Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Friendship of Mortals

By Audrey Driscoll
$4.95 at

Herbert West is as ambitious and narcissistic as any character you’re ever likely to meet in literature. His compulsion is not treasure or glory but a seemingly impossible intellectual challenge.

Herbert West wants to find the way to restore human life to those who have lost it.

As an ambitious narcissist, West cares not at all for the wellbeing of those he would restore to life. A suitable corpse is merely raw material for his experimentation. He’s not even interested in interviewing a revivified person about the experience of dying or whether there is an afterlife. The brilliant West leaves those questions to his Dr. Watson, librarian Charles Milburn.

West and Milburn meet near the start of World War I while West, the son of an undertaker-turned-business-magnate, is a medical student at Miskatonic University in Massachusetts, where Milburn works as a library cataloguer. From their first meeting, West claims a mesmerizing hold on Milburn, who quickly becomes his, sometimes reluctant, acolyte.

In The Friendship of Mortals, Audrey Driscoll quickly moves beyond the scientific problems of restoring life to the departed so she can focus on the ethical minefield she has seeded for poor Charles Milburn. If the notion of bringing the dead back to life for the purpose of experimentation weren’t enough to keep a fellow awake at night, Driscoll adds the complicating factor of Alma Halsey, a fellow librarian and daughter of the med school dean, who doesn’t trust West as far as she can throw a coffin.

Now a physician with a growing reputation as a surgeon, West surprisingly volunteers to serve with the Canadian army in Europe. By the end of his tour, he has essentially created the specialty of cosmetic surgery and returns to Miskatonic to set up shop.

Still untroubled by the ethical or legal ramifications of his ghoulish experiments, when West eventually finds himself under attack and boxed in by jealous and vindictive colleagues, he again turns to his trusted friend Charles to help execute a high-risk escape.

Although The Friendship of Mortals lives on the edge of important ethical questions, in reality only the enamored Charles could fail to see that what his amoral friend is doing is wrong. Then again, if literary protagonists had good sense, there would be very few novels.

The Friendship of Mortals is a rewarding read, not the least because of the bonds that exists among its three leading characters. According to Audrey Driscoll’s Website, this is the first in a trilogy of Herbert West novels. The other two are outlined on her site, but apparently they’re not yet written, or at least not published.

Driscoll is a skilled writer who, like Charles Milburn, was a library cataloguer. I don’t doubt she can pull of the series and develop a sizable following.

Click here to link to The Friendship of Mortals.

Bill Furlow

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