Like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, Dr Paul Holton and Manfred Blackton enjoy a deadly rivalry. Time and again they meet, on different battlegrounds, but the victor’s prize is always the same: a human soul.
In The Gilded Sarcophagus, their first adventure, the life at stake is very precious to Holton. His fiancée, Julie Font, has become a pawn in a dangerous game of mystic power… and the forces of evil are on Blackton’s side.
The struggle resumes in The Cup of Thanatos, the story of Holton’s clash with a society dedicated to worshipping the ancient God of Death. The gripping climax takes place in the most unholy of monasteries, where the sacred and the profane vie for the possession of an innocent young girl.
Written by Charlotte Hunt (aka Doris Marjorie Hodges). The Gilded Sarcophagus copyright Ace Books 1967. The Cup of Thanatos copyright Ace Books 1968.
These are the first two books in Charlotte Hunt’s Dr Holton series. Dr Holton is an eminent English psychiatrist who finds himself pitted against the evil occultist Manfred Blackton and his exotic sidekick, Zerena.
The Gilded Sarcophagus opens with Dr. Paul Holton’s fiancée, Julie, turning to him for help to find her missing twin brother Simon. A suicide note and a large quantity of drugs has been found at his flat but no body. Julie claims a telepathic connection to her twin and is convinced he is still alive. She suspects his disappearance has something to do with a sinister group of people who call themselves the ‘Circle of Ra.’ Their leader, the enigmatic Manfred Blackton, has been spending a lot of time befriending Julie and Simon’s Uncle Rupert and Julie believes his motives are far from innocent.
For Uncle Rupert is a keen occultist and archaeologist recently back from Egypt and in possession of a priceless ancient artefact known as the Roth Parchment – an Atlantean papyrus with talismanic powers containing references to a secret mine of Uranium, which, if it fell into the wrong hands, could bring destruction to the world. Devastated over the recent death of his wife, Rupert has been attending séances held by the Circle of Ra to try to make contact with her spirit.
Julie is certain Manfred Blackton is merely exploiting her Uncle’s recent bereavement in order to gain access to the secrets of the Roth Parchment and since Simon had been transcribing this parchment for his uncle when he disappeared, she is sure Manfred Blackton holds the key to her brother’s disappearance. According to Julie, there had been a terrible row during which Simon threatened to expose Dr Blackton for the philandering fake he really is.
So, with the help of his commando-trained cockney manservant and an old school friend at Scotland Yard, Dr Paul Holton attempts to uncover the truth behind Simon’s disappearance. Little by little he is drawn into the shady world of the occult. And when his beloved Julie is kidnapped and held in a trance-like spell only an evil magician can undo, Paul’s powers of self control are tested to breaking point…
Sarcophagus has plenty to please if occult thrillers are your thing. There are spooky seances, strange rituals, ancient legends, mysterious talismans and a daredevil plot to bring about world domination, contrived by villains as cold and calculating as they come.
What makes this atypical to most gothic romances is that the protagonist, Paul Holton, is… well, a man. Furthermore, he’s a man who starts and ends the novel completely devoted to his fiancée Julie so there is absolutely no ‘romantic suspense’ involved at all. However he is a very nice man and I will be reviewing his next run-in with the evil Manfred Blackton in the Cup of Thanatos soon.
The cover art is by Raymond Kursar and matches the flavour of the story perfectly. A more evil looking mage I’ve not seen for a long time…. Four out of five stars.