Place of Shadows

SOMEONE TRAPPED LENNITH FORRESTER IN THE AIRLESS WALL SAFE AT HILLHOUSE, AND IN ONE INSTANT, SHE LEARNED THE MEANING OF TOTAL FEAR!

“You are going to die here,” I heard myself say.

I listened to my own sobs.

So black; all around it was so black. I sank down to the floor.

The Safe was sound proof. Air proof.

Down on the floor I started screaming again, kicking my heels furiously against the metal of the sliding door. Somebody must hear that!

But maybe that “somebody” was the person who had locked me in here…

I can’t get out. Nobody will ever let me out.

“You’re afraid,” I cried out to myself.

Oh yes, I’m afraid. I’m so afraid…

Copyright 1959 by C. Kage Booton.

First Paperback Library printing December 1965.

I wanted to post this to show off the gorgeous cover by George Ziel. This time I know who the artist is because Lynn Munroe  has recently forwarded me a link to a booklist he has compiled on cover art by George Ziel, a concentration camp survivor born Jerzy Zielezinski  in Poland 1914, who died in Connecticut USA in 1982.

Fans of the Paperback Library Gothics, as well as the Dell Mary Roberts Rhinehart covers, will instantly recognise George Ziel’s hauntingly beautiful artwork. Very few of George Ziel’s covers were credited on the published books but Lynn has done some exhaustive research, creating a checklist with an amazing collection of covers by this artist.

The booklist of George Ziel covers can be found here: 

http://lynn-munroe-books.com/list62/George_Ziel-home/Ziel_checklist-home.htm

And a fascinating biog of the artist, including some great background information on Paperback Library gothic cover art, can be found here:

http://lynn-munroe-books.com/list62/GEORGE_ZIEL2.htm

Thanks Lynn!

Undine

Undine was the first Mrs. Cavell, beautiful and strange, with a secret so well-guarded that only her husband and soft-spoken, monstrous brother knew it.

Miranda is the second Mrs. Cavell. She learns to know her rival by a haunting that is to drive her to the limits of fear.

First published 1964 by W.H Allen & Co. This edition published 1965 by Pan Books Ltd.

Reminiscent of Du Maurier’s classic gothic Rebecca, with an added supernatural sting in its tale, Undine is a chilling novel about love and possession; a book where the haunted lives and unquiet secrets of the past toil and trouble under the supposedly calm, quiet surface of the present.

Our leading lady is Miranda , an actress who is a little too good at her job. Continually typecast into roles playing insane, suicidal women, she finds her style of method acting physically and emotionally draining. After a rather harrowing season playing Ophelia, Miranda has had enough and so decides to take some time out from her career to visit her best friend Maud for a relaxing holiday in the countryside.

Things start out good. While out for a swim in the woods, Miranda is reunited with her one true love, Clint Cavell - a man she once shared a passionate one night stand with four years back but to whom fate had cruelly intervened to separate from her, ensuring their paths would not cross again until now. Clint lives in the big house next door and is recently widowed; his wife  – the beautiful Undine - died under mysterious circumstances just over a year ago.  Rather eerily,  Undine and Miranda bear an uncanny resemblance to each other, but this strange co-incidence does little to dampen our new couple’s ardour. Miranda and Clint are ecstatic to be together again and waste no time in getting married. 

Then things start to get really bad, and what should have been the best year of Miranda’s life, very quickly sours into the worst. As soon as they return from their honeymoon, Clint is swamped with work, defending a child murderer in a sensational criminal case, resulting in him becoming increasingly withdrawn from Miranda. Even worse, the house he now shares with his new wife still shivers with the presence of the old, as the spectre of Undine haunts its rooms, refusing to relinquish the husband she loved so much when she was alive. This unquiet ghost of weddings past is hatching a plan which does not bode well for Miranda. Tippy-toeing on eggshells in her own home, isolated and overwhelmed by forces she cannot understand, let alone fight against, it all becomes too much for her and  it’s not long before Miranda is playing the most dangerous role of her life…

Nevertheless, my first feeling of reassurance is gone, and argue with myself as I will I can’t recapture it. For there is a quality in the total silence around me more unnerving than anything I have experienced at Maud’s. Maud’s house is emotionally noisy, its haunting screams for attention, shreds itself to nothingness with its own clamour. Here there is only silence but it is a suspended silence, the silence of a held breath, of a cautiously arrested moment.

No amount of my florid praise can do justice to Undine so I’ll shut up (soon). If you can find this book, read it – the writing is beautiful, the chills wonderfully crafted and subtle. Told alternatively in flashback and from the first person viewpoint of Miranda, Phyllis Brett Young very successfully creates an atmosphere fraught with suspense strung razor tight right to the very end.

Books this shuddersome don’t come without their fair share of gothic accoutrements and Undine is no exception, having not just one big ol’ haunted house in the woods but two, complete with ancient bloodstains and secret hiding spaces.

And, in addition to all the shady characters, strange dreams and inexplicable happenings haunting our heroine, we also have Gerad - Undine’s grieving brother. A beady-eyed, lisping hulk of a man who spends his free time painting the kind of monstrous grotesqueries which would make Richard Upton Pickman proud. With his strange habits and unhealthy fascination for the children next door, Gerad is a wonderfully sinister focal-point for Miranda’s paranoia and inspires some of the most suspenseful scenes in the novel.  

 I couldn’t find out much about Phyllis Brett Young - a once acclaimed Canadian author who wrote at least six books, including the international bestseller, The Torontonians. All her novels were out of print by the time she died in 1996 and it’s a sobering thought that a writer this good, with such an original voice, can so easily slide into obscurity. However there is some good news – a couple of her novels have recently been re-issued-  The Torontonians in 2007 and Psyche in 2008. As for Undine, I doubt any re-issue could beat this gorgeous candlelit cover for gothickness. Five out of five stars.

The Woman Without A Name

Beware, Penelope!

The mysterious madwoman had come to warn her against Sir Jeffrey Wilstoun, master of Holyoak – the arrogantly handsome young man who had brought her to the big, gloomy house to tutor his two strangely precocious little sisters.

If the warning were to be believed, Penelope was employed by a man who would sooner bury a secret – and the one who discovered it – than allow it to be revealed…

Written by Laurence M. Janifer. First Signet printing August 1966.

Ho hum, I really wanted to love this one (gorgeous cover and all) but if I’m honest, Women Without a Name was as fatally flawed as any tragic gothic anti-hero, and not half as much fun to curl up in bed with.

Where to begin? There’s a governess (Penelope) and some children and an isolated house somewhere in the middle of God knows where. So far so good. Then our heroine stumbles upon the Big Scary Mystery – someone is in the attic! But not the mad woman, no, she’s wandering about in the woods, wearing a multicoloured shawl (therefore demonstrating she is hopelessly insane) mumbling about how evil it all is.

Enter our Lord of the Manor, Jeffrey, who takes a mere 50 pages to fall helplessly in love and propose to Penelope. Unfortunately for us, it takes her twice as long to actually go look in the attic to find out what all the fuss is about. Turns out there’s an evil twin (and I usually LOVE evil twins) which somehow proves our hero is not evil and therefore marriageable material. Penelope faints, then wakes up, then decides she wants to get married too. And so we all live happily ever after. Sigh.

I googled the title of this book half expecting to find not very much at all – but it transpires Laurence M. Janifer is a well known SF writer with a career spanning over 50 years. (More information on the author and some reviews can be found HERE.) Hopefully The Woman Without a Name is Laurence M. Janifer’s only gothic. To be fair the writing is ok, it’s just that he took every cliché he could think of before jumbling them all together without really giving much thought to the development or pacing of the story. At 26,000 words it’s an easy afternoon’s reading – but not necessarily an enjoyable one. Two out of five stars.

*STOP PRESS* For some extra information, check out the comments sent in by Ruben below. The artwork is by George Ziel. Ruben has also posted his collection of paperback art on the web, which can be drooled over HERE.

Ruben, thank you for the info and you have some gorgeous artwork (almost!) worth selling my soul for!

The Spiral Staircase

PRESCRIPTION FOR TERROR…

A lonely mansion, with its strangely assorted guests, and its terrible secret…

The silhouette of a murderer, seen at twilight moving ever closer through the ancient elms…

The frantic turnings of a beautiful young girl, as she is sucked down into a whirlpool of shrieking fear.

All in one of the greatest novels of mystery and suspense ever written – a book filled with “astonishing and diabolical shock.”

New York Herald Tribune

Written by Ethel Lina White. Original title: Some Must Watch.

Though it’s been a while since I’ve read this, I remember it as being a bit of a gem.

Our heroine, Helen Capel, works as a maid for the wealthy Lady Warren and family. Her home is an isolated mansion called Summit, set in a large plantation, surrounded by darkened woods and ghoul-like trees. Intelligent, quick-witted and imaginative, Helen’s too poor to go to the movies but finds the odd assortment of characters inhabiting the household more than enough entertainment for her. 

Then things get even more exciting. For there is a serial killer on the loose. One with a predilection for young girls, just like Helen. The murders are becoming more frequent and closer to home.

One stormy night, a woman is found strangled to death just up the road and the Warren family are put on red alert. As the storm draws ever closer, the house is shuttered up and locked down. To protect the family from the killer, it is agreed no-one, but no-one, will be allowed to leave the house that night and no-one will be allowed in. Sounds like a plan – but will it be enough to keep everyone alive till morning?

Ethel Lina White was one of the best known crime writers in Britain and the USA during 1930s and 1940s. First published in 1933 and made into a film in 1946, The Spiral Staircase is beautifully written – the constant slow-creeping suspense combined with deft touches of humour reminded me a lot of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Bat.  Not sure this book is graphic or gory enough for today’s crime fans but if you’re in the mood for an atmospheric, slow-building whodunit, I would recommend this. Four out of five stars.

And a much more in-depth review with another great cover, can be read over at The Rap Sheet. 


Castle Mandragora

I begin my story on my thirty-fourth birthday because a story must begin somewhere, and it was what happened on that day which led me to Castle Mandragora and involved me in an experience so fantastic that I could almost persuade myself now that I dreamt the entire episode, were it not… But I must not start by violating the story-teller’s art. The reason why I know that Castle Mandragora belongs to the realm of reality will not be revealed till the last chapter.

Written by Margaret Durham. Thriller Book Club. Printed by Ebenezer Bayliss and Son Ltd. This hardcover edition 1951.

‘Tis the season for all things topsy-turvy and for inverting the, well, uninverted, so I thought it would be fun to post some artwork featuring a man running from a doom-laden castle for a change.

And what a gorgeous cover! This THRILLER BOOK CLUB edition contains no blurb revealing anything of the story within. At least we can safely guess there’s a castle – there is even a rather nifty map of the place helpfully inserted into the front pages. The opening paragraph (which I quoted above) sounds rather promising too.

I’m guessing the cover artist must be the same Felix Kelly best known for his paintings of country houses. An introduction to a book about his paintings describes the emotional impact of Kelly’s work:

It is this element of strangeness in his work which both fascinates and eludes one… These canvasses, too, are peopled with the past, though there may be no figure in them. Here, someone has just turned away from a half-opened window. There another has just vanished from a balcony. From the round window at the top of a house, an unseen child looks down at the shadows lengthening across the lawn or observes a slender young tree-now ancient and leafless. One is conscious that, at the very moment one looks at the painting-and only at that moment-the people who are there have turned aside, withdrawn from our gaze, stepped out of the picture, leaving behind them an intensely evocative feeling of their presence…  Paintings by Felix Kelly, Falcon Press, U.K. 1946, with an introduction by Herbert Read.

I used to have another one of Margaret Durham’s Thriller Club books – The Devil was Sick. This has one of the greatest gothic covers ever known to woman, with a devil that’s pure Eric Stanton. Lordy only knows where my copy has gone but you can sneak a peak and read a review of the book HERE.

The Ancestor

The Drury House Was Empty, Haunted – and Damned!

But writer Jill Abbott doesn’t mind – at first. The sinister house is the perfect place to do research on her legendary ancestor, Biddy Comfort, who is said to have been a witch.

Jill’s work goes well, especially after she meets and falls in love with Dr. Dick Reeves.

Dramatically, her pleasure ends with the disturbing appearance of her twin sister, Jennifer. They have been estranged for years – ever since the day Jennifer tried to kill her.

Then Jill discovers that her sister is a witch, the reincarnation of Biddy Comfort herself. She is gripped with terror. When Jennifer, in a jeaous rage, decides to use her fatal powers on Dick Reeves, Jill must try to save him- even at the risk of discovering that she too shares her sisters kinship with Satan.

Written by Robin Carol. Paperback Library edition, first printing December 1968. Cover art Jerome Podwil.

The back blurb says it all really. Set amidst the backdrop of a old, haunted mansion, somewhere in the rustic wilderness of Piker’s Bluff, this is the fight between two sisters, one good one bad, for the love, life and soul of one man.

Drury house – built on the edge of a cliff the locals have a strange habit of falling off of – has lain empty for decades but is maintained in reasonable condition by an old family trust fund. Jill Drury is the first sister to return home. She is a writer researching a book about her ancestors.

Not just any old ancestors mind, for Jill is descended from witches – a good witch, Daisy Drury and a bad one, Biddy Comfort. Information on Biddy is relatively easy to find, since the discovery of her journals and an old portrait in the attic, but the life story of Daisy is proving to be a bit more elusive.

Jill isn’t too bothered, she’s loves staying at the old house with her nose buried in mouldy books and family history. She is also enjoying a whirlwind romance with the handsome local doctor, Dick Reeves. Soon they fall madly in love, spending long winter nights curled up by the fireplace, planning their wedding and the rest of their lives together.

Then… just as life couldn’t get any better, it doesn’t. A knock on the door heralds the arrival of Jennifer Drury, Jill’s gorgeous, green-eyed sister who looks uncannily like Biddy. Needless to say she soon proves herself to be just as wicked.

To make matters worse, it transpires that Dr Reeves is the re-incarnation of Biddy Comfort’s very own beloved husband, Amos. Which means Jennifer / Biddy has no intention of allowing Jill to marry him, for she wants the Doctor and Drury house all to herself. To prove her point, Jennifer casts an evil spell, sending Dr Reeves into a feverish fugue that leaves him perilously close to death.

So what can Jill do to save her man? She knows she has the latent ‘witch substance’ in her body inherited from her ancestors, and that this is the only way to fight the vengeful Biddy Comfort, but she also knows that conjuring her latent powers could result in losing her soul…

There is a lot to like about The Ancestors. The back story is quite complicated but nicely told in eerie flashbacks and the author has obviously taken the time to dream up a suitably well drawn, witchy theme, creating a dark gothic mood.

On the down side, the story is narrated by a male character, Dr Dick Reeves, which confused me a little at the start (I’ve not come across many pipe-smoking heroines enjoying a round of golf between appointments) and, since he spends at least a third of the book in a coma,  created problems with the point of view at times.

But the best and most surprising thing about The Ancestor is the ending. By chapter thirteen our villainess has been suitably dispatched and the good Dr Reeves is making a miraculous recovery. I was all geared up for a happy wedding under a glorious sunset when wham! – possession, madness and wild, weird transmogrification ensues. One of the characters ends up locked away in an asylum, while another one’s face starts painfully remoulding itself. I think you can guess where this is heading – seems like you can’t keep a bad witch down after all…

Four out of five stars. (and thanks again Tom!)

Voice of the Dolls

It was a solitary little girl, mimicking with sinister skill the voices of her dolls, that first lured Sarah into the Foster household.

Intrigued by Jennie’s serious nature, she became her governess for the winter and soon found herself inextricably trapped in the stifling atmosphere of intrigue and suspicion that surrounded the family in the big Kensington house – a house already witness to one ‘accidental’ death, which left lingering fears and doubts among its remaining members.

But Sarah, not knowing who to trust and suppressing her mounting terror, is forced to follow the issue through to its sinister conclusion.

Written by Dorothy Eden. This Coronet Edition second impression 1972.

I have already reviewed Voice of the Dolls in an earlier post but I had to share this slightly earlier edition with its all too eerie artwork. If scary, starey dolls didn’t frighten you before, then this cover should change all that. Definitely not a portrait you’d feel comfortable turning your back on!

This creepy gothic was given to me by the lovely Tom. (Thanks Tom!) He co-runs The Yard Vintage & Makers Market in Brighton where he is gatekeeper to that most diabolical machination of misfortune and misery – The Trauma Tombola (the place… where every silver lining… has a cloud…)

Held on the second and fourth Sunday of each month and only a few minutes walk from Brighton station, if you like vintage, you’ll love this market. Mosey on over to our House of Secrets bookstall to say hi, and I might even have a few gothics under the counter to give away! (No promises mind…)

There Came Fear

Night flight from Gibraltar. It opened a new world to the lonely girl – a word in which she saw, for the first time, the glittering promise of romance. If only it could have stayed that way. If only…

Written by Jill Newland. Published by Oracle Library, no. 267.

I came across a lovely looking pile of vintage romance magazines, all going cheap at a jumble sale last week and I couldn’t resist digging out a few of the more gothic-looking ones for a read.

There Came Fear tells the tale of Jean, a young lady returning to London from a visit to her sister in Gibraltar. With no job and no boyfriend, she understandably feels there is not much waiting for her at home. That all changes on the plane when she meets a handsome man called Ian, who claims to be a journalist and a famous ex-opera singer, the incomparable Lucia Fidanza, or plain old Lucy Green to her friends.

Lucy takes a shine to Jean immediately, as does Lucy’s dashing nephew Robin. The future starts looking bright for Jean and she finds herself sharing the comforts of Lucy’s grand old mansion, while being wooed by two men, one of whom makes her feel protected and safe, the other, a dangerous playboy, sends her pulse all a flutter.

Of course the good times can’t last. Lucy is murdered, most probably for the beautiful jewels she rather recklessly keeps lying around the house. Jean is beside herself, both her suitors are prime suspects for the killing but without any more proof, the police are powerless to act further. It is up to Jean to solve this heinous crime and lay her worst fears to rest – but, can she choose the right man?

There’s not much I’ve found out about the Fleetwood Oracle Library line, except that they were printed in England and published each month by Fleetwood publications. The magazines themselves comprise of  a single story, about sixty pages long, with no additional information that I can see about the author or the artist.

Though There Came Fear is more of a standard romance rather than a gothic, I can live in hope I might stumble across some gothic romance magazines one day, or perhaps something along the lines of the penny dreadfuls that were so popular in the 19th Century. Marvel published a series of gothic romance magazines in the mid-seventies but they are quite rare nowadays – some cover scans can be seen over at Stl Cover Galleries. They look  gorgeous!

The Waiting Sands

“I feel so strongly as if everything here was waiting. The house, the shore – and now these sands are waiting.”

Rachel had been waiting, too. Waiting for an end to the nightmare that had already taken two lives and now threatened more. Someone Rachel knew and loved had become a murderer and had turned the handsome old Scottish manse into a place of horror.

But which face, which dear familiar face, was the mask of the killer?

Rachel did not know – yet.

Written by Susan Howatch. First Fawcett Crest printing, February 1975.

Another day, another gorgeous Harry Bennett cover. And another cracking read from Susan Howatch. Set within a remote castle in Scotland, The Waiting Sands tells the tale of six people whose fates become forever intertwined when two of them are murdered at a birthday party.

The story opens with Rachel receiving a letter from an old school friend called Decima, inviting her to Decima’s 21st party at her home in Castle Roshven (renamed Ruthven in later editions?). Situated on an isolated Scottish island surrounded by quicksand, Roshven is a bleak place – accessible only by boat and bereft of modern conveniences like hot running water. But Decima loves her crumbly old home and is more than happy to forgo a few creature comforts in exchange for the peace and quiet Roshven provides her.

Decima’s new husband Charles is not so taken. A scholar, and far too much of an English gent to actually work for a living, he wants Decima to sell the castle so they can travel the world,  living in luxury on the proceeds of the sale.

Not surprisingly this has caused a rift in their relationship, with both partners seeking solace in the arms and hearts of others. Enter siblings Rebecca and Daniel, fellow academics and students of Charles. This dynamic brother / sister duo had popped into Roshven on their way to the Edinburgh Festival and have now ended up living there, since their presence seems to help ‘ease the tension’ (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) between our feuding couple.

Dark & Brooding Ace Edition

To further complicate matters, there is a catch in Decima’s parent’s will. (Isn’t there always? Why are parents so cruel?) Decima is set to inherit Castle Roshven and all its land outright as soon as she reaches twenty one. However if she dies even one minute before then, her husband is the one who ends up with everything. 

So by the time Rachel arrives with best friend Rohan, she is met by a house heaving with paranoia and not so petty jealousy. Decima is sure her dearly beloved is out to kill her — all she need do is survive till Midnight when she officially turns twenty one and she will be free from Charles and his threats forever. Oh if only it was that simple, if only…

Though the premise of this novel is very similar to The Dark Shore, another Susan Howatch book I reviewed earlier on this blog, it still kept me engaged right up to the end. What makes her books so readable is the depth and complexity she manages to bring to her characters and the relationships between them. I tend to get a bit lost with stories told from multiple viewpoints but the voices in this one are all so distinct it wasn’t a problem, in fact it made trying to suss out who the murderer was all the more enjoyable.

I noticed The Waiting Sands got pretty bad reviews on Amazon and I’m not sure why – as well being an enjoyable murder mystery there’s a great gothic setting, with full use being made of the gloomy castle and its surrounding storm-swept coastline. So I’m giving this one a big fat four out of five.

Beelfontaine

When a mysterious benefactor offers to make her his ward, a destitute Sabrina Wilder journeys south to New Orleans, suspicious as she is of this unexplained generosity. She is, at first, delighted with the sensual climate of the city, with its spice-laden trade winds and with the beautiful antebellum mansion at Beelfontaine.

But an ominous thread soon emerges. Why does Abijah Bailey, the handsome family lawyer, accuse her of being an adventuress? And what of the eerie rites of Delzinde, the High Voodoo Priestess? Moreover why are the elegant halls of Beelfontaine hung with corpses that only Sabrina can see? The horror becomes rampant at Mardi Gras, as frenzied mummers drop their masks to reveal themselves as the Devil’s helpers sent to sacrifice Sabrina in a ghastly Satanic ritual!

Written by Saliee O’Brien. This Berkley Medallion Edition, August 1974. Cover art John Duillo.

Oh, I couldn’t resist the back blurb on this one. Either our heroine has found herself enmeshed in an orgiastic quagmire of voodoo and black magic, or someone’s slipped a little something into her Mint Julep and she’s woken up in the middle of a particularly bad acid trip. Whatever her fate, I had to find out and so Beelfontaine went straight to the top of my weekend reading pile.

The story opens on a rain-lashed night in March 1872. Sabrina, accompanied by her little brother Frankie and elderly cousin Massie, are fresh off the steamboat from Salem and standing outside their new home in New Orleans. The last few months have not been kind to this unfortunate trio but help is at hand in the guise of a mysterious benefactor – Pierre Beelfontaine.

Monsieur Beelfontaine has a son but he wants a daughter. Since his wife has died, he needs to find one from someone else’s family, preferably someone descended from witches. He has studied Sabrina’s family tree and is well aware her parents have died, leaving her destitute with a sickly brother desperately in need of medical care. Having apprised himself of Sabrina’s breeding, not to mention her sound mind and beauty, he has decided to offer his home to her as well as a sizeable allowance.

However, on arrival at Beelfontaine Manor, Sabrina is greeted by an unwelcome hulk of a house inhabited by a resentful, vengeful mob – and that’s just the servants. The family all hate her too, in fact no-one, apart from Pierre Beelfontaine and his son Antoine, wants her there and it’s not long before Sabrina finds herself victim to all manor of unfortunate ‘accidents’.

She knows someone is out to kill her but who and why? Curiosity overrides self preservation and so she decides to stay to find out, resignedly putting up with all the voodoo dolls left swinging from her bedroom ceiling, the drugged nightcaps and hateful glances at her fiery red hair. Sooner or later, she tells herself, her unknown enemy will give themselves away.

In the meantime, Pierre Beelfontaine finally reveals the real reason why she is here. He wants her to marry his son and give him a grand-son. His son, Antoine with the mesmerising golden eyes, promptly declares his love for Sabrina before presenting her with a beautiful diamond and pearl necklace – a precious family heirloom known as the Pearls of Beelzebub.

Sabrina is rendered speechless – by both the sudden proposal and the stunning gift. Being a pragmatic lass, she maintains her diplomatic silence while she retires to her room (still wearing the necklace) to weigh up her options.

On the one hand, we have learnt the necklace is cursed – by the blood of the women slain for the beautiful pearls and diamonds that adorn it. But… it is a beautiful necklace. And though marriage to Antoine seems a little hasty, what other prospects has she got? 

Sabrina’s mind is soon made up for her, when she awakes in the dead of night to the sounds of drums and chanting, her little brother Frankie gone from his bed. In desperation (and still wearing the necklace) she runs from the house in the direction of this barbarous cacophony to find herself in the midst of a horrifying Voodoo ritual. Even more terrifying, it looks as if her little brother is next in line to be sacrificed.

Oo-er. It seems our heroine really has found herself enmeshed in an orgiastic quagmire of voodoo and black magic. Before she can scream for Dixie, she is stripped by a congregation of frenzied slaves desperate to spill her pure virgin blood in order to appease their angry gods. Sabrina only just manages to escape, running naked (though still wearing the pearls) and terrified straight into the arms of her husband-to-be Antoine. His response to her dilemma is to insist she marries him right away – marriage into the Beelfontaine family being the only way to guarantee her safety.

By now Sabrina’s had enough of her amber-eyed suitor and his family’s shenanigans. She wants to go home. Now. Back in her bedroom, pretending to be getting dressed for the wedding, she unclasps the necklace and flees, taking her aunt and brother with her. What she doesn’t realise however is that she is running from Beelzebub himself (the necklace was a clue) and that in order for him to return to his rightful place in paradise, he needs to inject his ‘satanic soul’ into a newly sparked embryo through dis-immaculate conception. So with this much at stake, Sabrina’s chances of escape seem less than likely…

Though it sagged a bit in the middle, I rather enjoyed Beelfontaine.  The prose was suitably dramatic, which I loved, adding drive and energy to the story. Beelfontaine is a place where pulses hammer, where ice-hot glowers of hatred smoulder across jalousie-shuttered rooms draped in crimson and black. I particularly liked the passages about the house:

“She could feel the house drawing itself around her, rich as the necklace about her neck, could feel it clasping her bodily. From within itself, from its lowest rooms, through its black heart on the third floor, to the flaming- brain room in which she stood, the house squeezed ever closer, its fiery maw ready to pick from her mind, body and soul her very essence.”

Typical of gothics from this time, the religion of Voodoo gets used and confused alongside Satanism, which doesn’t always work for me, but I can more than forgive Beelfontaine this for its amazing ‘Satan Soul’ plot line and the author’s liberal use of  twisted lusts and demonic pacts. To say just about every character in this book had a complicated love life with a strange tale to tell would be putting things very mildly.

Blood Slave

I couldn’t find out much about Saliee O’Brien, though she is listed on Fantastic Fiction as having written quite a few novels – mostly lust-laden Southern plantation sagas by the looks of things. Her real name was Frankie Lee Janas and  I did find another review of one of her books, with some enlightening comments about her, over at the lovely Bodice Rippers blog HERE

I’m not sure if Saliee O’Brien wrote any more gothics – though The Bride of Gaylord Hall looks and sounds promising – but I hope so as I’d certainly like to read more! Four out of five stars.

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