Old House of Fear

by: Russell Kirk
Published by: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007
First published by: Fleet Publishing Company, 1961

This is a strange book, on many levels.

First, there is the author: "Russell Kirk (1918-1994) was an eminent literary and social critic who rose to national prominence in 1953 with the publication of his book The Conservative Mind."

This hardly matches up with the storyline, which is deliciously Gothic romance: lonely Scottish isle, plucky maiden-in-the-tower, ghosties and ghoulies (or at least, there seem to be), a dastardly villain and a dashing hero.

Then there is the time period in which it is written - the early swingin' 60s - as contrasted to the very old-fashioned, almost prudish tone of the book ("Hugh Logan, I have kissed you more times than I have kissed all other men in all my life. Do you mean to ask me to marry you?")

Finally, there is the body of discussion about the book, hinting at a subtle political reality deep within the surface tale. Call me crazy, but I can't, and didn't find it.

Yes, the hero (Hugh Logan) is a lawyer and former combat vet (skill sets that come in very handy when attempting to break a villain's stranglehold on a remote island, by fair means or foul). And the villain is "evil genius Dr. Edmund Jackman, a Soviet-educated political revolutionary convinced that Logan is a spy who must die."

But beyond that, Dr. Jackman is just another garden-variety baddie, and Logan is another stalwart and clever hero.

If the battle of these two men over the fate of the island inhabitants is meant to represent the cold war struggle over the fate of mankind, then Kirk has given unfairly short shrift to the seduction of communism: that the people of the island will side with Mary and Hugh is never in doubt - nor is there ever a question that Mary has simply been biding her time, waiting for her White Knight to arrive. In fact, it was she who sent for him in a mysterious, rumpled missive that gets the whole adventure started.

In spite of not getting the deeper references, I enjoyed this book on its surface level - a good old fashioned Gothic romance, mercifully clear of the interminable and overblown (no pun intended) sex passages of the modern variety.


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