A Coven of Vampires
Fedogan & Bremer
US Hardcover First
228 pages; $27.00
Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001
Like Anne Rice, 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', the new Fedogan and Bremer collection of Lumely stories is 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 Lumely decribes 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. Why then does collection seem like a lost opportunity?
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 Chtulhu 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 Lumely 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. Most horror readers who are familiar with Lumley will know what they are getting and will get what they are expecting. However, as a small press horror collection, it could have been so much more. It would be nice to see an original Vampire World novella here, and it would be nice to see a lot more Eggleton illustrations. He's clearly warm to the subject. As it stands, this is a nicely printed collection with good stories and a good cover. It could have come from Tor, Ace, or any other big-time publisher. But with just a couple of tweaks it could have been a classic, done something different than the big businesses out of New York, and been a far better value for the collector. As it stands, 'A Coven of Vampires' is a good collection that gets within slitting distance of greatness.