The Curse of Rathlaw (1968) is at its core an elaborate revenge story with two supernaturally powerful brothers plotting their other worldly vengeance on the Rathlaw family. Fergus Trayle, the elder and more evil of the two brothers, was caught in the act of raping a young woman by some men on a hunting expedition. They bring Trayle (known to the locals as the Hermit of Black Loch) to Sir Alistair Rathlaw, laird and bigwig in this part of Scotland, for punishment. Rathlaw sickened by the Hermit's act resorts to a rather medieval punishment and has Fergus publicly whipped and beaten. Humiliated and enraged by the brutal severity of his punishment Fergus curses Sir Alistair's family and promises that his only son will be the end of the Rathlaw line. Sir Alistair will know the prophecy is approaching fruition with the passing of two omens: 1. Alistair's brother will be struck blind and 2. a kelpie (a water spirit in the form of a horse) will appear in the area of the Rathlaw estate. Following those two events Sir Alistair should be prepared for the worst -- the death of his son. Sir Alistair is frightened enough after the fulfillment of the two omens to seek out the Guardians hoping they will be able to prevent the third and final act in the Hermit's revenge.
|Kelpie statues in Chicago (©2012 Andy Scott)|
The real highlight of the book is the emphasis on Scottish folklore, Celtic superstition and weird occult practices. Among the many included are the Su-Dith, a superhuman dwarf; frequent divination using radiesthesia; and a mute boy who has the uncanny power called "The Horseman's Word" that he uses to summon a water kelpie. The scenes with the boy and his mentally unhinged mother are the best in the book I think. Too bad much of the story is spent on the somewhat tiresome evildoing of Cosmo and Fergus of a kind we've all read of before. Overall, the book is more in line with an action horror movie from the 1960s and has many sequences that will seem all too familiar with anyone well versed in the genre. The finale, especially, brings to mind the occult ritual scenes in The Wicker Man, The Witches, The Devil Rides Out and many, many other horror flicks and stories.
The Guardians series
Dark Ways to Death (1968)
Through the Dark Curtain (1968)
The Curse of Rathlaw (1968)
The Killing Bone (1969)
The Haunting of Alan Mais (1969)
The Vampires of Finistere (1970)