The character and
setting are carefully described, and if you can get around the Lovecraftian
flourishes, a good little horror yarn emerges.
‘The Picknickers’ shows what Lumley can do when he ejects
his influences. The setting is a coal town before World War Two, and
stuffy voice creates an authentic air that gives the not-so-surprising
supernatural material a bit more oomph.
Hollywood takes it on the chin – or in the neck – in ‘Zack
Phalanx IS Vlad the Impaler’. There’s an undertone of humor
in all of Lumley’s blood and guts and stakes, which acts as something
of an anti-coagulant for the overwrought drama.
‘The House Of the Temple’ is another Lovecraftian story,
but without the obvious Mythos trappings. Though it’s a bit corny
and predictable, there is a nice thread that Lumley uses to tie the story
‘A Coven of Vampires’ is a rootin’ tootin’ collection
of Lumley. I originally lamented the lack of new material and the lack
of interior illustrations. I'd still like to have seen Lumley cough up
an original Necroscope-era vampire story for this novel, but the rest
of the stories seem better in retrospect. There's something timelessly
appealing about Lumley's unpretentious approach to horror, however, and
what is here has been proved by time to be of enough interest to warrant
a re-print. Subterranean Press and Bob Eggleton provide new interior
illustrations that answer my previous request -- thanks, guys!
Most horror readers who are familiar with Lumley will know what they
are getting and will get what they are expecting. You're getting a variety
of vampires that would have made Lovecraft proud and show the variety
that a talented writer can wring from a hoary old horror trope. If you
were lucky enough to purchase the Fedogan & Bremer original, hang
on to it. Put it in a plastic bag with enough information so that your
heirs can sell it for what it is worth. Those who are buying the Subterranean
Press version might want to buy two; one to read, one for their own plastic
bag. Signed, illustrated, sealed and delivered, you can shunt it straight
to the time capsule. Some twenty years hence, when yet another version
goes to press, make sure you can find it, and be glad that you bought