Count Karlstein by Philip Pullman (1982)
If the name of Zamiel, the Demon Huntsman, doesn't send shivers down your spine now, it will when you have read this book.
The Demon Huntsman? Well, he usually conducts his business on All Souls' Eve, the day when we are all supposed to pray for the souls of the dead. Zamiel, the Prince of the Mountains, the Demon Huntsman prowls through the great forests on that night in search of his prey. If you ever think you could do with a bit of supernatural intervention to help your worldly ambitions come to fruition, don't strike a bargain with Zamiel ... He'll remember you, and come a-hunting.
Evil Count Karlstein has a bit of a problem, accounting with Zamiel. He struck a bargain ten years ago, and it is payback time now:
'This year,' said Count Karlstein, 'I have to provide a human prey -'
A gasp (oily) from Snivelwurst; a gasp (stifled) from me, and I clung to the little tin candlestick with both hands as I strained to hear what Count Karlstein said next.
'A living human,' he went on, 'or two, complete with soul. Now,' he said briskly, and I heard a chair being pulled across the wooden floor and the creak of the ancient floorboards as the count settled down in it - 'the question, is who shall it be?'
'Ah, yes, a very vexing question, I can well imagine, your grace. Who shall it be? Indeed! A sorrowful task, picking the right merchandise,' said Snivelwurst carefully. He wasn't sure what Karlstein was up to, and he didn't want to say the wrong thing.
'To be sure, Snivelwurst. But in this case there's only one thing for it. It'll have to be my nieces.'
His nieces! Lucy and Charlotte. A nicer pair of girls you wouldn't come across. I don't know what would have become of them if it hadn't been for Hildi. Hildi, you see, happens to be standing quietly round the corner, and hears the terrible plan. What can she do to save the girls?
You'll have to read on for yourself. It's a rip-roaring tale of drama and suspense, suitable for reading under the bedclothes.
What can I read next?
Excellent stuff. I love melodrama. That's when the drama is so completely over the top, it becomes funny. If you enjoy Count Karlstein, you could have a look at this similar story also by Philip Pullman:
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