Unholy Flame

UNHOLY FLAME

Would she find peace or madness behind these orgiastic rites?

Was the high priest, Suliman, saint or devil?

Lissa had to know.

And her only way to truth was a journey through hell.

Prepare yourself for an adventure into the forbidden – as fantastic as it is terrifying.

Fawcett Gold Medal Original. First printing November 1952.

I know, I know. One of these days I will grow clever and wise and will no longer be drawn to books with bylines that read ‘Satan tempted her  - past the point of no return.’  But for now, I am glad that I am! 

Recently widowed when her husband’s plane crashes, our grieving heroine finds herself embroiled in the occult when she attends a séance run by the mysterious Dr Damon Suliman – a sinister mesmerist with a sideline in hosting bacchanalian sex rituals for New York’s high society.

At first Lissa is not too impressed, the phantom claiming to be her husband is just not convincing and anyway, she has since found herself another Air Force man to keep her warm at nights. Wrapped up in her new romance, Lissa decides not to have anything more to do with contacting the dead, but Suliman has other ideas. For he has recognised latent ‘special abilities’ in Lissa he can exploit for his own Machiavellian ends, and he’s not about to let her slip away from him that easily.  

So it’s not long before Lissa is holed up in Suliman’s mansion, learning to read Tarot cards and how to harness her ‘ethereal forces’. Falling ever deeper under Suliman’s spell, Lissa becomes increasingly isolated. (Whether its drugs, hypnotic suggestion or just plain old absent-mindedness, Lissa has by this time completely forgotten she has a new fiance waiting for her on the end of the phone). Then Suliman’s lessons start taking a bizarre turn for the worse, culminating in a horrifyingly blood-curdling ritual that has Lissa fleeing for her life.  But can you ever escape from a man whose powers come direct from Satan himself?

At first glance this may not look like your average gothic romance, but this was the early fifties and I’m not sure whether the gothic romance covers we know and love were around much back then. In any event, Unholy Flame has gothic and romantic elements by the bucket load and I think the publishers missed out by not reprinting this in the seventies with a more typical ‘woman fleeing a doomy mansion’ cover.

As well as romance and intrigue, Unholy Flame is crammed with all sorts of esoteric facts and fancies; Yoga, Tarot, Astral Travel, Scrying, Voodoo, Sex Magick… the intrepid Dr Suliman leaves no stone unturned in his quest for enlightenment. At times there is almost too much detail, threatening to slow down the pace of the story, but the fabulously bizarre black mass towards the end of the book speeds things up again!

Cheiro - inspiration for Suliman?

I wish I knew more about the author. The small scraps of information I’ve gleaned from the internet suggest her life may have been as interesting as her books! The Working Life of Museum of London blog indicates Olga Rosmanith was working as a journalist in 1930’s Hollywood and was acquainted with Cheiro, aka Count Loius Hamon, an Irish astrologer and colourful occult figure of the early 20th Century. According to an excerpt taken from one of Olga’s letters, the Count had a deadline fast approaching for two palmistry books, which she then offered to write for him in exchange for him teaching her ‘his science’ –

‘So I was living in his house (to work at nights) in 1930 and met the people who came there. I met Paul Bern and Jean Harlow together, for they came to him for counsel. I loved her at once, a darling girl and nothing like her screen image of hard-boiled brassiness. Pure acting and very good.’

So Olga Rosmanith was under the tutelage of one of the most famous occultists of the early 20th Century. I guess that’s where the material for the book came from! Anyway, I’m giving Unholy Flame a Love-Haunted 666 stars. Seems like there are quite a few copies of this novel still malingering about on the web, so grab one while you can and enjoy! And if you have any information on Olga Rosmanith or her other works please let me know, I’d love to read more!

The Love of Lucifer

The Letters

Ghosts of the Past

The Mysterious Stranger

Murder…

These were what Nan Sue Carollton found when she returned to the old manor house to find out why her sister Joanne had stopped writing. But Joanne was dead now – the victim of a madman, or a calculating killer? And then, as if history were repeating itself, Nan Sue realized that whatever evil had destroyed Joanne was waiting around the next corner – for her…

Written by Daoma Winston, Lancer books 1970. This edition, first Ace printing April 1976.

Born 1922 Daoma Winston is a prolific writer of gothic romances with strong occult themes and I have previously reviewed one of her books, The Devil’s Daughter HERE.

The Love of Lucifer opens with the heroine, Nan Sue, returning to her family home, the haunted Carollton Manor, after two months away working as a teacher. As she makes her journey through the twilight shrouded Maryland countryside we learn there is very little tying her to this cursed place – both her parents are dead and Carollton Manor has been taken over by Greta James, the dark haired, bony faced lover of Nan Sue’s father, who moved into the Manor soon after Nan Sue’s father had died.

Far from being put off by the rumours of the Carollton Curse, Greta and her family are delighted. Avid believers in the occult and trained as mediums, they soon throw themselves into all sorts of demonic dilly-dallying, making Nan Sue increasingly uncomfortable in her own home and eventually driving her out to find a new life for herself somewhere else.

The only reason Nan Sue is making this journey back is because she is worried about her little sister Joanne – Nan Sue’s only relative who is still being looked after by Greta James. Nan Sue has received some frightening letters from  Joanne, hinting at sinister goings on and she is afraid for her little sister’s safety.

Arriving at Carollton Manor the house seems deserted, the front door open. Following a flicker of light seen under a door at the end of the gloom-ridden hall, Nan Sue finds herself smack bang in the middle of a terrifying séance, her sister Joanne slumped at the table in a trance.

It’s a bad beginning for Nan Sue and it doesn’t get any better. A horrible murder follows which tests Nan Sue’s emotional endurance to the limits. Plagued by nightmares, she finds herself waking up in the local graveyard not knowing how she got there and witnessing all manner of awful apparitions in the middle of the night. It’s not long before she is questioning her sanity, believing herself possessed of evil spirits. Unfortunately, the one person who wants to help her is also the prime suspect for murder…

The Love of Lucifer started out really well, with some great gothic descriptions of creepy séances. The murder, occurring early on in the book, is quite shocking and well written and so sets the scene for an intriguing read. My attention did seem to wander off about half way through – not sure why, but I found it difficult to keep track of the bad guys and they didn’t seem scary enough to me, which made me question why it took so long for them to get their come-uppance.

The cover art is lovely – with a gorgeously detailed wrap around illustration – I haven’t found a name for the artist but I did find a picture of the original artwork HERE.


The Black Dog

A STRANGE AND HORRIFYING DEATH

Lottie Daley, a young teacher interested in psychic lore, was sure that the handsome stranger was the creature of legend, born of a virgin centuries before. The legend whispered that he appeared every twenty-five years, accompanied by the black dog who guarded his mothers grave. Lottie could sense his sinister and hypnotic influence sapping her will and pulling her into the strange world of the psychic occult – toward a strange and horrifying death.

Written by Georgena Goff. First published Belmont productions 1971. This Five Star Paperback published by PBS limited 1973.

More canine confabulations this month courtesy of Five Star Paperbacks. I love my Five Star paperbacks! They can always be relied on to deliver the goods in the gothic-occult-thriller pulp fiction stakes.

Lottie is engaged to be married to Jed, a ‘spook-investigator’ currently writing a book based on a local medium called Holmes and the legend behind the source of  his psychic powers – allegedly dating back through his family for twelve generations.

On meeting Holmes, Lottie finds herself irresistibly attracted to his magnetic charms and mesmeric powers. Turning up at his house one day she finds him seated in an enormous gilded cage, projecting images on to a large television screen and she cannot resist him any longer. The deal is subsequently sealed when they are married by Holmes himself in a solitary midnight ceremony.

Alas, much to Lottie’s chagrin, it is not her body Holmes is lusting after and  for the rest of the book she spends alot of her time listlessly wafting around in a floaty white nightie, weeping hysterically into her pillow. Isolated from Jed  and  trapped in Holmes’ mansion,  the naturally feisty Lottie is unable to do anything for herself; it seems the more she loves Holmes the more she is sapped of her energy.

Meanwhile, Holmes’ behaviour towards his new bride becomes increasingly cruel and bizarre and when Lottie discovers the presence of two emaciated ‘child-women’ moaning in the basement she suspects her life is in danger. Summoning every spare ounce from the last vestiges of her strength, she makes a run for it – only to be met in the woods by a ferocious black beast with red glaring eyes…

Black Dog is an enjoyable read; the writing is a bit  touch-and-go at times but the unashamedly wanton kookiness of the plot more than makes up for that. There’s something for everyone here – strange cults, spooky seances, shapeshifting incubi and an impregnated mad woman imprisoned in the cellar. Five out of five stars – naturally!

An interesting note about the cover. I’ve noticed quite a few gothics seem to recycle the same covers for different novels. Why is that? As you can see, this cover is the exact same one used for the Fawcett Crest edition of Ammie Come Home by Barbara Michaels. The cover art here has a signature (Harry Bennett?) which isn’t visible on the Five Star edition.

And here is a much more evocative and fittingly canine cover for Black Dog.  This mass market paperback is the 1972 Belmont / Tower edition. 

Black Dog

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