A Touch of the Witch

She was Melanie Clauseven, of Port Kulshan, Washington, who lived and worked in New York City – OR WAS SHE?

That question was to terrify the beautiful young Melanie, who, called mysteriously to her ancestral home, found it inhabited by a strange old man, a sprite like teenager – and an incredible secret.

What torturing bond held Whip Benedict fast to the elfin Ursula? Was he mad or was she actually a Clauseven  – like Melanie – but from another time and a different order of being?

But mostly, what did Benedict want from Melanie? Then she found out – there was an unknown power deep within her, and it turned an adventurous lark into a living nightmare…………

Written by June Wetherell. Published by Lancer Books 1969.

Melanie Clauseven and her handsome beau, Ward Dana,  have left the hustle of New York behind them for a trip to spooky ol’ New England.  Why? Because Melanie has received a letter. A letter from a stranger telling her she may be heir to a large  manor house situated in the backwoods of Massachusetts and offering her the chance to lay claim to this fortuitous slice of real estate.

However, imagine her disappointment when she eventually arrives at the location of her ancestral home in the hills only to find a rather eerie little shack perched precariously on the edge of  a fast flowing river. To add to the not so great welcome, the host, Mr W (please call me Whip – everyone else does) Benedict is nowhere to be found – instead our intrepid travellers are greeted by a rather strange elfin woman with a necklace of claws, who calls herself Ursula and speaks as if she lives in a time warp.

Mr Benedict eventually arrives and attempts to put his guests at ease,  filling them in on bits of family history and explaining the shack is only an add on to the main house – which lies hidden by the hill and is accessed via a rickety corridor of bits of timber cobbled together by himself (an idea I loved but found difficult to visualise at times).

But right from the start, Melanie is suspicious of his motives and her unease grows with every passing moment she is forced to stay in this creepy house. Things are not made any easier when she is awakened in the middle of the night by a black magic coven, known as the Omegates, hosting an orgy in the abandoned basement right under her bedroom.

The plot gets thicker than custard as Melanie is forced to confront her family’s murky past and the possibility that she too might be a witch. Things build to a violent climax when Melanie’s only ally, her boyfriend Ward, is knocked out by poison and she is left alone to fight against the forces that have led her to this house and into the clutches of the maniacal witchfinder Whipple Benedict.

Overall, I enjoyed this book for all its New England witchiness and sympathetic approach to our heroine’s heritage. There’s plenty to keep you occupied plot wise and lots of nods and winks toward the supernatural side of things. The characters were all fairly well written and the ending – involving a  suspenseful life and death treasure hunt for a mysterious Peruvian talisman – kept me wanting to keep turning the pages. I would have liked to have learnt a little more about those naughty Omegates though. Three out of five stars.


Jamaica Inn

The cold walls of Jamaica Inn smelt of guilt and deceit. Its dark secrets made the very name a byword for terror among honest Cornish folk. Young Mary Yellan found her uncle the apparent leader of strange men who plied a strange trade. But was there more to learn? She remembered the fear in her aunt’s eyes…..

Out on wild, rough moors there were only two people to befriend her – a mysterious parson and an insolent, likeable rogue who broke the law every day of his life.

Written by Daphne du Maurier. First published in 1936 by Victor Gollancz ltd. This edition published by Pan Books 1976.

Set on the wild, windswept moors of Cornwall in the  early 1800’s, Jamaica Inn is a beautifully written gothic romance cast amidst the murderous backdrop of the nineteenth century criminal underworld.

Following the death of her mother and the gradual ruin of their family farm, our heroine, 23 year old Mary Yellan, decides to sell up and leave town to go live with her mother’s sister Aunt Patience. Mary has had little contact with her Aunt over the years, only remembering her as a pretty, smiling woman who had lost contact with the family when she married ten years ago. Now Patience lives with her husband,  Joss Merlyn, the landlord of  Jamaica Inn on Bodmin moor.

Suspense and foreboding literally drip from the pages as we accompany Mary on her rain lashed journey through a desolate November night to  get to the inn.  Right from the start the omens aren’t good and they certainly do not get better.  Once she arrives  Mary is greeted by a barren, unlit husk of a building out of which looms the powerful and  frightening figure of her uncle, Joss Merlyn.  The inn is as bleak inside as out and Mary is dismayed when she finally meets her Aunt – an unrecognisable shadow of her former self, reduced to a nervous, tattered wreck by her vicious, drunken husband.

Well, as a bleak November night unfurls into a bleak and dreary mid-winter, things get stranger and scarier for Mary. Jamaica Inn never seems to be open to the public and only caters to a select band of vagabonds befriended by the bullying  landlord.  Strange noises and furtive comings and goings in the dead of night hint at a darker purpose to this inn and all is soon revealed to Mary by landlord Joss himself when he slips into a drunken stupor, revealing the shocking truth behind his business.

From the moment she set foot in the inn her heart has been telling her to  flee but, determined to do right by her Aunt, Mary decides to stay, perhaps even to bring justice and an end to the practices of her murderous Uncle. But she has to tread carefully as her own life is in peril and early on our canny heroine knows she should trust no-one – not even her Uncle’s brother Jem, a horse thief who steals her heart and swears he has nothing to do with his brother’s dastardly deeds.  And what about Francis Davey, the soft spoken, albino Vicar of Altarnun, who comes to her rescue more than once when she finds herself stranded on the moors. Perhaps Mary has found an ally in him – or has she?

Like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or Donna Tartt’s The Secret History,  Jamaica Inn is one of my favourite winter reads. This is a tale steeped in mystery and suspense which grips the reader right up to the end. And this book is dark – really if you thought your Christmas was looking grim have pity on poor Mary Yellan. The prose is beautiful,  full of atmosphere and brimming with all things gloriously gothic. We have murder, madness, passion and mayhem;  stark landscapes, stormy seas and blood curdlingly horrifying crimes. It’s no surprise that Daphne du Maurier’s works are still in print to this day (though I think I prefer the cover art on my edition!). This is the perfect book to curl up with on a dark winter’s evening. Five out of five stars.

Strange Paradise

Jean Paul Desmond makes a pact with the Devil in an attempt to bring his dead wife back to life.

JEAN PAUL DESMOND is handsome and vigorous. he is one of the world’s richest men and he is desperate. His beloved wife Erica is dead, but he will not let her rest.

JACQUES ELOI DES MONDES could be Jean Paul’s twin. Except Jacques is 250 years old, and dead. Or is he?

Jean Paul and Jacques enter into a pact that unleashes a tide of evil from beyond the grave which threatens to enslave Jean Paul – and all the people around him!

Written by Dorothy Daniels. First Paperback Library Edition December 1969.

Somewhere on a remote island in the Caribbean, accessible only  through a treacherous channel of water, stands Maljardin – a foreboding castle and home to the Des Mondes family for over four hundred years. It is here where we are introduced to the latest in the De Mondes line, Jean Paul Desmond; a modern day Jekyll and Hyde possessed by far more than the desire to bring his dead wife back to life.

Joining Jean Paul are guests Keith Lambert MD, a cardiac surgeon and Diana Thatcher, a secretary from New York. Amidst the ever so romantic backdrop of animal sacrifice and hypnotic drumming,  Keith and Diane meet at a Voodoo ceremony and instantly fall in love.  And just as quickly they are planning to leave the island to ride off  into a beautiful sunset together as soon as they can. There is only one hitch. Diana has to visit Maljardin to collect some papers for her boss in New York. Keith decides to  brave the turbulent waters with her and very soon the young couple find themselves  guests of Jean Paul Desmond and his rather sinister castle.

However getting out of the castle proves rather more difficult than getting in. It appears forces are at work conspiring to keep the not so willing guests trapped. Jean Paul has the body of his beloved dead wife Erica cryogenically preserved in the basement  and the skills of Dr Lambert may be able to assist him in bringing her back. More worryingly, judging by the bodies of young ladies that are being washed up ashore minus their major organs,  Diana herself may required for a fate far, far worse.

Will they or won’t they escape in time? And will Jean Paul himself see reason and fight the evil that is enslaving him? Is there anyone in the castle skilled in magic strong enough to defeat the devilishly deviant Jacques Eloi Des Mondes – a two hundred and fifty year old entity who can possess his ancestor at will? All is soon revealed in this surreal page turning novel that is crammed with all sorts of gothicky goodness.

This is the first in a series of paperbacks based on the television gothic suspense drama, Strange Paradise. I have two other paperbacks in this series – Island of Evil (published April 1970) and Raxl, Voodoo Priestess (published August 1970). Both titles are written by Dorothy Daniels and both centre on the ongoing saga of Jean Paul’s obsessive love for his beautiful dead bride as he struggles between good and evil and the satanic pact made with his long dead ancestor, Jacques Eloi Des Mondes.

For more information on this Canadian soap opera with a difference, check out: http://www.strangeparadise.net/index.html Paperback Library are the publishers behind the books that accompany the Dark Shadows series and though I am a huge Dark Shadows fan, I’ve never had the pleasure of watching any of Strange Paradise. But if these books are anything to go by this is not to be missed viewing! Four out of five stars.