Mon 17 Apr 2017
PETER SAXON – The Vampires of Finistère. The Guardians #4. Berkley X1808, paperback original; 1st US printing, April 1970. First published in the UK by Howard Baker, hardcover, 1970.
I’m not too sure of the numbering, even though the cover of the Berkley paperback clearly says this is #4 in the series. But I also believe that this is the last of the series, and there are five of them in all. (The numbering may be Berkley’s doing. One of the books, The Curse of Rathlaw, was published first in this country by Lancer.)
As for the author, there was no Peter Saxon. That was a house name used by many authors, including W Howard Baker, who used it as his own personal pseudonym at first, primarily for Sexton Blake novels, then used by other authors for other books and series.
The author of Vampires is generally accepted as being Rex Dolphin, whose name and work has come up for discussion previously on this blog with a review of a tale he wrote for Weird Tales entitled “Off the Map.”
I have read online some speculation that The Guardians may have been the first team of occult detectives, fighting among other evils in the world the following: vampirism, witchcraft, black magic, voodoo and sorcery. (I am cribbing from a list displayed on the back cover of the book at hand.)
The members of The Guardians, based in a strangely out-of-the-way location in London, are:
Gideon Cross: Founder and most powerful member in terms of his own occult powers. He generally does not leave the team’s headquarter building. Sometimes his actual motives in their various investigations seem hazy.
Steven Kane: The leader, rugged and individualistic, a former professor anthropology with a vast knowledge of the occult.
Father John Dyball: A priest and a former wartime chaplain. Very handy when exorcisms and/or prayers are needed.
Lionel Marks: No psychic powers but a fine detective and a good man to have along when the going gets tough. A very minor participant in this adventure.
Anne Ashby: A beautiful mysterious woman with many secrets and psychic powers. A strong connection exists between herself and Gideon Cross, but none of the other members of the team are sure what it is.
In this particular investigation, The Guardians come to the assistance of a young man whose girl friend disappeared while they were traveling in an isolated region of Brittany. Getting off a main road they leave their car and try to walk to the sea, but instead find themselves caught up in a pagan ritual harking back to ancient times.
The first two-thirds of the book are simply terrific. Dolphin, if he indeed was the author, was a very descriptive writer, evoking both eeriness, and a sense of wonder, fear and dread in almost every passage he writes. It is easy to believe, once you fall under his spell, that there could be an isolated village on the coast of France where if anyone visits, they never come back a second time.
Unfortunately, in terms of a team effort, this is very nearly a one-man show. For most of the book, Steven Kane is the only member who has any active role in trying to track down the missing girl. (She is a virgin, by the way. Her father forbade the trip if there were going to be any funny business going on between her and her boy friend.)
Alas, that also means that Ann Ashby’s active presence is contained in only a few pages at the beginning. I’d like to learned more about her. The ending is perfunctory, but the getting there is quite a bit of fun. And, yes, that scene on the cover of the Berkley paperback, so evocatively portrayed by artist Jeff Jones, is actually in the book.