F. Paul Wilson
William Morrow, 1981
The Keep by F. Paul Wilson is precisely the type of novel that my 8th Grade self would have absolutely devoured and loved. That isn’t to see the 29 year-old me didn’t enjoy but rather that some of its flaws become a bit harder to forgive. First of all you can’t really fault the initial premise in which Nazis take shelter in a strange keep only to unleash something horrible that begins to prey on them. I mean everybody enjoys seeing Nazis get there comeuppance. While this initial premise serves to get the reader through the door it also leads into a deep mythology revolving around a aeons old struggle between order and chaos that is further explored in the rest of Wilson’s Adversary Cycle.
Wilson deserves some credit in that he actually provides us with one Nazi “hero.” Captain Klaus Woermann is the old warhorse who served his country in the First World War and who laments what his country has become and relegated to a backwater posting after he dared to protest the SS treatment of “undesirables” in Poland. Woermann is not necessarily and admirable figure but at least he feels more well rounded than the cookie-cutter Nazi villains so frequently portrayed in fiction and film. Woermann’s struggle over the course of the novel particularly after SS Sturmbannfuhrer Eric Kaempffe arrives is the most interesting character struggle in the novel. It helps that Woermann remembers the type of man Kaempffe was back in the First World War but it is interesting to see how the horror of Woermann’s experiences in the keep actually manage to give him courage to stand up to the human horror of the SS troops and their methods.
Wilson also does a great job at setting the atmosphere. The eerie walls of the Keep covered in weird crosses, the slow build of tension as bodies start to mount up, and the eventual descent into madness and confusion is really handled quite nicely. Even after the supernatural threat gains a face Wilson manages to twist expectations and provide yet another avenue to twist and distort the fragile psyche of the characters. Where the novel grows a little weak is after the introduction of the Glenn. While the use of Professor Cuza and Magda both as an added source of tension with the SS soldiers and as a primary source for looking to understand the supernatural threat are well drawn and fascinating characters who add a distinct human touch to things. In truth my problem with Glenn isn’t his back story, or his role in the story’s mythology, but rather his relationship with Magda. I just couldn’t buy it and the touch of romance in what had been a dark and engrossing story really took away from the brooding atmosphere. Given the amount of time Wilson spends detailing the lives and relationships of the characters, particularly between Magda and her father, Glenn just feels sort a vestigial addition. I really just couldn’t bring myself to care about Glenn’s internal conflict regarding his attraction to Magda and had to suppress a mental eye roll every time it was mentioned.
Despite my dislike for Glenn’s role in the story it is a necessary part given that his presence is needed to strengthen the link towards the greater mythology of Wilson’s world. I do think it was detrimental to the novel as a whole but it doesn’t invalidate the strong writing and engrossing characters that populate the other corners of the story. For readers looking for a twist on the typical supernatural tale The Keep is certainly worth a shot but it has the glimmerings of a truly great and memorable standalone novel but it dulled somewhat by the move to link it to a greater overarching story.