Will-O’-the-Wisp

She was torn between a married man and the lover who haunted her dreams…

When Linda Vaughan is assigned to work in England with her boss, Harvey Seymour, she is, at first, deliriously happy. She is in love with him and for a while has him all to herself.

But when she rents an ancient cottage in Somerset, the deep influence of the cottage’s past impinges on the present.

Then she is promised happiness by the stranger she meets on a journey and from then on Linda struggles between her yearnings for Harvey and the will-o’-the-wisp lover who haunts her dreams.

Written by Derry Moffatt. First NEL paperback edition, July 1974. Cover photograph by Lagarde.

Linda Vaughan has red-gold hair and wears squirrel-fur coats. She lives in Vancouver and works as a PA to Public Accountant Harvey J. Seymour – a man she has been hopelessly in love with for nearly two years. Harvey loves her too and when they are sent away on a business trip to England, they both welcome the chance to continue their illicit affair far from the prying eyes of Harvey’s wife.

However, the hotel they are staying in lacks character and, with so many other work colleagues wandering its corridors at night, it is proving not to be the haven of guilt ‘n’ gossip-free sex they were hoping for. So Linda decides to rent Magpie Cottage, a secluded place full of Olde Worlde charm, located far enough away from work for our amorous couple to enjoy themselves without raising further suspicion.

Soon as the lease is signed, Linda and Harvey move in, settling down to a life of quasi-domestic bliss. And that’s when Linda starts having some very vivid dreams…

The tunnel was long and misty. Linda faltered, fearful and uncertain, then the haze cleared, torn aside like a veil. She was standing in a garden. It was high summer and fluffy white clouds sailed across an azure sky. Fragrant blooms spread a patchwork of colour in the flower beds. Beyond the garden walls soft hills were clad in green and gold … buttercups formed an undulating yellow carpet…

Amongst the shrubberies, his back towards her was a young man. She followed at a distance feeling curiously elated. Slowly the young man walked down a flight of worn steps and along a flag-stoned path between the evergreens to a sunken garden. As if suddenly aware of a presence he stood still, then turned. His wide sea-blue eyes made their way into Linda’s with a long unflinching look. With a start, Linda realised that he alone was aware of her… could actually see her.

For a full minute they gazed in silence at each other. Linda felt her heart hammering against her ribs. Something in the strength and beauty of his features stirred her soul. She opened her mouth to speak but no words came. His vibrating whisper of exultation caught and spun her heart. “My love… at last my love, you have come.”

Hmmm. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking this reads like the perfect gothic romantic threesome – the man, the woman, and her otherworldly lover – but a few pages in and it was clear there was a bit more to this particular mix – not least Harvey’s long suffering wife, Susan, and their two young children.

Now I’m sure I’ve read lots of books full of people embroiled in extra-marital affairs, without thinking anything of it, but here, in the context of what I took to be a fairly straightforward romance, it was a little jarring. And it didn’t help that a large chunk of this novel chronicled Susan’s side of the story in all its soul crushing glory – the pain she endured finding out about the affair, the helplessness of being thousands of miles away from her husband, knowing she couldn’t do anything about it and the struggle she had keeping up a brave face for the sake of her children (one of which was seriously ill and dying in hospital no less).

This made it made it very difficult to empathise with our leading lady Linda, or to care very much about what happened to her and her ghostly lover. True, the ending to her story was suitably romantic and she did get to fall in love with the man of her dreams (literally). But any enjoyment the reader might have derived from this otherworldly romance was completely eclipsed by the wretched reality of Linda’s affair with Harvey and the devastating affect it had on his family

I first read Will-O’-the-Wisp a good few years ago and, even after re-reading it for this blog, I can honestly say I’ve not read a romance – gothic or otherwise – quite like it. And it makes me wonder, just how successful was the New English Library romance series if this was their idea of an example of the genre?

Judging from the signature in my copy, Derina Ridley is a pseudonym for Derry Moffatt. I can’t find out much else about her, except that she also wrote a few Disney movie tie-in books for New English Library in the 1970’s. The Bear Alley Blog states she was married to James Moffatt, the prolific pulp novelist best known for his Richard Allen ‘Skinhead’ books. 

Whether this is the case or not I cannot say but whoever Derry is, he/she has created a gloriously twisted take on the romance genre with Will-O’-the-Wisp. Though if lighthearted escapism is your thing, you’d probably best stick with Wuthering Heights. Four out of five stars.

 

The Rest is Silence

 DEAF, DUMB…AND DEAD?

Nona O’Carty was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It was her first visit to England, and it should have been a festive vacation. She was looking forward with delighted anticipation to the royal wedding procession, and then…

She witnessed a brutal and seemingly senseless murder. At the same time, she was struck by a bullet which left her alive – but totally deaf.

She was completely unable to communicate what she knew – and she was not even sure how much she had actually seen and how much she had imagined. She was terribly, dreadfully alone. And there was no place to run – because now the murderer was stalking her, to ensure her silence… forever.

Written by Virginia Coffman.

Lancer Books 1968. Cover art Lou Marchetti.

Just when I thought I’d seen most of what Virginia Coffman has to offer gothic-wise, along comes another one! Of course Deaf, Mute and Dead would be the more politically appropriate, though far less alliterative, by-line for today’s back blurb, but I guess this was 1968.

I’ve had a quick flick through the first couple of chapters – the heroine, Nona, has a golden ticket for a royal wedding and she has travelled to England on a once in a lifetime trip from her hometown in Ireland. She is staying at the ‘little’ Richmond Hill Hotel, and this made me smile, for when my family first moved to the UK, we actually lived in this hotel for a few months – and I remember it as being very, very big! (Though I was quite little myself at the time and buildings do have a habit of shrinking as you get older).

Anyway, along with Behind Locked Shutters and The Twilight Web, this cover gets filed in the ‘shady-looking men wearing shades’ section of my bookcase.

Escape the Night

With the success of a New York job behind her and a gay lift in her heart, Serena March returned to Monterey to visit her sister. It was to be a short visit, and one full of fun; but, as things turned out, the bottom fell out of her world. The gay and carefree California group of friends she remembered so well, the sharp, dramatic countryside, even her own lovely sister were not and could not be as she remembered them. Something horrible had touched each one; something unclean was suddenly smeared across her brilliant happiness… something as evil as suspicion and as terrible as murder.

Written by Mignon G Eberhart. Bantam Edition Published August 1946. Second printing December 1946. Third printing.

Mignon Good Eberhart (1899-1996) has over sixty novels to her credit; she was awarded the Mystery Writers of America Award in 1971 and at least six of her books have been made into movies. Escape the Night was first published in hardback in 1944 and I started reading it today. It is more of a crime novel than a supernatural thriller but I think this could easily have passed as a gothic in the 60’s – particularly with the original Random House artwork, which features a rather spooky-looking bat on its cover. (And who knows, perhaps there is a Queen Size Gothic or Lancer Easy-Eye version of Escape the Night out there somewhere…)

Drawing from inside the front cover.

Drawing from inside the front cover.

I’ve been meaning to read this book the moment I was given it as a present a few weeks back, having instantly fallen in love with its creepy surrealist cover. Thankfully, a long train journey today has given me the perfect excuse to start.

Here is how it opens:

She knew that something was happening in the house.

The knowledge of it obtruded itself steadily between her and the book in her hands so she read the same lines over and over, not taking in their sense. She was listening so hard that it was as if her eyes and hands and every pore in her body had suddenly developed audient power; but there was nothing to hear. The house was quiet.

Hmmm, I love this beginning and, though I’m not generally into crime as a genre, I’m liking what I’ve read of Escape the Night so far. Mignon Eberhart’s writing is stripped down and punchy, but poetic too, with just enough descriptive prose to keep me happy. Interestingly she has been credited with contributing to the development of the Romantic Suspense genre and more about this, along with some extracts of her writing, can be enjoyed over at The Girl Detective HERE.

… Oooh, I’ve just been informed this is My Love Haunted Heart’s 100th post! Hooray! Now, where’s my prize? ;-)

The Vampire Curse

THE KISS OF DEATH

Teena Halliday, paying an extended visit to Rentlow Retreat, doesn’t want to pose for Jeremy Rentlow, a noted sculptor. There are malicious rumors that he is a vampire, which make Teena uneasy. But Jeremy persists and Teena finally gives in.

Soon after the sittings are underway, Teena begins to feel weak and tired, but Jeremy refuses to let her miss a session. Suddenly Jeremy tells his family of their engagement. Teena does not love him but she does not have the strength to protest. It is as if she has become his prisoner, with no will of her own.

Then Teena notices strange marks on her neck. She dares not ask – are they the marks of a vampire? Is Jeremy’s kiss the kiss of death?

Copyright 1971 Coronet Communications Inc. First Paperback Library Edition January 1971. Cover art Victor Kalin.

Teena Halliday’s mother, the exotic Margaretha, is getting married. Again. She has a six month honeymoon planned in South America with her handsome new beau and there is absolutely no way she can have an eighteen year old daughter in tow. So dear old mum has arranged for Teena to travel four thousand miles across the globe to go stay with distant relatives in New England, and her daughter has just four days notice to pack what she needs and leave the Mediterranean villa she has come to call home.

Teena is devastated by this bombshell, but there is a tiny ray of hope – for her father, whom she hasn’t seen in over twelve years, has written to say he will be meeting her at the airport in Boston.

However, when Teena arrives in Boston her father is nowhere to be found. Instead she is met at the airport by Rory, a family friend of the Rentlows. Rory is tall and handsome, with green eyes and ‘competent’ hands but Teena is too upset by her missing father to notice.

Arriving at Rentlow Retreat, Teena is introduced to her new ‘family’ -  the unwelcoming Aunt June and surly Uncle Charles, her niece, the slightly manic Estrella, who has a massive crush on Rory herself and who is already treating Teena like a competitor for his affections. And then there is cousin Jeremy, the mysterious sculptor – tall and dark with glittering eyes – who has attached himself to the Rentlow family in more ways than one.

Brought up in posh boarding schools in Europe, Teena is not sure what to make of this rag-taggle lot. But, stifling her qualms, she is determined to keep a bright outlook on the situation. Her father must be around here somewhere, and at least she has Scuffy, the cute friendly terrier with whom she can take for long, relaxing walks in the surrounding woods. After all, Teena tells herself as she settles in to her first night at Rentlow Retreat, how bad can things be?

The next day, an ancient mirror falls on her head and Scuffy dies of a strange wasting disease. Things go from bad to worse as Scuffy’s burial gives Jeremy the perfect excuse to show Teena his special pet cemetery at the bottom of the garden. It’s a shadowed place, eerily quiet, dotted with sculptures of the animals buried there, each marble lovingly carved by Jeremy himself…

I allowed him to lead me from statue to statue. Unwillingly, and with a peculiar pounding of my heart, I listened while he told me about each of them, and how he had sculpted them, and how the models had died and been buried.

Jeremy’s voice went on, low, husky, hypnotically gentle, giving me the names, even the biographies, of the pets he had buried there.

And then, suddenly smiling, he said, “I hope you don’t think that I’m showing off, Teena, love. I just wanted you to have a good look. As a homage to what I’ve loved, I suppose. And to see if you think all this a fitting memorial.”

I felt a sudden cold, the silence around us had become painful. But I said, “Off course it is, Jeremy. You do beautiful work.”

Oh dear. Teena is finding Rentlow Retreat a little difficult to adjust to. Her unease increases once Scuffy is buried, for that is when Jeremy turns all his glittery-eyed attention on to her, suggesting she starts to model for him. Teena has a bad feeling about this. A very bad feeling. Hastily making excuses, she does what she can to put him off, but Jeremy’s hypnotic stare and indomitable will are proving all too impossible to resist….

Overall I enjoyed The Vampire Curse – it had vampires, romance, an interesting heroine, and enough spills ‘n’ chills that kept me turning the pages. The gory stuff wouldn’t suit many of today’s readers (well, there wasn’t any gore) but I did like the creepy touches and precarious locations scattered throughout this story –there were mazes to get lost in, cliffs to fall off of and lots of crumbling architecture tumbling down on people’s heads.

Daoma Winston was born in Washington D.C November 1922. I’ve reviewed a couple of her books on this blog – The Love of Lucifer and The Devil’s Daughter and, though her writing can be a little on the light side when it comes to blood and guts horror, I love the unusual settings and macabre twists to her tales.  Four out of five stars.

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