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.