The Vampires of Finistère (Guardians #4)

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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.

Through the Dark Curtain (The Guardians)

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Through the Dark Curtain (The Guardians)
Peter Saxon | Lancer Books | 1968 | 190 pages

The Guardians, a London-based group dedicated to fighting the forces of supernatural evil in the world, return to investigate the case of a young wife frightened into a vegetative state by an unknown encounter on a deserted Suffolk country road.

Wealthy industrialist Sir Giles Offord contacts Steven Kane—anthropologist, expert in all matters of the occult, and operational leader of the Guardians—for assistance in investigating the strange fate of his daughter-in-law. Stranded in their broken-down car by the side of the road while her husband walked to the nearest village for gasoline, Mavis Offord experienced a terror so profound that she collapsed into a state of catatonic madness. Later discovered curled in the fetal position in a roadside ditch, Mavis was removed shrieking to the local physician, eventually being admitted to a psychiatric hospital—where she is yet to recover or even talk about her ordeal. Answering Steven Kane regarding why he requests the special services of the Guardians, Sir Giles explains, “I think she saw the devil.”

Accompanying Steven Kane to Frenton, the small village where Mavis was found, is Father John Dyball—Guardians member and Anglo-Catholic priest with an expert knowledge in the dark side of Faith. After questioning some of the villagers, Kane and Dyball come to suspect the activities of a mysterious local organization, the Sons of Anglia, and its founder Lawrence Stow. An elderly and reclusive man, Stow is rarely seen in the village, but Kane does meet his daughter Barbara, who although a beautiful blonde of nearly Amazonian proportions, exhibits little signs of life behind her strangely dull blue eyes.

Breaking into Stow’s estate after dark, Kane and Dyball interrupt a strange ritual attended by figures in white robes. At its center, a nearly nude Barbara Stow is held in bondage and whipped by unseen forces. Left behind by the fleeing cult members, both Barbara and her father lapse into catatonic states. Anne Ashby, the Guardians’ voluptuously beautiful occult expert and telepath, arrives to provide assistance with Barbara, but immediately slips into a vivid trance-like state—experiencing a vision of Barbara as a Queen of ancient Britain, facing off against the oppressive rule of Roman occupation.

Following the timeworn tradition of depicting small English villages as insular worlds filled with dark histories of superstition, witchcraft and secret rites, Through the Dark Curtain benefits most from evoking this familiar atmosphere of malevolence. Although standard fare, the most enjoyable passages have Kane and Dyball acting as detectives, asking around the hotels, garages and pubs for information. They turn up tantalizing possibilities, such the “Black Dog” (who local myth claims is the devil’s companion, hunting for souls on certain nights of the year), and receive tips leading to the secret society—never knowing who may be part of the shadowy network. Once Kane and Dyball interrupt the secret ceremony, and Anne Ashby takes the story back in time to ancient Britain, everything becomes muddled. The flashbacks to ancient battles are not compelling, and the resolution never really clarifies whether the Guardians experience these scenes as reincarnation, actually travel back in time, or simply have a shared hallucination.

The conclusion stands out as being most arbitrary; rather than the bunk explanation of formulating Druid and Christian spells into some mystical concoction, Dyball could have just as easily cried out, “Shazam!” and sent the rescuing bolts of lighting down from the sky.

 

The Killing Bone

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The Killing Bone
The Guardians #1
Peter Saxon | Berkley Medallion Books | 1968 | 159 Pages

Former priest John Dyball is called to St. Botolph’s Hospital to review a troubling case. An unknown patient was delivered in a strange catatonic state approaching rigor mortis, still alive, but seemingly frozen in a rictus of silent terror. Reverend Dyball, who has honed his own parapsychological skills through years of training, senses a malicious presence behind the patient’s staring but unseeing eyes, an unknown entity internally tormenting the man to death.

Reverend Dyball is not just an ordinary ex-priest; he is an active member of the elite team known as The Guardians, an agency established to push back against the advances of evil. The group’s founder is Gideon Cross, a sinister recluse and expert in arcane knowledge of the occult, suspected by Dyball as having advanced powers of the black arts. Anthropologist Stephen Kane acts as the group’s leader, providing guidance to Dyball and the group’s other two members. Lionel Marks, a cynical private eye, assists in gathering intelligence on cases, and Anne Ashby, a finely-tuned “sensitive,” contributes with her gift of advanced psychic abilities.

Following the lead of an eyewitness who saw a boomerang logo on the truck that dropped off the mysterious patient at the hospital, Dyball meets with an Australian journalist at an art opening featuring a new Aboriginal artist. Disregarding his own internal warnings, he is lured away by a young woman with promises of information to a nearby club, where he experiences an alarming blackout. While unconscious, he has bleary visions of his own sun-baked body burning on hot white sands, a compelling but indecipherable voice boring directly into his skull. Upon awakening, he returns to the Guardians’ headquarters in a partially amnesiac state, as if his recent memory had been scrubbed. With Dyball retaining little knowledge of the strange case at St. Botolph’s Hospital, it is up to Kane and the rest of the Guardians to solve the mystery and ultimately save the former priest from the malignant force at its center.

Lionel Marks and Anne Ashby are given virtually no roles in this outing of the series, with Steven Kane eventually pursuing the leads—and a psychically-controlled Dyball himself—to the Australian outback. Although Ashby does sense the evil in their opponent through a telepathic impression, the resolution acknowledges an unexpected gray-area, with the motivation of the initial attack revealing a certain level of understanding. This evil does not set out to destroy the world, but instead to punish a wrong inflicted against it.

Plus, Gideon Cross and his witch-doctor nemesis engage in an amusing final smack-down using their astrally-projected bodies, a battle only lacking in Wonder Twins-like cries of “Form of a dingo!” or “Form of a crocodile!”