Stranger in the House

The Sedgwick mansion was hidden in the shadows by ancient elms and maples. And long ago its inhabitants had retreated into secret lives of their own.

But Letty Gaynor was unaware of the family’s mysterious past. And so, innocently, she agreed to visit the dark, foreboding house and to play the part of Chris Sedgwick’s fiancée. But when she began to suspect too much about the living and learned too much about the dead, her role took on new and terrifying dimensions.

Written by Serena Mayfield. Pocket Book edition published December 1972. Cover art Gene Szafran.

Letty Gaynor ‘star of tomorrow’ is a struggling actress living in midtown Manhattan whose life changes dramatically when she is asked a favour by handsome television agent, Chris Sedgwick. He wants her to accompany him on a visit to his family mansion and pretend to be his fiancée. All this in order to appease his rich, dying grandmother, who apparently worries too much about his philandering ways.

Against her better instincts Letty agrees and soon finds herself a houseguest amongst the usual cast of eccentric ne’er-do-well relatives – best of the bunch for me being ‘perky’ Uncle Harry, a pernicious gossip who knows all the Sedgwick’s dirty secrets and has a fondness for long walks in the family cemetery.

It is during one of these walks that Letty discovers there is more to this family – and the marriage-shy agent – than meets the eye, but of course by then, as far as her own life is concerned, it may already be too late…

Stranger in the House is a short, fun, engagingly written gothic. The cover art is by Gene Szafran (11 April 1941 – 8 January 2011), a well known American artist and sculptor who created a lot of striking science fiction covers in the 60’s and 70’s. I’m not sure if he illustrated many gothics but I’d like to see more; I love his bold colour sense and those spooky-effect tombstones.

I do have one slight quibble about this cover – although the heroine in the foreground looks suitably glamorous, I am not so sure about her pursuer. Is he meant to be scary? Or just scared? Bewitched, bothered or bewildered? Maybe all three. Looks to me as if he has just stumbled into the graveyard by accident and is asking for directions to the nearest exit. My other half says he is most likely practising his Morcambe & Wise dance moves. Hmmm. Gothic or gormless? You decide.

Thinking about it, I guess most of the male cover stars on this blog are a little less than magnificent in the scary or sexy stakes and it’s no wonder they’ve been eclipsed by those bare-chested Fabioesque hunks beloved by today’s romance readers. Three out of four stars.

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