Soft and Others couple years back and mostly hated it because his writing was so one-dimensional, dull, and tone deaf. Honestly, I think Wilson can be a downright terrible writer, so I was relieved to find when I began reading The Keep he'd seemingly improved (how could he not?). What keeps the reader glued to the pages is the sheer power of the story. I mean it's Nazis, in a keep - a type of fortified tower built within castles during the Middle Ages by European nobility, Wikipedia tells me - battling an evil entity who slaughters Nazis handily. I'm in!
Or... am I?
Original 1981 hardcover
So we've got a German army, led by Captain Klaus Woermann, stationed in a keep high in the Alps of Romania, to protect precious oil fields needed for the Nazi war effort. But when two grunts dig into the fortification trying to find out if the oddly-shaped metal crosses embedded in the stone walls everywhere in the keep are made of real gold and silver, they find behind those stones an opening that leads to... Well, evil and darkness and decapitation. And unsolvable impossible deaths follow after, each night for a week, till an exhausted, reluctant Woermann sends for help from the Nazis, whom he regards with skepticism and distrust, himself too old to have been seduced by the charismatic Hitler (I found this detail quite satisfying). He words his missive carefully: Request immediate relocation. Something is murdering my men... That ought to get their attention!
And the depiction of Nazis and their reign of terror - an easily exploitable topic, a hack writer's dream! I like tasteless exploitation/horror when done right, but Wilson doesn't rise - or sink - to the occasion. The Nazis are barely cardboard - as the novel goes on, all the characters become cardboard pieces. When we first meet the god-like evil denizen of the keep, a baddie named Molasar, there are the de rigueur horror moments, such as his "friendship" with Ol' Vlad Tepes back in the day and talk about feeding off the evils of humanity. But Molasar is dressed like a comic-book villain and speaks like one too: "I have my own means of moving about which does not require doors or secret passages. A method quite beyond your comprehension." My God, who knew evil was so dorky?
Map of the Keep itself
1983 Dutch edition - creepier than any scene in the book
I haven't even mentioned the thudding dialogue, unimaginative scenes of violent mayhem, the climax of ageless good v. evil, and the sappy, unearned epilogue, all of which have been seen a hundred, a thousand times before. It all adds up to the reader never feeling that tingle, that can't-turn-pages-fast-enough vibe that makes this kind of mainstream bestseller work. There's a notable lack of atmosphere too, which makes The Keep deadly dull in places: I mean, the setting is a fucking castle in the mountains of Romania occupied by terrified Nazis because a mysterious monstrous vampire is trying kill them all! You gotta work it hard in the opposite direction to suck the creepy out of that set-up. And Wilson, unfortunately, is up to the task.