The Sentinel

thesentinel

The Sentinel
Jeffrey Konvitz | Ballantine Books | 1976 | 278 pages

Billed as yet another successor to the modern horrors of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, The Sentinel fails to achieve their classic status, but still delivers enough seventies occult pleasure to satisfy genre fans.

Returning to New York after her father’s funeral in Indiana, fashion model Allison Parker rents an apartment in a crumbling brownstone on West 89th Street. Slightly unnerved by the presence of an old blind priest living on the fifth floor, who always seems to be gazing unseeingly out his window, she nevertheless takes the apartment to get some space from her narcissistic lawyer boyfriend, Michael Farmer. Allison previously suffered a nervous breakdown, and tried to kill herself by overdosing with pills after Michael’s wife Karen discovered their affair and committed suicide.

The Sentinel is most creepily effective as Allison settles into the spooky atmosphere of her new apartment building, encountering her strangely sinister new neighbors. Charles Chazen (5B), along with his black-and-white cat, Jezebel, and parakeet, Mortimer, superficially seems to be a kindly old man in a fraying, old-fashioned suit, but Allison perceives a dangerous aspect to his personality. Gerde and Sandra (2A), an aggressive pair of ballet-slipper-clad lesbians, are more covertly threatening; Sandra masturbates in front of Allison during a somewhat forced introductory visit for coffee.

The narrative hits a suspenseful peak at the midway point, after Allison climbs the stairs to investigate the noises emanating from the allegedly empty apartment directly above her own. Her encounter with the ever-pacing occupant in 4A leads to another emotional breakdown, resulting in a shift of focus to Michael. He leads the investigation into the brownstone’s role in her deteriorating condition for the second half of the novel, but makes for a much less engaging protagonist, as Allison withers away in his care.

Detective Gantz, who always seems to carry a mousetrap in his pocket, suspects that Michael actually killed his wife, but this police subplot serves only a superfluous role (and Gantz never actually confronts him with his trap, missing the opportunity to quip, “Snap! Now you are the mouse caught in my trap!”). Michael never fully develops into enough of a suspect to create a suspicion that he is also involved in an attempt to drive Allison insane.

Although the conclusion comes as no great surprise, with its downbeat tone and circular plotting, The Sentinel still succeeds as an enjoyable “apartment terror”– even at the “not excessive in New York” rate of three-hundred and seventy-five dollars a month.

sentinelinterior

The Reimann Curse

reimanncurse

The Reimann Curse
Jean DeWeese | Ballantine Books | 1975 | 182 pages

A young schoolteacher is menaced by an ancient evil, her obsession with the ruins of an old estate fueling her nightmares, and ultimately unlocking a haunted past.

Following the tragic deaths of her husband and young daughter, Helen Warden accepts a teaching position in a small New England town. Driving cross-country for two days from Wisconsin, Helen takes a wrong turn off the highway a few miles from her destination. She comes across a ruined old estate, a three-story gothic hulk partially destroyed by fire, that she finds strangely compelling—as if someone or something inside is insistently whispering her name.

Turning around and heading back toward the highway, Helen stops at an inn that appears to be a smaller version of the looming mansion she just encountered. Run by Martha and George Groves, Helen learns that the Groves Lodge occupies the former guesthouse of the Reimann estate, its mansion destroyed by fire seventy years previously. Developing a strange fascination with old estate, Helen is troubled by nightmares. Her dreams are filled with the ominous black shape of the Reimann mansion, of distorted faces circling menacingly around her, and of a strange metallic object shifting in her hands. Upon waking, Helen is aware that she was screaming words in some unfamiliar language.

Initially intending only to stay the night, Helen seems unable to leave Groves Lodge, whose only other semi-permanent guests are the elderly Amanda Lund and her son Mark. Helen is fascinated to learn that Amanda was a resident of the Reimann Estate as a small child, leaving upon the death of her parents after the fire seventy years ago. Amanda has returned in an attempt to recover her memory of these early childhood years, lost since the tragedy but haunting her with the promise of some unknown revelation. As Helen’s nightmares continue, she finds her behavior changing, becoming more violent and obsessive about the estate and its dark history.

The evil influence at the core of The Reimann Curse reveals itself to be less traditional curse than the action of an ill-explained Great-Slippery-Silver-Whatsit. Helen’s selection as a victim for this non-titular object’s malevolent touch seems arbitrary [seventy-six year old Amanda would have been the logical one], and her nightmares steadily become little more than passive visions pointing the way to an expected conclusion. However, the brooding atmosphere of the ruined house lurking just beyond the bare tree line, and its insidious pull on Helen’s imagination, deliver enough genre thrills to satisfy.

Lady Sativa

lady_sativa

Lady Sativa
Frank Lauria | Ballantine Books | 1973 | 234 pages

Dr. Owen Orient returns in the third installment of the psychic detective series.

With funds for his telepathic research dwindling, Dr. Orient enlists the aid of his plump psychic friend Sybelle, a colleague in his experiments and a member of the Society for Extranormal Exploration (SEE). At SEE’s upcoming annual conference in Stockholm, board president Carl Bestman will award a sizeable grant to the best-qualified candidate in the field of paranormal science, and Sybelle offers to nominate Orient for the award. After a rigorous series of Yin & Yang breathing exercises, Orient prepares his materials for presentation, and together with Sybelle, travels to Sweden.

A shock awaits them at the Bestman estate; Carl Bestman has apparently committed suicide with a hunting rifle. His brother, Anthony, a loutish big-game hunter with little regard for the psychic arts, greets Orient and the other guests arriving for the conference with scorn. Although Carl’s widow Hannah is distraught and suspects foul play in the death of her husband, the meeting of SEE continues as planned. Orient’s competition for the grant award is Lily Sativa, a golden-skinned beauty with amber eyes and the gift of premonition. Sativa travels with her sponsor, the elegant Count Germaine, and headstrong British chess champion Maxwell Anderson—who develops and instant antagonism towards Orient and his telepathic methods.

But further tragedy ensures for the assembled guests of SEE. Nels Neilson, Carl Bestman’s attorney, is found savagely killed, torn to pieces outside on the grounds of the estate. Hannah Bestman becomes the chief suspect, since she was the last to be seen with Neilson—they were looking for Carl’s suspiciously missing treatise on Lycanthropic Schizophrenia. Although the police have the house in lockdown, Hannah slips a note under Orient’s door, requesting that he meet her later that night in the churchyard.

At their nocturnal rendezvous, Hannah makes an attempt to warn Orient, but an unknown assailant attacks him, leaving a vicious scratch—or perhaps bite—wound on his arm. The police, trailing Orient’s movements, shoot and kill Hannah, who they suspect of attempting another murder. Orient returns home to New York, where the golden moon seems to bring out unexpected violent urges, and other members of SEE meet gruesome deaths.

Lady Sativa introduces a few modest twists on werewolf mythology, with a stricken Orient ingesting a concoction of curative ingredients (mold of wheat and yeast, mandrake, wolfbane and poppy pitch) to hold off his impending symptoms. The transformation itself manifests primarily in the personality of the afflicted, although hair does grows on palms, and his face distorts enough for fellow subway passengers to move a few seats away. Although psychic adventures take a backseat to lycanthropy in this outing, the final reveal of the true culprit takes the story firmly back into Orient’s telepathic realm, as Orient and his team battle the werewolf’s astral projection.