The Cup of Thanatos

Dr Paul Holton could no longer ignore the facts: the mystery-shrouded Thanatos Society had sprung up from the smouldering ashes of the evil ‘Circle of Ra’ he had once helped to destroy. The name of the Satanic leader was different but Paul recognized the familiar Machiavellian techniques. Once again the insidious Dr. Blackton was pandering to his all-consuming lust for power and world domination.

Suddenly Paul found himself deeply involved for Sarah Wellington, a young and gentle friend, showed signs of drug addiction – and Sarah wore around her neck the distinctive symbol of the Society, named in honor of Thanatos – the ancient God of Death.

Paul had always known he and Dr Blackton would meet again. He knew, too, that one mistake could plunge them all into the Kingdom of Darkness…

Written by Charlotte Hunt (aka  Doris Marjorie Hodges). An Ace Gothic 1968.

The Cup of Thanatos is the second in Charlotte Hunt’s Dr Holton series, where our eponymous hero is once again fighting for freedom and the soul of a beautiful young girl against the villainous Dr Manfred Blackton and his mistress of ceremonies, the gorgeous I-am-so-evil-I-get-my-green-nail-varnish-specially-made-for-me-by-slaves-in-Cairo Madame Zerena.

Having narrowly escaped the clutches of Scotland Yard in the Gilded Sarcophagus, Manfred Blackton and Zerena are lying low in some North American desert, running a ‘nature cure’ sanatorium under the assumed names of Madame Olga and Dr Julius Grafton.

But it’s not long before they find bigger fish to fry when they are visited by Dr Mefferhossen, the leader of a secret satanic cult known as the Thanatos Society. By utilising mass-hypnosis techniques while channelling the ‘Lucifer Force’, they plan to create a new world order. To do this, Dr Mefferhossen needs our two mystic mercenaries to help him beg, borrow or steal the secrets of some of the greatest scientists in the world.

He sends Manfred and Zerena to England – to ‘soften up’ the famous English inventor Algernon Mannering and his psychically gifted daughter, Sarah. Algernon Mannering has invented an apparatus that, when combined with Sarah’s visionary powers, has the potential to pierce the ‘Barrier of the Cosmos’. The Thanatos Society believes this apparatus, combined with the right drugs, holds the key to taking control of the world.

But they have picked on the wrong victims as Sarah is an old friend of Dr Holton. When she gets drawn into the world of shady séances and drug taking rituals, Dr Holton becomes increasingly concerned for her safety. His worse suspicions are confirmed when she disappears and is presumed dead. He makes it his mission to find out what’s happened to her and what follows is an adventure that takes Paul Holton across Europe, culminating in him gate-crashing a Satanic Mass in a devil haunted monastery in the Austrian Alps.

The Cup of Thanatos is another enjoyable occult thriller in the Dr Holton series. Moving away from the first person viewpoint in The Gilded Sarcophagus, I enjoyed it better as more time is given to following the exploits of Dr Manfred Blackton and Zerena – the globe trotting pseudo-Satanists who are more than happy to lend their support to whichever world dominating, fanatical cults come their way.

There’s not much more to ask for if drug-addled, devil worshipping neo-nazis exploring the outer reaches of time-space consciousness is your thing, though I was a little disappointed by the Thanatos Society – for when one of their rituals successfully conjured a genuine supernatural spectre, most of the members ran off in terror! Hmm, not very hard these Satanists. It did however make it a lot easier for Dr Paul Holton to step in and save the day.

The cover art shares the same signature as my previously reviewed Beauty That Must Die but I’ve yet to find out anything about the artist. Four out of five stars.


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The Casebook of Dr Holton

Like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, Dr Paul Holton and Manfred Blackton enjoy a deadly rivalry. Time and again they meet, on different battlegrounds, but the victor’s prize is always the same: a human soul.

In The Gilded Sarcophagus, their first adventure, the life at stake is very precious to Holton. His fiancée, Julie Font, has become a pawn in a dangerous game of mystic power… and the forces of evil are on Blackton’s side.

The struggle resumes in The Cup of Thanatos, the story of Holton’s clash with a society dedicated to worshipping the ancient God of Death. The gripping climax takes place in the most unholy of monasteries, where the sacred and the profane vie for the possession of an innocent young girl.

Written by Charlotte Hunt (aka Doris Marjorie Hodges). The Gilded Sarcophagus copyright Ace Books 1967. The Cup of Thanatos copyright Ace Books 1968.

These are the first two books in Charlotte Hunt’s Dr Holton series. Dr Holton is an eminent English psychiatrist who finds himself pitted against the evil occultist Manfred Blackton and his exotic sidekick, Zerena.

The Gilded Sarcophagus opens with Dr. Paul Holton’s fiancée, Julie, turning to him for help to find her missing twin brother Simon. A suicide note and a large quantity of drugs has been found at his flat but no body. Julie claims a telepathic connection to her twin and is convinced he is still alive. She suspects his disappearance has something to do with a sinister group of people who call themselves the ‘Circle of Ra.’ Their leader, the enigmatic Manfred Blackton, has been spending a lot of time befriending Julie and Simon’s Uncle Rupert and Julie believes his motives are far from innocent.

For Uncle Rupert is a keen occultist and archaeologist recently back  from Egypt and in possession of a priceless ancient artefact known as the Roth Parchment – an Atlantean papyrus with talismanic powers containing references to a secret mine of Uranium, which, if it fell into the wrong hands, could bring destruction to the world. Devastated over the recent death of his wife, Rupert has been attending séances held by the Circle of Ra to try to make contact with her spirit.

Julie is certain Manfred Blackton is merely exploiting her Uncle’s recent bereavement in order to gain access to the secrets of the Roth Parchment  and since Simon had been transcribing this parchment for his uncle when he disappeared, she is sure Manfred Blackton holds the key to her brother’s disappearance. According to Julie, there had been a terrible row during which Simon threatened to expose Dr Blackton for the philandering fake he really is.

So, with the help of his commando-trained cockney manservant and an old school friend at Scotland Yard, Dr Paul Holton attempts to uncover the truth behind Simon’s disappearance. Little by little he is drawn into the shady world of the occult. And when his beloved Julie is kidnapped and held in a trance-like spell only an evil magician can undo, Paul’s powers of self control are tested to breaking point…

Sarcophagus has plenty to please if occult thrillers are your thing. There are  spooky seances, strange rituals, ancient legends, mysterious talismans and a daredevil plot to bring about world domination, contrived by villains as cold and calculating as they come.

What makes this atypical to most gothic romances is that the protagonist, Paul Holton, is… well, a man. Furthermore, he’s a man who starts and ends the novel completely devoted to his fiancée  Julie so there is absolutely no ‘romantic suspense’ involved at all. However he is a very nice man and I will be reviewing his next run-in with the evil Manfred Blackton in the Cup of Thanatos soon.

The cover art is by Raymond Kursar and matches the  flavour of the story perfectly. A more evil looking mage I’ve not seen for a long time…. Four out of five stars.