Book Review - The Keep
I first read The Keep in the ‘80s, about ten years after it was released. Though the first installment of F. Paul Wilson’s Adversary Cycle, it is an outstanding stand-alone novel.
In early 1941, a German army unit is ordered to watch the Dinu Pass in Romania, should the Russians decide to invade. They occupy a small, castle-like fortification called simply “The Keep” by the locals—a place that is regularly maintained but never occupied. Once in The Keep, the Germans discover thousands of brass and nickel crosses inlaid in the stone.
During that night’s watch, one private discovers an inlaid cross actually made of gold and silver, and in an attempt to pull it out, accesses a hidden chamber and releases a malevolence that kills one of them each night. Not able to stop it himself, Captain Woermann asks for his unit to be relocated but instead receives the “aid” of a SS major—with whom he has a history—and his death squad. Also unable to stop the killings, they enlist the help of Professor Cuza and Magda, a Jewish scholar and his daughter, who have studied The Keep and Romanian history.
With the release of the malevolence, a red-headed stranger named Glenn is awakened and begins a journey across Europe to confront the evil.
Wilson is an engaging storyteller, immersing the reader into the lives of each of the main characters and providing an understanding of their viewpoints and agendas, even if they are despicable. There is an organized flow to the writing, and several plot points are left as cliffhangers before resolution, resulting in a book that is hard to put down.
The stories of the three main protagonists (Woermann, Magda, and Glenn) all weave together as each are motivated by their own agendas. As the agendas clash, tension is built in the story on multiple levels. Layering the vampire myth onto an older good vs evil fight and setting it against the backdrop of the atrocities committed by the Nazis is well-considered and thought-provoking.
Some characters are clearly good and others clearly evil, but what stands out are the characters who play in the grey area. Captain Woermann is a military man on the wrong side of history. He has a sense of honor and can’t believe what his country is doing, though he tacitly supports it. In contrast, Professor Cuza is a scholar, yet the Germans consider him an object of lesser humanity. And when given the choice, he fights his own battle of what it means to be human and have compassion for others.
Overall, the WWII setting, the layering of good vs. evil and the vampire myth, the characters who fight for their humanity – and others who have completely lost it, and the confinement of the Keep all add to an engaging story.
Originally published in 1981, this is an engrossing read. Score: 71/100.