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National Review guru Kirk (The Conservative Mind) is also conservative when it comes to his occult/fantasy concoctions (see also The Princess of All Lands, p. 470)--and this updated ""mystical romance, conforming faithfully to the canons of the Gothick tale as expounded by Walter Scott,"" elaborately lays on just about all the hoary castle/coven trappings and traumas, with a few au courant asides and allusions along the way. Mysterious, charismatic Mr. Appolinax has invited some of his disciples to a gathering at Balgrummo Lodging, a Scottish manse that's haunted--the previous, murdered owner was into Satanism--and guarded by acolytes. The guests, all with sinful pasts, arrive under pseudonyms drawn from T. S. Eliot's poems--appropriate because ""Appolinax"" promises them a ceremony that will supply a transfiguring ""Timeless Moment"" (but an uncensored and ecstatic one as opposed to Eliot's ""cribbed, cabined"" ones). Soon, however, the guests get restless and dubious: unwed mother Marina (with baby son) has dreadful nightmares and visions; Appolinax's drug-supplying major-domo, the wily old Archvicar, spreads skepticism; and hired courier Sweeney attempts to escape but is captured and set to work excavating underneath Balgrummo to locate ""Purgatory""--the ancient ghostly spot where the Timeless-Moment ceremony must be held. Hallucinations ensue, tarot cards are read, candles flicker, and story after story is told--until it becomes clear to all that Appolinax is in fact a warlock whose ""Timeless Moment"" ceremony is really a Black Mass affair. . . with Marina's innocent babe intended as sacrifice. Can they resist the dark forces? Yes, with help from a hearty stranger and a vengeful ghost who slays the cult-leader before he can transfer operations to California (one of Kirk's sly touches). Eschewing all the tasteless excesses that have lately accompanied cult/mystical tales, this will disappoint thrillseekers--it's expansive, heavy on talk, and elegantly tooled--but, on the other hand, fanciers of prose and atmosphere will probably grow impatient with all those weems and warlocks.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1979
Publisher: St. Martin's