Herbert West met the narrator in fictional Miskatonic Medical School. The reader knows he has gone missing at the beginning of the story. At Miskatonic, his studies into reanimating dead animals got him in trouble. They were strictly forbidden by the venerable Dr. Allan Halsey, the dean of the medical school, a beloved figure in the community.
West, a materialist who held that life arises solely from chemical processes, nevertheless pursues his studies. He comes to realize that the fresher the “specimen,” the better. The slightest decay will produce a reanimated corpse with severe brain damage. This leads to horror after horror, including cannibalism.
In pursuit of fresh “specimens,” West volunteers during the Great War, dragging the narrator with him. Ever since the first attempt at reanimating a human at an isolated farmhouse, which was destroyed in a fire, West can’t shake the feeling that somebody or something is following him.
Now available as a novelette with six chapters, the story was originally serialized in a periodical titled, appropriately, “Home Brew.” The result is some repetition. For example, the reader hears in every chapter that the narrator and West met in medical school. Each new chapter will offer a recap of the earlier chapters.
All that aside, this is a study in moral depravity, for the strong-stomached only. What remains unaddressed is the question of why the narrator stays with West: Why, after West crosses a line the narrator considers unforgiveable, does he not simply leave and set up his own medical practice? Why follow him to Flanders?
The book is peppered with Lovecraft’s well-known racism. This is an engaging, but not great tale.
The book has seen several film adaptations, with Stuart Gordon’s 1985 “Re-Animator” perhaps the most well-known.