Peter Saxon - The Haunting Of Alan Mais (Five Star 1972)
Witchcraft, Necromancy, Voodoo, Vampirism, Satanism, Black Magic, Sorcery
.... wherever and whatever the agents of occult Evil are, The Guardians are there to combat them with their own more-than-mortal powers. An amusing investigation of a haunted house turns to nightmare as Guardian Anne Ashby is transformed into a sadistic wanton, focus of the malignant force of an ancient curse, and an enemy to her fellow-Guardians!
When his latest purchase Beacon Old Farm in Medway, Kent, shows signs of being haunted, Langford Layton, Playboy, calls in The Guardians to investigate. Steven Kane and Father Dyball accompany him down to the crumbling mansion but Gideon Cross initially dissuades Anne from joining them on account of that particular part of Kent being dangerous for her. This may or may not have something to do with a witch named 'Anne Ashby' having been burnt there during Cromwell's time. Anne displays a snap of temper at the leader and eventually gets her own way, slips on her best miniskirt and zooms down South. Her colleagues are amazed at her aggressive vamping of Layton who really isn't her type at all (nobody is), but soon she's slipped off her jodhpurs for some soulless outdoor sex with their moneybags client and is generally acting out of character. Could it be something to do with the ghostly disembodied face that appears to Dyball beseeching his aid?
A very busy plot with plenty of mysterious goings-on: why is there no record of any 'Langford Layton'? What does the voyeuristic sexton Pauncefoot know that he's not letting on? Did the previous owner, General Quinn, dabble in black magic? What's up with Anne?
With Anne otherwise engaged, Lionel Marks (the private eye of the piece) all but peripheral and Gideon sulking back in the office, its left to Kane and Dybell to solve the mystery. Naturally they get there in the end but its a close thing. Kane - who has a soft spot for Anne - is distracted by all the rumpy pumpy and the Father has to draft in the local priest to assist in the inevitable exorcism.
Although Anne is restored to her normal self after the troubled soul of Alan Mais has been put to rest, there's still an ambiguity about her behaviour at the close of the book which suggests her relationship with Gideon has endured far longer than her twenty-something body would suggest - up to four centuries longer.
I'm still not sure if I prefer The Guardians adventures to the non-series Saxons, but they're a fast and entertaining read and far better than this chronic "review" might mislead you to believe. I haven't even managed to do Anne's performance justice.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
i've just finished re-reading this, and also re-read The Killing Bone recently. first time i've been back to the guardians for a while, and they're still great.
this particular title is a classic haunted house format, and is written with a concentration on building atmosphere. some very thick, syrupy landscape writing that puts you right into the middle of the story. perhaps pace suffers at times because of this, but the rich detail keeps you turning the page. i also liek the way the very minor characters have quirks. Bolster, the non-believing curate who scoffs at Dyball and then quietly defers to him after witnessing the big face-off between the ghost and Dyball and Kane, is one i'd forgotten. his conversion to believer is deftly handled in a few lines that show rather than tell.
i was struck by the contrast between this and The Killiing Bone, which has greater pace, a very swinging london background, and then that great set-piece psychic confrontation between the protagonist and Gideon Cross at the end. some may feel that this shows a lack of consistency, but for me it's this variety in style and pace that gives the series a greater depth, and makes you feel that every book you pick up WILL be different, even though you know it will feature the same heroes you want to read more about. which i guess is the secret of keeping a series fresh.