This Fritz Leiber novel, published in 1977, seems both of and outside of its time. It appeared after The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and Carrie, three books that reinvigorated the genre, but it reaches back to earlier traditions.
The slim but still overly long novel tells of Franz Westen, a San Francisco resident who catches sight, through his binoculars, of a strange form. After some scene-setting, he sets off to track the creature down. Looking back at his apartment through those same binoculars, he’s startled to see it looking back through Westen’s own window.
What follows is too much occult goofiness and too little plot. Westen reads, and talks, and listens to others, mostly neighbors. Several chapters tell the story of a mysterious man, long dead, and his Polish mistress, who isn’t. The section’s a mishmash of striking imagery, metafiction, and silliness.
The climax, while not scary, is clever and interesting, and Leiber’s prose is often lean and sharp (even if he indulges himself in the occasional Lovecraftian “gibbous”). But there’s simply not enough story, enough danger, or enough of a reason to care.
Souring the book is an obsession with young women and girls, particulary queasy-making when it’s remembered that Westen is in his forties, and Leiber was in his sixties.
Even putting that aside, Cal, Westen’s love interest, is too thinly-drawn: a younger woman attracted to older men; a pal who happens to be a brilliant pianist. With certain hairstyles, Westen reflects, she looks seventeen—far from the only unintentionally scary moment in the book.