Wednesday, 23 September 2020

The Keep

eBook edition
Author: F. Paul Wilson
Ebook Publisher: Wilsongs
Ebook Date: Nov. 2013
File size/Pages: 1162KB / 377pp
First Published: 1981

F. Paul Wilson is an author who has made his mark. He is the author of more than fifty books. He has covered many genres including horror, science fiction and thrillers. He has also written for the comic medium, plays, television and movie treatments. He sometimes writes young adult novels. He is probably most well known for his Repairman Jack series of novels about an anti-hero involved in a age-long battle across time. His first published novel was The Healer in 1976, a Sci-Fi book that eventually became part of his LaNague Federation sequence.

In 1981 Wilson published The Keep. A horror novel involving Nazis, a Romanian Castle/Keep and an ancient vampire. This novel became the first in what is called The Adversary Cycle, which now encompasses six titles. The book was a hit, and very quickly the film rights were snapped up. By 1983 a motion picture was distributed by Paramount Pictures starring Scott Glenn, Jürgen Prochnow and Ian McKellen amongst others. German electronic music band Tangerine Dream produced the soundtrack (which is great if you can get hold of a copy). The film was not received very well, and is probably deserved. It has a fascinating history I'd recommend anyone looking up. I haven't seen the movie for a long time - but my own memory of seeing it as a teenager, most likely on video cassette, was that it was extremely creepy (I was most likely heavily influenced by the music if I'm honest). With that in mind, I thought I'd choose The Keep as one of the books for Horror Month here on Digital Bibliophilia.

Almost the whole of The Keep is located within or close by the Keep. Set in the Dinu Pass, high up in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania in April 1941, this ancient fortification is targeted by the Nazis as key spot to post a garrison of troops. Their orders are to guard the pass from Allied encroachment in to the Romanian oil fields that will soon be made available to them after their newly formed pact with the country. 
Into this Keep, comes Captain Kluas Woermann with his men, battle-hardened soldiers who have been fighting since the invasion of Poland. He is assisted by the loyal Sergeant Oster. Woermann is not a party-loving Nazis. He has reservations about the more fanatical element of Hitler's regime, and would much prefer to be at home with his family painting the countryside. His troop settle into their strange new home, with its hundreds of odd-shaped crucifixes built into the walls, and it creepy underground cavern system.

It's not too long before a couple of the stormtroopers discover a hidden cellar. One of them is grotesquely murdered and his colleague left on the verge of insanity. Despite his efforts more men fall foul of something that is inhabiting the 500-year old structure - all of them having their throats savagely torn open. Some of the men begin to believe the Keep is haunted by a vampire. In the end Woermann has to send a dispatch to HQ asking for assistance.

He is then joined by an old acquaintance in the form of Sturmbannfuhrer Eric Kaempffer and his SS Einsatzkommandos, fresh from Auschwitz. Kaempffer is a fully-fledged SS Nazis - keen to begin his new role in setting up a new concentration camp in Romania, which will advance his career considerably. Both officers have met before on the field of battle and there is bad blood between them.

At the same time we are introduced to father and daughter couple, Theodore and Magda Cuza, Romanian-Jewish scholars who have been ousted from their jobs and who are struggling to make ends meet. Finally there is a mysterious red-headed traveller currently located in Portugal who is troubled by a strange feeling that he must return the Dinu Pass. He carries a money-bag full of gold coins from across the world - and strange-shaped wooden box.

Everything is set for a terrifying confrontation between the Axis Army and the dark forces of evil. But what impact will the Cuza's and the strange traveler have upon the occupants of the Keep and the small village close by....

Wilson's premise for The Keep is wonderful. He sets up the characters and the locations extremely well, and it really is a great start to a book. Woermann, despite being a German officer in the Third Reich is a likeable man, his doubts about what his country is doing and enduring provide an interesting hook for the reader. However, Kaempffer is chillingly nasty, and you are pretty quickly hoping that he will come to a sticky end.

1982 Berkley edition

Wilson doesn't extend the cast too much, which definitely improves the tale in my opinion. In gold old horror book style most minor characters are introduced merely as means to bump them off. Professor Cuza and his daughter are also very well written - the red-headed man is kept in the wings until required later in the book.

Once the main plot has developed, and the scene-setting fully played out, the pace slackens slightly, which did disappoint. There is also a romance between a couple of characters, and although it is well-written goes on a bit and I felt it detracted from the more exciting elements of the plot. We all want to read more about Nazis soldiers getting their throats ripped out rather than a Mills & Boon love-story don't we.

But despite these small complaints from me, I was impressed with The Keep. Wilson certainly knows how to write to unsettle his audience and he certainly imbues it with a spooky atmosphere throughout. His vision for the Keep and for how the evil within it emanates was inspirational.

A recommended read.

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