The Vampires of Finistère
Peter Saxon | Berkley Medallion Books | 1970 | 190 pages
The Guardians, an organization dedicated to combating the Powers of Darkness, take up the search for a young tourist who disappeared after stumbling upon a strange ritual in the wilds of Brittany, in this fourth outing in the supernatural series.
Nicholas Brooke and his fiancée, Margot Prys, were enjoying an idyllic holiday of swimming, sunbathing, and touring the sights of Brittany before a fateful walk took them away from the main road toward an unknown section of coastline. Following a bobbing series of lights through the woods to a small village, Nick and Margot discovered a carnival-like procession through the cobbled streets that ended in a strange ritual. Skelton figures ushered the arrival of a Green Wolf, who commanded a debauched ceremony that the young tourists felt strangely compelled to join. Waking the next morning, Nick found Margot to be missing, and no amount of pleading could convince the local authorities to investigate.
Advised that no conventional agency could assist him in finding Margot, Nick takes his case to the Guardians. Upon hearing the young man’s story, Steven Kane, former anthropology professor and de facto leader of the group, recognizes the tale of the Green Wolf as an ancient fertility ritual. Kane narrows down the search area to the isolated village of Trégonnec, with its sheltered harbor protected from the outside world by the treacherous waters surrounding the nearby Ile-des-Morts. The deserted island is now only home to ancient ruins and Druid tombs, but is said to mark the location of the mythological drowned city of Ker-Ys, the reputed home of sirens and sea vampires.
Heeding the notice of fellow Guardian (and clairvoyant), Anne Ashby to “Beware of a woman who isn’t what she seems,” Kane infiltrates the village under the guise of an academic stranded by his poor yacht-handling skills. With the exception of Yves Lenoir, the black-bearded captain of the fishing boat that helped Kane with his “distressed” yacht, the members of the village are immediately distrustful of Kane’s arrival. Henri Verne, the fox-faced mayor (and barber), Jean-Battiste, the inn owner who reluctantly provides Kane a bed, and Pére Bonard, the nervous parish priest, show a range of reactions from contemptuous indifference to outright hostility. Maître Hubert de Caradec, the village landowner and master of the castle, shows Kane a respect in accordance to his intellectual stature, but seems to be hiding a secret somewhere within his guarded rampart walls.
The Vampires of Finistère loosely shares a template with The Wicker Man, or perhaps more precisely, Ritual, its 1967 source novel by David Pinner. Steven Kane acts as the lone investigator for the Guardians, an outsider uncovering the pagan rituals at the heart of a community cut off from the advances of the outside world. The main suspense derives from Kane’s justifiable paranoia regarding whom to trust in the village, and his sense of isolation inherent in the premise.
The other Guardian members are mostly sidelined, but Anne Ashby does seem to insert her telepathic skills at one point. She comes to Kane’s rescue with a potentially scientific-boundary shattering telepathic link with a school of dolphins—-or perhaps they were just being friendly. Private investigator Lionel Marks and occult-minded priest Father John Dyball move in at the conclusion to provide support for the inevitable battle for control of the village.
Kane’s investigation ultimately leads to the expected source, but along the way mythology and folklore cross with the appearance of otherworldly creatures, some supernatural and others the product of Dr. Moreau-like experimentation. Plus, the presence of a feral girl living in the streets may hold a valuable clue to the nature of the rituals. Kane spends much of the time asking questions and plodding around the village, wondering when his enemies will move against him. When the deadly action finally comes, it takes an unexpected form, and kicks the narrative into a satisfying rush towards the conclusion.
The “Vampires” of the title could arguably be corrected to the singular “Vampire,” since the lore surrounding one the characters becomes a bit muddied [Vampire? Werewolf? Vampire-werewolf?]. However, the remaining title character’s alluringly androgynous charms should more than compensate for the somewhat misleading appellation.