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.