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!

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