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The Torturer

Novel by Peter Saxon (Scotland) 1967.

Film director Max Grant is in the Spanish countryside with a small crew scouting for locations to use in his next picture, when out of the mist appears a bleak castle that seems purpose built for his needs. They check with the local powers that be and find that the owner is the Conde Delmorte, but he has been dead for centuries. Max's crew promptly move in, and soon discover some of the castle's various nasty secrets, from a booby-trapped staircase with a spiked pit beneath, to the Conde himself: three hundred years dead and walled up alive with his servants in the dungeons. But then, during dinner, a living Conde Delmorte appears to welcome them to his castle. Apparently, he has faked the disappearance of his family, due to his ancestors' excesses. Max's complete bitch of a wife hits it off with the Conde immediately and a couple of Max's crew are found dead. Only the Englishman, the aged and drunk scriptwriter, seems to know what is wrong.

This is a competent novel, easily Wilfred McNeilly's best and better by far than his poorer efforts as 'Peter Saxon' like Dark Ways to Death or The Haunting of Alan Mais; but still it's not a patch on the professionalism of Through the Dark Curtain or The Vampires of Finistere, Saxons by other hands. This is very much a pulp horror novel: there are the usual formulaic background characters, like Gela Tyrrel, Max's beautiful secretary who loves him dearly and can't understand why he keeps marrying women who treat him so badly when she could treat him so well. And there are the usual surprises sprung at crucial points when there is no real way out of whatever cliffhanger the cast happen to be in, such as when we discover that the Englishman is actually an ordained priest. But the plot is a good one, based on the compatibility of the Conde Delmorte (who has embraced the torture-based Aztec religion and is using its powers to keep him alive) and Petronella Grant (Max's fifth and current wife who was born in Mexico and is as astute and dedicated a torturer as the Conde, though her tortures are mental rather than physical). And the ending is a good, if unsurprising one. All in all, a capable and worthwhile book, if nothing hugely out of the ordinary.


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