World War II plus vampires in Transylvania. Just my cup of – whatever – I thought when I picked it up from a box outside a small bookshop and skimmed the blurb.
And it is exactly that. High Command in Germany receive a cryptic message from Captain Klaus Woermann: Request immediate relocation. Something is murdering my men.
"Something", not "someone". And "murdering" – in wartime? What is more, Woermann is a decorated war hero from WWI, not a man one would ever expect tp request relocation simply because he and hios m en were under attack.
So High Command send a message back: SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Kaempffer arriving today with detachment einsatzkommandos. Maintain present position.
Kaempffer had been at Auschwitz for the past year, "resettling" Polish Jews, and was currently on his way to set up a similar "resettlement centre" at Ploiesti in Romania. He and his squad of black-uniformed SS thugs would stop over at the Keep in the Dinu Pass and sort things out.
But "things" are not that simple. The "thing" in the Keep (a small castle uninhabited for centuries yet mysteriously maintained in perfect condition) has been murdering German soldiers at the rate of one a night. The new arrivals do not deter it. On the contrary, it proceeds to tear their throats out one by one.
I nearly gave up on this book at first. I do like – need – to have a major character I can identify with. The book opens with the SS Major. Hardly. Moves on to Captain Woermann. A little more sympathetic – he is in trouble because he refuses to join the Nazi Party – but still ... Then we meet the mysterious but clearly heroic Glen, who is busy making his way as fast as he can from Portugal to Romania. And we meet the Jewish ex-Professor Theodor Cuza and his daughter Magda. With these people, I felt at home.
Of course, the drama starts when the obsessively racist Kaempffer finds himself dependent on the Jewish scholar for a solution to the problem. Then Glen arrives, and Magda, a beautiful virgin of thirty-one who had devoted herself since the death of her mother to her crippled and terminally ill father, and falls in love.
From the entrance of the red-haired Glen, a leading man if ever there was one, on page 39 and of Magda on page 44, I was hooked. I couldn't put the book down till I reached page 347 and discovered finally who and what "Glen" was, and whether Magda, a Jew in Romania in 1941, had any hope whatever of finding happiness, if only for a few short months.
It is eerie, unpredictable, and highly recommended.