Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review: The Keep by F. Paul Wilson

I have to admit that I'm a lover of books. I read voraciously--normally three or four fiction books a week as well as one (maybe two) non-fiction books a week. I invariably have stacks of books in my "To Read" pile (even if that stack is mostly electronic these days), and even more in my Wish List at Amazon. Earlier this week I decided that I would pick a book from my To Read pile at random, by rolling a d20.The idea was that maybe it would bring up something that's been there for awhile and get me something to read that's a bit different than what I would normally choose on my own. I rolled a d20 and the result was _The Keep_, a novel by F. Paul Wilson.

The blurb from Amazon is fantastic:

""Something is murdering my men."

Thus reads the message received from a Nazi commander stationed in a small castle high in the remote Transylvanian Alps. And when an elite SS extermination squad is dispatched to solve the problem, the men find a something that's both powerful and terrifying. Invisible and silent, the enemy selects one victim per night, leaving the bloodless and mutilated corpses behind to terrify its future victims. Panicked, the Nazis bring in a local expert on folklore--who just happens to be Jewish--to shed some light on the mysterious happenings. And unbeknownst to anyone, there is another visitor on his way--a man who awoke from a nightmare and immediately set out to meet his destiny.

The battle has begun: On one side, the ultimate evil created by man, and on the other...the unthinkable, unstoppable, unknowing terror that man has inevitably awakened."

The first thing I wanted to point out from the blurb is the word "Something" in the letter the commander sends back. This is what catches the attention of the Nazi leadership to send someone to handle this situation. The second thing to point out is that the German army officer leading the detachment is not a Nazi, which is why he's there in the first place.

Captain Klaus Woermann is a decorated Army officer. During WWI he won the Iron Cross for gallantry for single handedly holding off a British platoon from overrunning his position. However his refusal to join the Nazi part means he's been condemned to guard duty, rather than leading troops in the front line. He is sent with a small detachment of men to a remote pass in Romania to set up a guard post in an ancient keep. 

When the captain arrives at the castle he notices a few things immediately. The first is that it's in impeccable condition. No debris or dust, no ruined buildings, nothing. The second is that the walls of the castle are completely covered in what appear to be crosses. These crosses cover every surface of the walls of the castle and appear to be made of gold and silver. The third unusual thing is that there are no birds in the castle. 

He finds out that the castle has been maintained and cleaned by a man and his two sons. The man's father watched over the castle and his grandfather and great-grandfather, all the way back. The money for the upkeep is delivered to the local inn keeper who pays them in gold coins. The man is adamant that the men not stay the night in the keep, and when he sees a soldier trying to pry one of the crosses off the wall he warns the Captain not to allow that to happen or dire things will happen. This soldier's name is Lutz, and he is assigned guard duty for a week as punishment. 

The Captain excuses the man and dismisses him, but has an uneasy feeling about the situation.

Later that night, while on guard duty, Lutz notices that there is a discrepancy in the thickness of the walls. He knows that there must be a treasure or secret tunnel and is convinced that it's papal treasure. Why else all the crosses? He pries at the cross, eventually managing to pop it loose and when he does so he's able to shift the block out of the way, exposing the entrance to a tunnel. Getting the other soldier on sentry to come help him, he then heads into the dark looking for treasure.

He's the first to die. 

Eventually German command sends an SS commander to clean things up. He's just been assigned to the task of setting up a death camp in Romania and knows that if he doesn't get this resolved quickly his chance to command the camp will be put in jeopardy. There's an added bonus--he knows the Captain from WWI. He ran when the British platoon advanced, while the Captain stayed to fight. 

I won't go through the rest of the plot, but I did want to point out some things I liked and some things I didn't like about the book.

--the keep is fantastic.
--the idea of a family who have maintained for generations is great
--who doesn't like secret passages and rooms?
--the characters are done very well. Distinct voices for all the main ones, and even the minor ones. 
--I loved the conflict between the Captain and the SS commander
--the Jewish professor and his daughter were a great element
--F. Paul Wilson's plot was great. There were some fairly predictable things, but a few things that caught me by surprise.
--I loved how he treated the vampire myth.

Things I didn't like:
--the final conflict. It was very anti-climatic
--the ending in general. He'd set up this fantastically creepy scenario and then it felt like he didn't know what to do with it.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Despite my disappointment with the ending (which I felt was weak), I'd still give this a 4 star rating. 

1 comment:

  1. Movie version was directed by the guy that did the Total Eclipse of the Heart horror music video. Soundtrack of the movie also by Tangerine Dream and edit to match.