Book review: The Keep

I bought The Keep in 1982. It only took me 30 years to get around to reading it. Even better, I read it in a format that was unheard of back then, as I picked up the ebook version on the cheap from last year.

This was one of a number of horror novels I bought back in the early 80s after Stephen King (you may have heard of him) ignited my interest in the genre (I had bought other books, notably The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror prior but stuck mainly to science fiction otherwise).

F. Paul Wilson’s writing of the story is utterly clear — this is not a tale filled with ambiguity, though there is a mystery when the story begins in 1941, as Nazi Germany continues its conquest of Europe. After a brief prologue the main characters are introduced — a sympathetic German captain named Woermann, his villainous counterpart, Major Kaempffer, a Jewish professor and his daughter and the two mortal enemies of Glenn and Molasar.

When the Nazis set up a defensive position in a creepy ol’ keep in the Romanian Alps it doesn’t take long for very bad things to begin happening. The treasure hunting adventures of a pair of soldiers unleashes a very ancient evil in the keep and leads to a different soldier being murdered every night. Woermann, appalled by the Nazis but loyal to the German army, sends a wire requesting aid and gets it in the form of a vile SS major and his commandos. The mysterious murders continue and in desperation they turn to the Jewish professor to help uncover what is killing the soldiers and ultimately how to stop whatever is responsible.

The question of ‘why not just leave?’ is addressed early on as Kaempffer rules out leaving because it would make him look weak just prior to him being promoted to running a new death camp in Romania. He sets out a schedule by which they must resolve the matter, after which he’ll blame everything on Woermann before moving on.

Wilson neatly draws all of the players together and the initial series of murders is handled effectively, with whatever force is responsible literally creating darkness around itself before viscously ripping out the throats of its victims. For added fun, it briefly re-animates a pair at one point to go flop on the major as he lay in his bed one night. There are a number of twists that are presented broadly enough that they didn’t surprise me, but it was still fun seeing the characters react to events as they unfolded. There is a certain melodrama to some of the passages, especially those between the daughter Magda and Glenn, the reluctant champion of Order who is tasked with vanquishing the evil force trapped in the keep but the overall tone is as realistic as one might expect in a story about ancient evil mucking about with Nazis.

The ending is satisfying, albeit predictable and I was pleased it did not mine the cliches of being Grim Dark™.

This was a quick and enjoyable read. Wilson has no filler here, just a straight-up and ultimately heroic tale mixed in with some early and effectively creepy scenes.

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