Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Keep by F. Paul Wilson

It is often said that one of the most pivotal moments in the growing popularity of the horror genera was a shift in standard setting, one that took horror out of the creepy gothic castles of Europe and placed it into the everyday homes of the average person. I can’t argue with this.  It is easier to instill fear in a reader when they are familiar with the situation and could therefore easily exchanged places with the characters. At the same time one must not make the mistake of thinking that a good scary novel has to take place in one's own backyard to be effective. Nope. The creepy gothic castles of Europe can still be pretty frightening locations, and are perfectly suited for horror, especially if that horror revolves around an ancient evil that has been awakened to feed upon a squad of World War Two-era Nazis stationed in Transylvania. Actually, I think the creepy gothic castle that this story takes place in might have been the only real choice. Of course, nothing is impossible or forbidden when it comes to the horror genera so I’m sure F. Paul Wilson could somehow have placed all of this in my own backyard, but that isn’t the reality of the tale this time around and given how wonderful this novel is, I feel he made the right choice. However, if anyone does know of a horror tale where Nazis are battling an ancient evil in the suburbs of Chicago, or some easily exchangeable American city that I can easily identify with, please send me the title because I’d love to read it. Until then, let’s focus on the novel The Keep by F. Paul Wilson, a successful horror novel that momentarily returned horror to the creepy gothic castles of Europe.

Like I stated above, The Keep is the story of a group of World War Two era Nazis battling an ancient evil in a castle high in the mountains of Transylvania, a location that many horror fans should be familiar with given that it plays home to one of the genres most identifiable characters. The trouble begins with one man, a German soldier killed in the night, his body mutilated and drained of blood.  Somewhat desensitized to death, the commander of the post assumes the causality is the result of a local anti-German militia group, one that he can take care of himself, but then another man dies the next night in a similar fashion, and then another and another, until the commander realizes it is time to relocate themselves in the region. The German high command, however, doesn’t feel this is a necessary action and instead sends a squad of elite SS extermination troops to deal with the problem, one commanded by an officer fresh from a post at Auschwitz.  If anyone understands what it takes to put down insurrections within conquered territories, it is he. The attacks, however, are not being carried out by local militia groups, and it soon becomes apparent that more help is needed. Ironically, the only person that may be able to shed some light on the problem is a local Jewish man who is an expert on folklore. Not wanting his daughter to go to the camps rumored to be in use by the Nazi government for people of his decent, the man agrees to help the Germans figure out what is going on, and how to stop it. The question is can it be stopped.  Also, who is the mysterious man who awakened one day as if from a long sleep and is now coming to help.  Even more puzzling, in this day of modern weaponry, why does he carry a sword?

Anyone familiar with F. Paul Wilson will know that within the large collection of novel titles he has written there are some that fall into one of two story lines, both of which eventually connect together as well. One of those story lines focuses on the tales of Repairman Jack and the adventures he faces as an urban mercenary living in New York City, adventures that ultimately start to have a supernatural presence within them. The other story line is The Adversary Cycle and it involves loosely connected tales that revolve around an ancient war being fought between two powerful otherworldly forces, one that holds the fate of mankind within its grasp. The Keep is the first in this story line. That said, it is also a complete, stand alone tale, one that has a beginning, middle and end, therefore one shouldn’t worry that they are getting into some sort of open ended, long drawn out narrative that carries throughout several books. The Adversary Cycle does have an underlying connection, and The Keep is certainly an important part of it, but the focus on that is more a theme of later novels than this one itself, so readers hesitant to take on such a task shouldn’t worry. Of course, once the tale is finished readers will seek out other works by F. Paul Wilson because of his superb storytelling abilities, and therefore will come to follow the underlying story, but it will be by choice, not obligation, one whose journey they will relish.


Chris Regan said...

I really liked this book. I've got Reborn and have been meaning to read it for ages.

Will Errickson said...

I tried reading The Keep about 10 years ago but really couldn't get into it. Now, of course, I'm dying to find another vintage copy of it and give it another go.

William Malmborg said...

Chris - Reborn was pretty good too, though not what I expected it to be like at all. I need to read it again now that I've read all but one of the 'Repairman Jack' books because they connect with it in a big way toward the end of the series. I haven't been able to get a hold of any of the other books after it yet, but have heard F. Paul Wilson is updating them all for a reissue, so I may wait for that.

Will - The Keep was one of the more difficult ones for me to get into at first as well because it is so different from his other works, but once you are into it I find it really grabs hold. I would love to see what the vintage copies look like.