Van Vogt was known as the master of the "re-complicated" story, often winding twenty or more different plot threads together in an intricate weave, and often writing each segment of plot in about 1000 word increments. This trait is quite obvious within this rather short work, which today would normally be classed as a novella, not a full-fledged novel.
And that may the major problem with this work - it's just too short, and things that could use a lot more description and build-up just don't get it. The work's basic concept is of an extremely old house in southern California that confers on its resident's immortality. Structured somewhat like many mystery/crime thrillers, the plot follows Allison Stephens, a lawyer who has as one of his accounts the responsibility for the estate attached to this old house, as he works his way through murders, cults, mask-wearing people, and love affairs till he finally comes to the realization of just what is really going on with this house and its owners/inhabitants. All the incidents happen pell-mell as is typical for van Vogt, and this does make for quick reading, but it also leaves out the atmosphere, the other-worldliness, of the situation. Given the age and long history of this house, a much more detailed exposition of its past and its inhabitants would have helped greatly in this regard. As it is, there just aren't enough emotional gripping points to make the reader really care either about Stephens or the house.
Another mild annoyance was that Stephens is described as a lawyer, but the actions he takes don't fit a person of that profession, but rather that of a detective, in the mold of Mike Hammer or some of the other hard-boiled types that spotted the literary landscape during the fifties, a character type that van Vogt was clearly trying to emulate, though he is only mildly successful at it.
There is some dating to this book, written in 1950, just at the start of the 'atomic age', and there is some speculation about transuranic elements and how atomic wars might be waged that reads very quaintly today, which does form a fairly significant sub-plot to this work, but the book is not greatly marred by this. The prose is definitely of fifties pulp magazine flavor, though he does avoid the worst excesses of that 'style'.
Far from van Vogt's best, but it still makes for a quick beach read.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)