Book Review: Earth, Air, Fire & Water by Brian Lumley

British horror writer Brian Lumley is a living legend, a man who has been active in the genre for over forty years–ever since the publication of his first collection, The Caller of the Black, by Arkham House in 1971. Perhaps most famous for his best-selling series of Necroscope novels (the first was published in 1986), Lumley is also well regarded for the substantial body of Lovecraftian fiction he has written over the years, including six novels featuring his occult detective Titus Crow as well as numerous short stories including ‘Dagon’s Bell’ and ‘The Second Wish’.

Earth, Air, Fire & Water represents Lumley’s second collection to be published by weird fiction specialists Fedogan & Bremer (the first, A Coven of Vampires, came out in 1998). The subtitle of the volume is self-explanatory: Four Tales of Elemental Mythos Horror! the caption reads beneath another splendid Bob Eggleton dust jacket painting. Yes, for this latest book, Mr Lumley has put together four pieces of differing lengths–one story, two novellas, and a short novel–each representing one of the elements of the title.

We start off with ‘Earth’, for which we get a reprint of Lumley’s 1983 novella Lord of the Worms. Set in 1945, we follow a young Titus Crow as he enters the employ of self-styled Modern Magus Julian Carstairs. Crow is to work cataloguing the man’s books. However, Carstairs has other plans for having Crow in the house.

Lord of the Worms is an exciting, atmospheric ‘dark detective’ pulp tale, complete with a crumbling gothic mansion, esoteric texts and a weird cult. Lovecraft fans will appreciate the nods to well (and lesser) known tomes, and we even get a lengthy quote attributed to Ibn Schacabao (or is it Schacabac–scholars get arguing now–you know who you are). The story has been reprinted a number of times (it’s in The Compleat Crow) but if you’ve not come across it before prepare yourself for a treat.

‘Air’ allows Mr Lumley to give us an Ithaqua story. ‘Born of the Winds’ is set in the icy climate of Navissa in Manitoba. Meteorologist David Lawton is a typical Lovecraftian hero, convalescing from ‘a debilitating chest complaint’ and getting caught up in a story in which Ithaqua – August Derleth’s wind-walker version of the wendigo – plays a major part. There’s another cult, and some splendid stuff set out in the icy wastes, where Lumley’s prose superbly summons up images of both the bitter isolation and the cosmic horrors lurking therein.

‘Fire’ is the reason Lumley completists will want this volume, as with The Gathering we get an original, never before published short novel. We are in the tiny village of The Hamlet, close to Innsmouth, Dunwich and Arkham. Andrew Gilman is returns home following the death of his doctor father at a very special time of the year for its inhabitants. The Gathering is another rip-roaring pulp horror adventure, touching on plenty of established Lovecraftian lore and showing that Lumley has lost none of his skills as a storyteller. Dive in and enjoy – but watch out for the Deep Ones!

The volume is rounded off by ‘Water’, represented by a reprint of a recent Lumley tale. The Changeling first appeared in the 2013 Stephen Jones-edited anthology Fearie Tales. On the beach of a Greek island an Englishman with an interest in old coins and other shiny antiquities comes across a man wearing a monk’s garb and sporting Innsmouth-like features. He is also wearing a medallion that our hero finds fascinating, but as with so many of these kinds of tales, asking more about it results in unpleasant consequences.

Brian Lumley’s Earth, Air, Fire & Water is a splendid collection of Lumley Lovecraftian tales, given the usual elegant presentation in hardcover by Fedogan and Bremer, and with interior illustrations by the talented Jim Pitts. Oh, and Mr Lumley provides a brand new introduction to each story. What more could you wish for?

 

JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT

 

Publisher: Fedogan and Bremer
Hardback: (330 pp)
Release date: 15 May 2017

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