Jeffrey Konvitz | Bantam Books | 1979 | 293 pages
More supernatural shenanigans ensue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, as clueless residents and Vatican agents battle against Satan for control of the entrance to hell, in this sequel to Jeffrey Konvitz’s The Sentinel.
Ben and Faye Burdett seem to be happy in their new high-rise apartment on West 89th Street, with a close-knit group of neighbors on the twentieth floor to provide them with the necessary support to raise their infant son. Their only cause for concern is the blind nun next door who never leaves her apartment, and never ceases her perpetual vigil at the window. Their complacent lives are turned upside down, however, when Faye discovers a burned and disfigured body in the building’s trash compactor.
Due to similarities to the unsolved murders and disappearance of Allison Parker years earlier at the site of the former brownstone, the police consult with the now-retired Inspector Gatz, lead detective on the previous case. Gatz, who has somehow figured out that Allison Parker has been transformed into a Sentinel who guards the Gates of Hell, meets with Ben Burdett to warn him about the coming danger to his wife, who Gatz now believes may have been targeted by the Vatican as the next Sentinel. A series of shocking murders, along with Faye’s perplexing slide into catatonic shock, convinces Ben that Gatz’ theory is true. Ben steps into the role of detective, following the trail of bodies back to the secret organization pulling all the strings, in an attempt to save his wife from her forced destiny.
Since the central mystery of the location (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”), and its Sentinel has been stripped away at the start, The Guardian replaces the slow-burn suspense of the first novel with supernatural bluster. Rat attacks on nuns, invisible choking hands, in-door windstorms that propel their victims out of upper-story windows, and runaway subway trains characterize the near camp of this outing.
Charles Chazen, the kindly old man with his pet cat and bird (and embodiment of Satan), transforms here from the creepy figure in the first book into an occult bogeyman. Materializing in fields, underground tunnels, and lightning storms, he sends members of the Vatican team running scared with proclamations of Chazen is here! Chazen is coming! Chazen is in the building!
The only thread of mystery is the identity of the building resident that Chazen has assumed in order to get close to, and kill, the new Sentinel. As the bodies pile up around Ben Burdett, everyone seems to be someone else, but a paranoid sense of dread never materializes. The reveal of Chazen’s new identity emerges from a groan-worthy character reversal, in the form of a plot-twisting gender-swap, calling back to the opening series of prologues. Another related twist regarding the appointed Sentinel attempts to keep the interest in the story inflated as it lumbers toward the climax.
A largely unnecessary affair, The Guardian saves one final twist for the coda, resulting in a tease of a hell-loosed-on-earth that could have provided a more compelling starting point for a sequel.