Gothic Romance Artwork

gothicpainting

Can anyone help? Robert has emailed me with a scan of this original painting he’s acquired recently and he is trying to find the book it was used for. There is no signature but there is a number on the back (1524). The seller guessed it might belong to a Lancer publication, perhaps an international edition of one of Deanna Dwyer’s (Dean Koontz) gothics. It’s not one that I recognise but it’s an amazing piece of art and would make a fantastically eerie cover. Any ideas? Please get in touch. And thanks for sharing this gorgeous artwork Robert!

The Web of Evil

Web of Evil closeup

Fear and terror creep into the heart of a lovely young bride as she watches her husband change before her eyes – as she learns the tragic story of that other bride who was so like herself – as she becomes the helpless prey of a strange and relentless hatred. Swiftly the web of evil spreads until its meshes enclose – murder! Strangely enough, it is the murder that drives away the evil – while a twenty-foot wall of water washes away the debris of two almost wrecked lives.

Web of EvilCopyright 1948 by Lucille Emerick. Cover painting by Robert Stanley. 

Dell Publishing Company, printed 1951.

I have completely forgotten when or where I found this gorgeous gem of a book, but it stands out as one of the oldest examples of the classic ‘gothic romance’ cover that I own. Painted by Robert Stanley long before the hey-day of the 60’s & 70′s, when gothic romances were at their most popular, this picture is as sinister and storm-swept as any – with those deep, rich colours and airbrush effect combining to create a lush, dreamy feel that I love.

According to The Book of Paperbacks  written by Piet Schreuders, Robert Stanley often used his wife Rhoda as a model for his covers. My curiosity piqued, I looked up some scans of his work on the internet and she is beautiful! You can see what I mean from this fabulous Flickr gallery HERE

Schreuders’ book also includes a short but informative section devoted to gothic cover art, with a wonderful story from an (un-named) author about the immutability of the gothic cover who says:

“Once, just to see what would happen, I wrote a story set in a suburban ranch house in a densely-populated valley, with every single scene taking place in broad daylight; the heroine was a short-haired redhead who wore jeans throughout the entire book. But when the paperback came out, sure enough, there on the cover was a long-haired blonde in a flowing white dress, haring away from some frightening mansion at the top of a lonely hill in the dead of night!”

Web of Evil back coverThis edition of Web of Evil is one of the Dell Mapbacks – a series of paperbacks printed in the 1940’s to 1950’s, each with a map on the back detailing the scenes where the events of novel took place. Apparently Dell’s sales department hated the idea, finding it unnecessary and non-commercial and the practice was phased out in 1951. Personally I think they’re kind of cute and great for those lazy days when you’re much too hazy-headed to read a book – far better to just stare into the map and make up your own! 

Another feature common to this series is the list of story characters set out in the flyleaf, with brief descriptions of who they are. So in Web of Evil for instance we learn CAROLINE SPRINGER is a shy and pretty girl whose parents drowned in her infancy. Her leading man is JONATHAN WARREN; handsome, self possessed and at 41 he knows what he wants and what he stands for. RED KOVACS is a hot-headed young fire boss, blindly devoted to the cause, with a passionate hatred shining in his eyes, whereas AUNT ELOISE is a delicate and self-effacing woman who, fluttering nervously in the wake of her domineering sister Harriet, is relegated to her room as much as possible. 

Web paperback LGThese cast-lists are common in older romance novels and something I am not so fond of  - overly twee and unnecessarily theatrical, not only do they undermine the story telling before you have even reached the start of Chapter 1, but I prefer to get know the characters in a novel on the writer’s terms, as and when they appear in the story.  

Nevertheless, I love this cover. And with a map that features a cemetery, lilac tree and stables, I think it has all the makings of a very intriguing tale! The Web of Evil was also published by Paperback Library Gothic in 1965. 

Web of Evil

Web of Evil back cover

Climb The Dark Mountain

Climb the dark mountain close up

Dream… Or Nightmare?

Paris! Anita could not believe it. Her every dream had been of the glories of the City of Light, and now, thanks to aunt Emily’s legacy, she was really here.

Anita had one goal: becoming a successful artist. And what better place to study art than in the world capital of art? When Alexis Binaud agreed to accept her as a student, she was ecstatic… but her idol soon proved himself nothing more than a man. And Anita found she had opened the door to a dark secret… and that door was closing, locking her prisoner in a private hell!

Climb the dark mountainCopyright Press Editorial Services.

This edition published by Zenith Publications, London. (No date). 

It’s been awhile since my last post, I know… so thanks to everyone who has stopped by and left comments & emails – I promise to start replying soon! Bear with me as my beleaguered brain relearns its way around WordPress – I have been doing things the old fashioned way these past few months and am slowly refamiliarising myself with the internet.

Having reviewed a couple of Julie Wellsley novels on this site before – House Malign and Chateau of Secrets – I thought Climb the Dark Mountain would be a good book to start the summer off with since it’s been lurking on my to-read pile for ages.

The story starts when Anita Morris inherits some money and uses it to fulfil her long time ambition of becoming an artist. Thanks to a small legacy left to her in her aunt’s will, she now has enough cash to fly to Paris and study under the tutelage of renowned painter Alexis Binaud.

Lancer Edition

Lancer Edition

Montmartre is a long, long way from Maida Vale and everything Anita imagined it would be – all cutting edge glamour crossed with bohemian insouciance. As for Alexis, well, if drinking Pernod and chain-smoking Gitanes didn’t single him out as a genius, his moody charm and ruggedly handsome good looks sure do – so it’s no wonder Anita has fallen helplessly in love by the end of chapter 3.

When Alexis offers her a part time job illustrating a cartoon strip he is creating for a local paper, she jumps at the chance of spending more time with him. There is one slight catch however – for a mysterious fire at the art school means Anita will now be living and working from the artist’s home.

And it’s not just any old house. Alexis lives with his mother in an old French chateau with a dark past. Occupied by the Gestapo during the war, it is a place impregnated with evil, haunted by the ghosts of prisoners of war who were tortured and buried in its dungeons.

As soon as she moves in, Anita knows something is terribly wrong – strange accidents, a sense of being followed, shadowy figures creeping into her bedroom at night… someone wants her dead… and though she can not know for sure, the sinister, skeletal finger of gothic romance is pointing very much in the direction of one troubled artist with mad glittery eyes…

Climb the DM insert

Fast-paced, action-packed, Climb the Dark Mountain was a lot of fun crammed with whole heaps of gothicness – including eerily painted murals with eyes that follow you in the dark, an artist’s incestuous love for his dead sister, Nazis, secret rooms, madness, murder and much, much, more – I really sensed Julie Wellsley must have had a lot of fun writing this one.

But with so much going on, I found the story did get a little convoluted at times – with a confusing subplot about a spy ring or criminal gang that did not make sense to me at all – although that could be because I was far too engrossed with Alexis’ tortured love for his embalmed sibling to take much notice of other such minor fripperies.

Three out of four stars, with bonus points for this lovely cover which could have been painted by Alexis Binaud himself!

Climb the dark mountain

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights is Emily Bronte’s supreme legacy. Indeed, many eminent critics consider it the greatest novel in the English language – a dramatic and imaginative masterpiece.

The scene is the dark windswept Yorkshire moors. The time is the last century. The drama concerns the attempt of Heathcliff, a dark-skinned gypsy waif of passionate and violent nature, to destroy the families of Earnshaw and Linton. The mystical history of Heathcliff’s life after the death of his love, Catherine, is perhaps the most poignant fictional haunting in any European language, and one which lives unforgettably in the memory.

Panther Imperial edition first published April 1961.

I have been away from blogging for a while and thought I’d ease myself gently back into the swing of things with this lovely Panther Edition of Wuthering Heights. Though I haven’t been posting much, that’s not to say I haven’t been reading! So I do hope to have more lovely gothic romance reviews on here soon.

In the meantime, here’s a link to a great blog I stumbled on. Fittingly entitled Bad Reviews of Good Books, it chronicles readers’ honest opinions about some of the greatest classic novels of all time and I found it compulsive reading! Taking a look at what our learned friends from cyber-space have been saying about Wuthering Heights, the comments range from the bizarre:

“The story carries the reader along, but every character is laced with a dramatic flaw (and by dramatic, I mean, it isn’t like a ‘weak man’ could just be weak to his wife; he’s weak in the face of the universal will. A selfish person isn’t just selfish about her daily amount of reading time, or whether her husband goes out whoring or not; she’s selfish about every single thing that comes into contact with her).”

 To the downright ridiculous:

“I read it on the train and, as we RAN SOMEONE OVER, I got eightish hours to read it.”

It certainly is an interesting debate as to whether just reading a book gives you the automatic right to critique someone else’s work and to how informed that opinion might be. Personally, I love reading other people’s reviews, good, bad or ugly but only after I have finished reading the book for myself. 

Anyway, to end with a good review of this great book – here’s what Charlotte Bronte herself had to say about her sister’s novel:

 “Wuthering Heights stands colossal, dark and frowning, half-statue, half-rock. It is Moorish and wild and knotty as a root of heather. Over much there broods ‘a horror of great darkness’; in its storm-heated and electrical atmosphere we seem at times to breathe lightening.”

 

The House of a Thousand Lanterns

THE HOUSE she had dreamed of since childhood…

THE HOUSE where her worst nightmares were about to come true…

THE HOUSE OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS… the spellbinding new novel by Victoria Holt.

Jane Lindsay never dreamed she would be wealthy. Nor that she would fall in love with a man she could not trust. Against the background of 19th century England and Hong Kong, Victoria Holt unfolds the story of a young English woman who finds a strange new world in the HOUSE OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS…

Copyright Victoria Holt 1974. First Fawcett Crest printing July 1975. Cover art Harry Bennett.

I’ve had an email from Jess, who is trying to re-find a favourite gothic romance. She has a vague recollection of the plot but the title eludes her. From her description below, I thought it shared similarities with Victoria Holt’s House of a Thousand Lanterns but I don’t think this is the one.

Here’s what she can remember:

It involved a young girl coming to stay at OR getting involved with a wealthy household in San Francisco. I think I remember specifically either bothers or close cousins and while she originally was attracted to one, she ends up with the other. There is a costume party at one point where she goes as Qwan-Yin, the Chinese goddess, even wearing a wig of blue yarn. I also remember there being some sort of disaster, but cannot recall if it was the great fire or an earthquake. There was definitely an element of horror/mystery though.

Did think I had found it in “The Trembling Hills” by Whitney and ordered an old used copy, but while it had been a book I’d read previously, it was not the one I was looking for.

Any ideas anyone?

 

Witch

‘That house isn’t healthy for the likes of you. You better get out before it’s too late’

As soon as Ellen March saw the house she wanted to buy it. It was her dream home. Even the rumours that it was haunted didn’t discourage her.

The dream home was to be the setting for a whole new happiness… until the dream turned into a nightmare.

The shadow of a woman in the bedroom… the weird white cat… the vicious gossip… was it her imagination, some hideous joke?

Or had the old witch returned from the dead to take possession of the house and of Ellen herself?

Copyright Barbara Michaels 1973.

First British edition published 1975 by Souvenir Press Ltd. This edition published 1977 by Pan Books Ltd.

Since the death of her sister nearly ten years ago, Ellen and her daughter Penny have been living with Ellen’s widowed brother-in-law Jack and his son Phil. But teenager Penny is now flying the nest and Jack is starting a new job somewhere far, far away so Ellen needs to find a home of her own too.  

Enter real estate agent Rose, who tells Ellen of a property new to the market – a cottage built in 1720, set in thirty acres of woodland right on the edge of the Blue Ridge mountains, currently owned by irascible loner Ed Salling, who recently inherited it from his aunt and who is ready to sell at a reasonable price.

The little house is old, isolated and falling apart but for Ellen it is love at first sight. Ed tries to warn her off, with stories of witches, ghosts and small town skulduggery, but nothing he says can dissuade her. So it’s not long before the title deeds are signed and Ellen moves in with her trusty companion – her beloved, very vocal Siamese cat Ishtar.

For now Ellen is in seventh heaven; the cottage is everything she could have wished for. She has peace and quiet, with a long hot summer of learning guitar and watching the birds to look forward to. But when the sun sets on her first day in her brand new home and the dark of the forest settles around her, well that’s when the fun really begins…

She decided to read until the flames died down. The room couldn’t have been more peaceful. Her reading lamp shed a bright circle of light on the book without disturbing the soft gloom of the far corners, and the purring of Ishtar, curled up on the foot of the bed, blended with the sound of the rain. Involved with the adventures of Becky Sharp, Ellen read on.

Then it happened. She dropped the book with a harsh gasp, her hands flying to her throat. Ishtar groaned irritably and turned over, but did not wake. Gradually the thud of Ellen’s heart quieted but she still sat twisted about, staring into the dim corner by the door…

When she turned out the light, there were shadows to spare. They moved and twisted as the flames created them. Ellen lay awake watching them for some time. But none was even remotely like the sharp-edged shape she had seen. It had resembled the figure of a woman, with long, full skirts and flowing hair…

Harper reprint 2008

I reviewed Barbara Michael’s Greygallows a while back on this blog and out of the two, Witch worked far better for me. Set in the here and now (of the 1970’s) with an older, more engaging heroine, this was a fun book with lots of gothic goings on. In addition to the haunting shadow of a dead witch done wrong, there were ghostly cats, evil dogs, a (little) bit of possession and a neighbourhood full of weird witch burning villagers.

Personally I would have preferred to have heard more from Mary – the gypsy witch haunting the cottage who was found hanged in the upstairs bedroom. In fact, the supernatural elements of this story were terrific but became increasingly overshadowed by other, more mundane storylines as the novel progressed. It was also obvious from the get-go who the bad guy was (those slavering, glittery-eyed hounds and that chronic cat allergy were a bit of a clue) and it was a little difficult to take him seriously as a villain since he spent a large portion of the novel in a fit of red-eyed, wheezing fear of felines. Nevertheless, ailurophobic anti-heroes aside, I had a lot of fun with this book. Four out of five stars.


Monks’ Court

Margaret Collier, a young, attractive, recently widowed American girl, stands at her hotel window looking out over London on a sultry night and is inadvertently caught up in the intricacies of a murder that involves distinguished looking, coldly remote Englishman Hugh Vane.

Giving way reluctantly to a compulsive urge to discover the facts of the murder, she seeks out Sir Hugh at his ancestral estate, Monks’ Court, deep in the Shropshire countryside, and once the site of an ancient monastery.

The spell cast by the enigmatic Sir Hugh and by his beautiful and fateful house are Margaret’s undoing. She is enmeshed in events that take a terrifying turn when the threat of a second murder arises. This time, it is her own life that is menaced, and it is seemingly only the ardent devotion and determination of an American newspaperman, Richard Page, that offer her any hope of escape from the net that is tightening around her.

Once again, Katherine Wigmore Eyre has proved herself expert in creating the atmosphere for a plot charged with excitement. Glimpses of London and the English springtime countryside provide an authentic background for her story. In this splendid, fast-moving tale she demonstrates her mastery of the novel of suspense.

Katherine Eyre lives in San Francisco but knows England well. She loves the English countryside, and of London says, “It fascinates me. I can’t stay away.”

Copyright Katherine Wigmore Eyre 1966. Published by Appleton – Century Meredith Press. Jacket painting by Charles Geer.

I bought this lovely first edition hardcover for £1 at the street market yesterday. I’ve reviewed another of Katherine Wigmore Eyre’s gothics, The Sandalwood Fan, last year and I struggled to finish that book due to its slow pace and lack of gothic mood.  Monks’ Court, with its ancestral, ‘fateful’ house and rural setting, certainly sounds a little more promising so maybe I’ll get round to it one day.

Though I’m not such a huge fan of hardcover books, I love it when I find one adorned with a cover sleeve in such good condition. The artist, Charles Geer, has illustrated a number of gothic dust jackets and he has a very distinctive style – especially his gorgeously ruinous and rambling houses. Check out more of his amazing artwork HERE and HERE and HERE.

Another bonus is this lovely photograph of the authoress on the back – that dramatic lighting combined with such a classy pose makes her look every inch the quintessential gothic romance writer!

Stranger in the House

The Sedgwick mansion was hidden in the shadows by ancient elms and maples. And long ago its inhabitants had retreated into secret lives of their own.

But Letty Gaynor was unaware of the family’s mysterious past. And so, innocently, she agreed to visit the dark, foreboding house and to play the part of Chris Sedgwick’s fiancée. But when she began to suspect too much about the living and learned too much about the dead, her role took on new and terrifying dimensions.

Written by Serena Mayfield. Pocket Book edition published December 1972. Cover art Gene Szafran.

Letty Gaynor ‘star of tomorrow’ is a struggling actress living in midtown Manhattan whose life changes dramatically when she is asked a favour by handsome television agent, Chris Sedgwick. He wants her to accompany him on a visit to his family mansion and pretend to be his fiancée. All this in order to appease his rich, dying grandmother, who apparently worries too much about his philandering ways.

Against her better instincts Letty agrees and soon finds herself a houseguest amongst the usual cast of eccentric ne’er-do-well relatives – best of the bunch for me being ‘perky’ Uncle Harry, a pernicious gossip who knows all the Sedgwick’s dirty secrets and has a fondness for long walks in the family cemetery.

It is during one of these walks that Letty discovers there is more to this family – and the marriage-shy agent – than meets the eye, but of course by then, as far as her own life is concerned, it may already be too late…

Stranger in the House is a short, fun, engagingly written gothic. The cover art is by Gene Szafran (11 April 1941 – 8 January 2011), a well known American artist and sculptor who created a lot of striking science fiction covers in the 60’s and 70’s. I’m not sure if he illustrated many gothics but I’d like to see more; I love his bold colour sense and those spooky-effect tombstones.

I do have one slight quibble about this cover – although the heroine in the foreground looks suitably glamorous, I am not so sure about her pursuer. Is he meant to be scary? Or just scared? Bewitched, bothered or bewildered? Maybe all three. Looks to me as if he has just stumbled into the graveyard by accident and is asking for directions to the nearest exit. My other half says he is most likely practising his Morcambe & Wise dance moves. Hmmm. Gothic or gormless? You decide.

Thinking about it, I guess most of the male cover stars on this blog are a little less than magnificent in the scary or sexy stakes and it’s no wonder they’ve been eclipsed by those bare-chested Fabioesque hunks beloved by today’s romance readers. Three out of four stars.

A Stranger in my Grave

What happened to Daisy Harker on Decemeber 2,1955? That was the date she had seen on the tombstone and yet she was still alive. The name on the grave was hers but whose was the body? Regardless of the lives that would be shattered by the truth, her implacable search for a single day in her past leads back through a maelstrom of hatred and remorse to the single catastrophic fact that underlies a lifetime of deception.

Written by Margaret Millar. First published 1960 by Victor Gollancz. Hodder paperback edition 1967.

Cover design Tom Simmonds. Photography Thomas Simmons.

My beloved Daisy: It has been so many years since I have last seen you…

We meet Daisy Harker one bright sunny morning in February as she sits down to breakfast with her husband Jim. At first glance they seem the perfect couple – young, affluent and good looking, enjoying bacon and eggs in their nice house, situated in a nice part of town. But something is wrong. Behind her brittle smiles and perfunctorily answers to her husband’s questions, Daisy’s peace of mind is becoming increasingly disturbed – she is suffering from panic attacks leaving her feeling out of control and helpless, triggered by a vivid dream in which she visited her own grave, the date on the tombstone marking her death as December 2nd 1955.

This letter may never reach you, Daisy. If it doesn’t, I will know why.

The good news is Daisy is still alive and, since it is now 1959, this dream cannot be a presentiment of her death. Even so, she intuitively knows someone or something close to her died that day and this is what holds the key to her increasing anxiety and unhappiness with her life. So, with the help of sceptical bail bondsman / private detective Pinata, she sets out on a journey to rediscover exactly what happened that fateful day in December over four years ago.

Memories are crowding in on me so hard and fast that I can hardly breathe.

I can’t say too much as I don’t want to spoil a cracking story beautifully written by an author with an amazing talent for bringing to life the little things – those seemingly offhand gestures and turns of speech that give away a character’s innermost thoughts and motivations. Suffice to say, this was a compelling mystery right from the start which I was very quickly drawn into.

Shame? – It’s my daily bread. No wonder the flesh is falling off my bones.

Another great thing about the structure of this novel – each chapter is headed by a couple of lines of prose which we gradually learn are extracts from a letter written, but never delivered to, Daisy herself. Who wrote it and why isn’t revealed until the final pages when she at last reads the entire letter- with the reader learning the whole truth behind her disturbing dream at the same time she does.

It’s powerful stuff and though some of the themes in this novel struck me as a little out-moded, the impact and skill of Margaret Millar’s storytelling more than makes up for this. I also love the eerie cover art; not sure if it’s a co-incidence or a typo but the names of the designer and photographer are strikingly similar, which made me wonder if this isn’t in fact the same person?

Anyway, a better review of this novel, along with some great cover scans, can be found over at the Pretty Sinister Books blog HERE.

Gothic Romance Lending Library

She came to a place of mist and menace – where even kisses tasted of terror… Haunted by a love that could not die but now could kill… Mystery lured her to the old castle, Death would show her the way out…

Foreboding mansions, misty moonlight and the moaning wind… There’s not much better than a night in with your favourite gothic romance is there? Well, imagine having a whole library full of them at your fingertips, delivered right to your door, without any of the hassle of having to find that precious extra shelf space!

Sounds like one of my favourite fantasies, but for those of you living in the good ol’ U.S.of A, this dream is a reality. Kristi Lyn Glass, founder of The Gothic Journal, has sent me some great news regarding the Gothic Romance Lending Library – it has now been re-housed and is looking bigger and better than ever.

Gothic Heaven!

Started in August 1996, the Gothic Romance Lending Library (GRLL) is a not for profit service that now contains over 3,400 volumes. That’s right, 3,400 gothics! I’m lucky (or insane) enough to own a few hundred of these books and the thought of owning a whole library full of them sounds like heaven. Even better, you can order up to eight books at one time and can keep them for approximately three months.

Kristi Lyn Glass is the founder of the Gothic Journal, which she started in 1991. The magazine’s purpose was to connect readers with gothic romance novels and their authors and publishers during a period in which publishers were disguising these books as titles in a variety of other genres.

Throughout the 90’s the Gothic Journal was the news and review magazine for readers, writers, and publishers of romantic suspense, romantic mystery, and gothic, supernatural, and woman-in-jeopardy romance novels. Though the final issue was published October / November 1998 the journal has an online presence, with a recently updated website, and continues to remain a great resource for anyone interested in gothic romance. Back issues of the Journal can also be ordered from here.

So for more information, just follow the links below:

Gothic Romance Lending Library

Gothic Journal Newsletter

Kristi is looking for others who share her passion to sign up as ambassadors and spread the word about the library, journal and all things gloriously gothic romantic. Just visit the link above and add your name to the list! And THANK YOU Kristi for all your suspenseful endeavours in keeping the Gothic Romance genre flag flying! Fans like me really appreciate it!

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