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Count Karlstein    by Philip Pullman order for
Count Karlstein
by Philip Pullman
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2000 (1998)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Philip Pullman obviously had fun writing this spoof of a gothic horror story. It's just as enjoyable to read, full of suspense, slapstick humor, romance, and characters with wonderful names like Herr Snivelwurst, Sergeant Snitsch and Doctor Cadaverezzi. There are young, endangered orphans, a faithful servant girl, a rather clumsy lost heir, bumbling policemen, an evil Count, a brilliant con man (or is he a Venetian secret agent?) and many more colorful characters. The author tells the story in different voices, but most often in that of young Hildi, a maidservant at Castle Karlstein in 1816 Switzerland.

Of course, it's Hildi who overhears the Count's evil plot, discussed with Snivelwurst, to lock up his two English orphaned nieces in his hunting lodge, as prey for 'the Prince of the Mountains, the Dark Hunter, the Demon Zamiel', with whom he has a longstanding contract. Deciding that this will not do, Hildi helps Lucy and Charlotte to escape the uncle who has 'a temper you'd put down for its own sake if it'd been a dog' and hide in a mountain hut.

There's a capture and an escape, many close calls, a magician's show, a riot or two, and a shooting contest that's a combination of William Tell and Robin Hood, the peashooter adding a strong element of farce. Naturally the villain gets his just deserts, the heir is revealed, couples are united, Zamiel gets to feed, and the good guys get on with their lives and with the 'simple things, ordinary, happy things' that they are due after all the excitement. Count Karlstein is a delightful read for all ages.

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