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Carry on Screaming – Necroscope by Brian Lumley (1986) #BookReview

Welcome, ladies, gentlemen and fellow horror lovers, to this month’s Carry on Screaming post. Each month I’ll be reviewing a vintage British horror novels and reflecting on what was happening in both the horror genre and the news in the UK at the time. You can read previous posts in the series by clicking on the ‘Carry on Screaming‘ category.

Necroscope by Brian Lumley book cover


Except to Harry Keogh, Necroscope. And what they tell him is horrifying.

In the Balkan mountains of Rumania, a terrible evil is growing. Long buried in hallowed ground, bound by earth and silver, the master vampire schemes and plots. Trapped in unlife, neither dead nor living, Thibor Ferenczy hungers for freedom and revenge.

The vampire’s human tool is Boris Dragosani, part of a super-secret Soviet spy agency. Dragosani is an avid pupil, eager to plumb the depthless evil of the vampire’s mind. Ferenczy teaches Dragosani the awful skills of the necromancer, gives him the ability to rip secrets from the mind and bodies of the dead.

Dragosani works not for Ferenczy’s freedom but world domination. He will rule the world with knowledge raped from the dead.

His only opponent: Harry Keogh, champion of the dead and the living.

To protect Harry, the dead will do anything–even rise from their graves!

Title: Necroscope | Author: Brian Lumley | Publisher: Voyager| Pub. Year: 1986 | Pages: 511 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Source: Self-purchased | Starred Review: Yes

‘Necroscope’ and its many sequels are books I was definitely aware of as a teenager, but never got around to reading. I had a copy of one of them for ages, but like many of my books it never got read. That’s a shame because I’m pretty sure the novel’s heady mix of horror, sex, espionage and coming of age story would have appealed to teenage me. As it was, adult me, reading it 30 years too late, still had a lot of fun with it.

The format borrows from the kind of multi-generational blockbuster sagas that were big in the 70s and 80s. The story follows two characters, one Russian, one English, who have completely separate storylines, until their psychic powers bring them together. Both have the ability to communicate with the dead, and both ultimately use this to serve their respective countries as spies. The cold war espionage angle takes up as many pages as the horror, but fortunately it’s entertainingly written and quite gripping for all its silliness. There are some solid action set pieces that feel a bit like Robert Ludlum (the king of fat 70s thrillers) and, on the Soviet side at least, lots of double crosses.

The horror is woven around this story. The opening, which sees the Russian necroscope mutilating a corpse to obtain its secrets, is very graphic indeed. After that, the book is a fair bit tamer, but Brian Lumley does throw in some chills along the way. There’s an ancient vampire with an extended (and sexually explicit) back story and a memorable scene that echoes the end of Peter Straub’s ‘Ghost Story’.

What I enjoyed most was the British character, Harry Keogh’s, story. He starts the book as a schoolboy and uses his abilities to absorb the knowledge and abilities of the dead, allowing him to ace his exams. As an adult, he taps into the brains of dead writers and enjoys a successful career as an author, publishing the books they didn’t have time to write before they died. Harry’s coming of age story is a satisfying twist on psychic horror and a lot of fun to read. The 70s school scenes brought back a few memories, and Lumley’s depiction of Britain at the time felt accurate (excepting the vampires and psychic spies).

At 500 odd pages, ‘Necroscope’ is the longest book I’ve read so far for ‘Carry on Screaming’ and it could definitely have done with a more ruthless editor. The pacing can be a bit off, and I enjoyed parts of it more than others. Whilst not typical of British horror at the time, its format and preoccupations (the Soviet threat, weird sex, spy shenanigans) are pretty representative of popular fiction of the 70s and 80s. Overall it’s a satisfying and entertaining read, packed with incident and a suitably twisted imagination.  

Content Warning:



I’m adopting a slightly different rating system for my Carry on Screaming review, because, let’s face it, vintage horror novels are about more than just the quality of the actual book.

Book: 4 out of 5

Cover: 4 out of 5 – creepy and kind of cool. It lacks the lurid appeal of some of the other titles I’ve covered, but it’s very effective.

Nastiness: 3 out of 5 – When it’s nasty the book is quite something, but sadly these moments are few and far between

Sauciness: 3 out of 5 – Vampires having sex, teachers having sex, historical personages having sex. it’s never that graphic, but there is a fair bit of bonking.

Cover promise vs delivery: 4 out of 5 – A good match, both the book and the cover are effectively eerie and well produced.

Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 18/25

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What else happened in 1986?

There’s not a lot I remember on the Wikipedia “1986 in the United Kingdom” page. I suspect that’s because I was 13 and too busy doing what 13 year old boys do to worry about the news. Some politicians resigned over the Westland affair (which I think was something to do with helicopters), the London Stock Exchange was computerised and the Australian soap opera ‘Neighbours’ started on the BBC. It’s the last of those that had the biggest impact on me, because Kylie Minogue.

Movie wise there’s only one thing thing that matters in 1986. ‘Aliens.’ Still one of my favourite films, it was one that my school friends and I were obsessed with. The other big hit that year was Cronenberg’s remake of ‘The Fly’ There were lots of great low budget movies too: ‘Chopping Mall’, ‘Night of the Creeps’, ‘The Hitcher’ ,’Friday 13th part VI: Jason Lives!’ and ‘Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer’ would be my picks. I watched the last of those a few years later at a late night screening that saw about a third of the audience walk out and one viewer punch another in the face for laughing at inappropriate moments. British horror cinema was less well represented, with notable old lech Ken Russell releasing ‘Gothic’.

In literature, King and Koontz both published what might be their most popular works (‘IT’ and ‘Watchers’ respectively). On this side of the Atlantic ‘Hungry Moon’ by Ramsey Campbell, ‘The Hellbound Heart’ by Clive Barker and ‘The Magic Cottage’ by James Herbert all hit the shelves.

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Next up, another from the prolific pen of Guy N Smith, ‘Bloodshow’.

Published inCarry on ScreamingHorror Book ReviewsStarred Reviews
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