The Mind Masters
John F. Rossmann | New American Library| 1974 | 236 pages
Grand Prix driver Britt St. Vincent’s secret past overtakes him on the twisty mountain roads below desolate Skull Summit, California, as his Porsche is pursued and taunted by a phantom car. Recognizing his dead girlfriend at the wheel, he experiences a strange sensation of pain and dizziness, and blacks out. Britt awakens in the clandestine Mero Institute, whose director explains how Britt was not the victim of a supernatural visitation, but was intentionally summoned by a long-distance psychic suggestion.
Prior to his racing days, a secret government laboratory recruited Britt for his latent psychokinetic powers. The Harry Diamond Labs developed psychic warfare programs for the Pentagon in response to similar covert Cold War programs being developed by a host of unfriendly nations. Laboratory administrators even suspected that Richard Nixon’s erratic behavior during the Watergate years was a result of external mental directives created by such rival programs. However, when Britt discovered that human test subjects were being killed in laboratory-run experiments, he tried to flee—with disastrous results. Gayle Hillard, his girlfriend and fellow psychic researcher, was killed during their escape attempt by <dramatic pause> limb-enhanced cyborgs. Britt was only allowed to live if he agreed to never again participate in any form of psychic research.
The Mero Institute, a private non-governmental agency attempting to counterbalance the psychic warfare research being done at Diamond Labs, wants Britt to investigate incidents of hauntings around the world. The scientists at Mero believe that establishing a communications link to the spiritual world will assist in advancing their own telekinetic research. Britt and his specially selected team, using races on the Grand Prix circuit as cover, will seek out these ghostly hotspots and attempt to contact amenable spirits.
After 100 pages of dull back-story detail (which could have been reduced simply to “Race-car driver and psychic investigator, GO!!!), Britt and his team finally arrive in Sicily to investigate their first assignment: Castellum Mortis. An ancient Roman ruin perched on the edge of a volcanic crater, the Castle of Death is rumored to be the home of the vengeful spirit of its original owner. While doing some preliminary legwork in Palermo, Britt meets Maria Benudo, a Sicilian girl whose mother owns the local boarding house—and The Mind Master’s most thankless character.
Maria, a former Berkeley student, assists Britt in gaining access to the castle grounds. However, her back-story contains an unnecessarily ugly gang rape at the hands of a sex-slave ring. The violence in Maria’s past shifts to gratuitous sex scenes in the present, with her sheer dresses and easy availability relieving the occasional “stab of tightness…behind [Britt’s] scrotum.” The paranormal scientists posing as Britt’s racing crew also use her as a sounding board for the seemingly endless pseudo-scientific babble on the nature of their equipment.
***SPOILER ALERT *** Naturally, she is killed at the end. ***END SPOILER***
Britt’s research mainly consists of traipsing around the castle at night fiddling with the radio dials on the equipment. Even the haunted bedchamber provides fewer chills than head-scratching questions—an ancient Roman room with furniture intact? The restless spirit, and alleged focus of the paranormal investigation, plays an unusually small role in the conclusion, but a rival psychic agent fills the void, engaging Britt in an ultimate <final dramatic pause> battle-of-the-telekinetic-laser-eyes.
As the first book in a series, perhaps The Mind Masters works out enough of its convoluted long-windedness to benefit future installments. Blathering weird-science explanations and superfluous character history stall the small amount of action provided by Britt’s investigation. Chase a ghost, race a few laps on the Grand Prix circuit, and battle a psychic agent from a foreign government—what more do you really need?