Monday, October 26, 2009

The Keep (Wilson, F. Paul)

Rating: 4
Year: 1981
Genre: Horror
Read again? In a few years.

April 28, 1941. Major Erich Kaempffer of the SS is diverted from his assignment in Ploiesti, Romania: a German army detachment has met with resistance and need reinforcements. Six men are dead. Kaempffer is sent with einsatzkommandos--SS extermination squad troops--to mop up the resistance. He will go from there to establish a death camp in Ploiesti--but he is to pacify the troublemakers first.

Kaempffer is bothered by the message sent from the army commander:

Request immediate relocation.
Something is murdering my men.

April 22, 1941. Captain Klaus Woermann and his men arrive at a small castle in Dinu Pass, in the Transylvanian Alps north of Ploiesti. It's always been known as the Keep, and it's been well-maintained. In contrast to the brooding, dark stone, there are thousands of brass-and-nickel crosses inlaid in the walls. Woermann warns his men against stealing any of them.

A private on guard duty finds a gold-and-silver cross and decides to take it.

Others come to investigate his screams and those of his accomplice. The private is dead, his head torn clean off. His partner in crime is catatonic.

There's a large hole in the wall, stones pushed out: something found its way out.

April 23. The catatonic thief dies, his throat torn out.
April 24. A man on guard duty dies.
April 25. A man on guard duty dies. The guard is doubled.
April 26. A man asleep in his bedroll dies. Everyone on guard duty, all night!
April 27. A man on guard duty dies in plain sight.
April 28. Kaempffer and his kommandos arrive. Two kommandos die. This time, a message is written in blood on the wall where the men were killed.

...and the Nazis' only hope of learning what is killing their men lies in a Jewish scholar.

As the first man dies, a red-haired man realizes that what he's dreaded has come to pass. He makes his way to the Keep....

The story plays out as a version of the vampire legend--Viscount Molasar hung out with Vlad the Impaler; he built the Keep to protect himself from his enemies; he casts no reflection, but silver and garlic aren't a problem; he cowers away from a crucifix, and the name "Jesus" causes him agony.

I remembered liking this book from the last time I read it, maybe 4 years ago. I'd forgotten just about everything, so I can't say whether I was as disappointed by the ending as I am now. Wilson has the red-haired man holding back on all of his important information until shortly before the Big Fight between him and Molasar. Everything we'd been led to think about the evil creature turns out to be wrong--and it feels cheap, or maybe just clumsily-executed. Still, it's much better than the movie Michael Mann made of it in 1983.

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