Widow in White

The Defenceless Target Of A Mysterious Intruder

It began on a rainy Saturday afternoon as Margo was entertaining her new neighbours at a small housewarming party. A car ran into one of the trees on her property, and an injured man was soon installed in her guestroom.

But the smashup, Margo soon learned, was no accident. The handsome, ruthless stranger was after something in the house, and nothing – not even Margo herself – was going to stand in his way of getting it.

Copyright 1973 by Morris Hershman. First Avon printing, January 1973. Cover art Walter Popp. (Thanks Ruben!)

The goddess of all gifts second-hand has been very good to me recently, with at least one lovely gothic a day picked up at the local charity shops this week. Monday’s acquisition was the very fair of face Widow in White and oh, how I love this cover!

One thing I’ve noticed about my Avon gothics though – the cover art is usually stunning but the covers are particularly vulnerable to wear and tear. Quite often the artwork is almost completely scuffed off. This one is in very good condition for an Avon gothic – well, for one found on this side of the Atlantic anyway.

Here’s a taster from the inside cover:

Morris Hershman (born 1926) wrote under several pseudonyms, including Sara Roffman, Janet Templeton, Lionel Webb and Jessica Wilcox. And it’s his Evelyn Bond persona that looks to be the most prolific, with at least twenty gothics published in the 60’s and 70’s.

Here’s a short biog on the author, taken from the Browne Popular Culture Library page:

Morris Hershman was born on January 31, 1926. He attended New York University. On September 6, 1969, he married Florence Verbell, a writer and editor, though they are now divorced.

Hershman writes under the pseudonyms: Evelyn Bond, Arnold English, Sara Roffman, Janet Templeton, Sam Victor, Lionel Webb, and Jess Wilcox. He also writes under various other private pseudonyms. A member of the Mystery Writers of America, Morris Hershman resides in New York City.

And some more information, with scans of all his lovely gothics, can be found over at Fantastic Fiction HERE.

Lord Satan

Blood on the Moors

Adrienne is seventeen, beautiful, and loved by Vincent, Lord Satan. She accepts his marriage proposal and begins a new life as mistress of Castle Caudill.

From the moment she enters Castle Caudill, Adrienne is drawn into a world of demonic terror. Does she participate in satanic rituals and black masses or are they only horrifying dreams? Is her husband a witch with great powers at his command? And why does the ghost of Lord Satan’s mother mournfully roam the halls of the castle?

Adrienne is forced to seek the truth, but in the castle shrouded in nightmarish terror she is doomed by the powers she cannot control.

Written by Louisa Bronte. First Avon printing, October 1972.

Lord Satan begins one dreary October day in the year 1815. Adrienne Caudill is seventeen, recently orphaned and about to meet her only remaining relative – her cousin, the wealthy Lord of Castle Caudill aka Vincent Stanton aka Lord Satan.

‘She murmured a phrase to herself, “Arch Angel – ruined -” and looked fascinated at the man. He was like Lucifer himself, she thought, proud, haughty, his cheek scarred in a strange line from left eye to left side of the mouth in an irregular pattern.’

When they meet, Vincent is rather taken with Adrienne’s winsome looks and long blonde curls, not least because she looks uncannily like his dead mother. So he whisks her off to his castle, plies her with sweet meats and heady wine, pats her on the head a lot and starts dressing her in his mother’s clothes. 

 Adrienne is enjoying all this attention, but – as you’d expect from a man who calls himself Lord Satan – life in Castle Caudill is not without some quirks. Though dead, Vincent’s mother still wanders mournfully along the castle’s corridors, her ghost refusing to speak to her son but more than happy to drop in on Adrienne when she is alone, sharing such housekeeping tips as how to keep the tapestries looking lovely. And although Vincent’s father, Roderick Stanton, is very much alive, he seems endowed with strange powers ‘not of this world’ and has a rather annoying habit of popping up out of nowhere smelling strongly of sulphur. Then there is the master of the house himself who, when he isn’t whipping the occasional wayward peasant, likes to disappear into the basement, in order to take part in strange ceremonies involving drinking the blood of young altar girls while surrounded by lots of dancing naked people.

Pocket Books August 1979 edition

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to be carried away by a bit of tall, dark & handsome once in a while – which no doubt is the reason why I read these books in the first place – but if Vincent was my cousin… well, alarm bells would be ringing by now.

Not so Adrienne. She more than willingly accepts his proposal of marriage, not quite realising her marriage ceremony is to be held in the crypt, her mind drugged into a ‘mist of fog and fantasy’ while her husband daubs her in blood and ravishes her, surrounded by yet more dancing naked people.

As Adrienne slowly recovers from her wedding night the penny eventually drops but by then it is too late. So what if her husband is half demon?  She loves him, and besides, she is now carrying his child. So she sets about making herself a proper home in Castle Caudill, doing her best to ignore her beloved’s more unusual eccentricities. But terrible crimes are being committed and Lord Satan is the prime suspect. As more and more young girls are found raped and murdered on the surrounding moors, Adrienne is finding it increasingly difficult to ignore her conscience. Eventually she turns to the local priest for guidance but that’s when her problems really begin…

Janet Louise Roberts was born in Connecticut 1925 and worked as a typist and librarian before becoming a full-time writer in 1978. A prolific Romance novelist, she wrote under three pseudonyms – Janette Radcliffe, Rebecca Danton and Louisa Bronte. As Louisa Bronte she wrote the Greystone series and at least two gothics for the Avon Satanic Gothic series – Her Demon Lover and Lord Satan.

The daughter of a missionary, Ms Roberts used pseudonyms to avoid embarrassing her father and if Lord Satan is typical of her work, I can see why. It appears her treatment of women at the hands of rough, overbearing men has come under some criticism, but if, like me, you can’t help but be suckered in by green-eyed demons dressed in black velvet, mincing around castles shrouded in ‘nightmarish terror’, you are probably far too depraved to care. Four out of five stars. (Minus a point since the cover art makes Adrienne look a bit like a truckdriver in drag).

And in her own words…

‘I have always loved to write, since childhood. There is a deep pleasure in working with words and making them say just what I feel. I find the world unsatisfactory, and in my fiction I try to make things come out the way I want them to, and I love happy endings. My writing is romantic, not realistic.’ Janet Louise Roberts – quoted from Twentieth Century Romance and Gothic Writers, Macmillan publishers, 1982.

Some excellent background information and comments on Janet Louise Roberts can be found over at Mystery*File  HERE.

And another review of Lord Satan can be read and enjoyed over at the Consumed and Judged blog HERE.

To Seek Where Shadows Are

Posed for Death….

Laurie’s fiancé hated the apartment she’d chosen for them to live in when they got married. Steve couldn’t be specific, but something about the old Victorian building really bothered him.

But Laurie loved their future home. As she poked through the old rooms that had once served as an artist’s studio, she discovered a portrait of a lovely but obviously unhappy young girl that had been painted at the end of the last century. The pretty young model fascinated Laurie and she longed to know the reason for the sad expression on the girl’s face. Her curiosity would soon be satisfied – but at the risk of her engagement and, ultimately, her life!

Written by Miriam Benedict. First Avon printing December 1973.

A classic haunted house mystery. Our heroine, Laurie the Librarian, finds herself the new tenant of a old but ‘heaven sent’ apartment in an eerie Victorian house located in the bohemian part of town.

Of course Laurie falls in love with the apartment and can’t wait to start settling in to wedded bliss in her first new home with husband-to-be Steve.

Unfortunately Steve hates the place, won’t set foot in it actually, so for most of the story Laurie is left to renovate and redecorate on her ownsome, assisted by the occasional morale boosting bottle of wine and Chinese take away provided by her neighbour  and best friend, Alex the Artist,  who lives downstairs.

Things soon take a gothic turn for the worse when Laurie  becomes haunted by strange dreams and mysterious goings on that have a story of their own to tell – a tale about a beautiful artist’s model driven to despair by guilt and the  murderous attentions of  the artist’s jilted, jealous fiancée .

Isolated and vulnerable, driven to exhaustion by all her redecorating and stressed by the move, Laurie becomes more and more obsessed and endangered by these nefarious spirits. Bit by bit – and with a lot of help from her friends – she is able to unravel the mystery surrounding the secrets of this house, hopefully laying to rest the unhappy ghosts for good.

This was a fair to middling read in the gothic stakes. There were plenty of spooky happenings, including a sleepwalking, spirit possessed boyfriend with a penchant for past life regression, and a nice background story involving a doomed love affair  /  tragic love triangle from the past.

However, the overall execution of the story was a little inconsistent – this was yet another book that starts out good but gets spoiled by a rushed ending where the characters will say and do anything just to tie up the loose ends in time. As a result, some of the characterisation just did not seem too credible to me and so I found myself losing interest about two thirds of the way through.

On the plus side, there are some well written, genuinely gothicky moments and the cover art is especially beautiful. I love that spooky looking tree poking out from behind the curtain. Three out of five stars.