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Brian Lumley
A Coven of Vampires
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2007

Brian Lumley
Fedogan & Bremer
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 1-878252-37-2
228 Pages; $27
Publication Date: 08-15-1998
Date Reviewed: 01-01-2001
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2001

A Coven of Vampires
Brian Lumley
Subterranean Press
US First Reprint Edition Signed Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-59606-107-1
212 Pages; $35
Publication Date: 06-01-2007
Date Reviewed: 04-09-2007
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2007

Index: Horror  Fantasy

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 appealing.

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 stories.

'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 cinema during 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 contains 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 Lumley’s gruff, 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 together.

‘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 it.

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