The Third Woman

The Third Woman closeup

“Something wasn’t quite right about this. Something was very peculiar, indeed. If that was truly a cane making that mute din over her head – what could it be? Who could it be?”

When lovely, young Judith Raleigh is forced to take a position as personal secretary to the handsome but somehow sinister Geoffrey Morehouse, she is drawn into a world of terror and dangerous secrets.

Why was her employer so tormented? And who was the mad but beautiful woman who seemed so intent on harming her? She had to find the answers before it was too late…

The Third WomanFirst published in Great Britain in 1973 by Sphere Books Ltd. Copyright Michael Avallone 1971. Cover art Hector Garrido. (Thanks Ruben!)

Our first woman is the young, the lovely, the financially insecure Judith Raleigh -who finds herself stranded in London without a penny to her name when the theatrical company she works for goes bust. This being 1912, Judith has no qualms about finding work to support herself, so she answers an ad to work as a secretary for a prominent historian who resides at the illustrious sounding 77 Chelsea South.

Arriving one godless evening for her interview, Judith is greeted by a fog enshrouded gloom teeming with unspeakable terrors; howling dogs, flitting shadows and sinister, masked faces all conspire to make her first impression of number 77 a terrifying one. For Judith it is all too much and she faints on the threshold just as her prospective boss opens the door.

Enter Geoffrey Morehouse esq. He’s tall, strangely striking and with a touch of the night about him. His first impressions of Judith aren’t too favourable but he hires her on the spot, despite the fact she has no job references and has a habit of passing out at interviews.

Geoffrey is keen to get on with his book first thing in the morning, insisting there’s no need for Judith to leave the house that night. Leading Judith to her new tapioca-coloured quarters, he is considerate enough to supply her with a fresh set of feminine bed-wear and other such ‘unmentionables’ – explaining he can send someone out to collect her belongings later. 

Judith gets ready for bed. Her room is nice, her new silk undergarments even nicer – for not only are they lovely and expensive, they are a perfect fit. (A note to all you Gothic ladies-in-waiting out there – despite being a frequent occurrence in this genre, when your leading man starts dressing you in his wife’s / girlfriend’s / sister’s clothes it is NEVER a good sign, especially when they fit perfectly). We soon find out these garments belong to Geoffrey’s spouse.

Cue woman number two, Geoffrey’s disabled wife Olivia, who walks with a cane, lives in the attic and never ventures down to the lower floors without assistance. Judith is at first a little scared of ol’ Livvy but, apart from the annoyingly persistent thump- thumping of her cane, Olivia does little to get in the way of Judith’s budding romance with her new employer.

The Third Woman xtra closeupNot so woman number three. For the more Judith finds herself falling in love with Geoffrey, the more she is tormented by strange dreams and terrifying experiences. A ghost or not a ghost? That is the question Judith finds herself asking as her nights become evermore filled with fear. Someone else is living at number 77, someone who rocks its walls with tortured moans and wailing sighs. Someone who wants Judith Raleigh dead. As this story reaches its infernal climax, it transpires Geoffrey Morehouse is more than a man with strange nocturnal habits, he is also a man with deadly secrets….

The Third Woman is an exuberantly written, wonderfully insane novel with a plot that doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny but is great fun to read. Imagine your boss handing you a copy of Jane Eyre then giving you half an hour or so to come up with something similar. Not surprising then to find out Jean-Anne De Pre is a pseudonym for the supernaturally prolific Michael Avallone – who wrote at least a zillion novels in just about every genre imaginable.

Aside from the very lovely artwork on this Sphere edition, there is also a rather nice dedication on the inside cover that reads:

This book is for Anna Mary Wells – a very dear preceptor of my own.

Preceptor…. an interesting choice of word (ashamed to say I had to look it up!). I’m guessing this is the same Anna Mary Wells whose book is reviewed over at the ever-informative Pretty Sinister Books blog.

And there’s a great article chronicling Michael Avallone’s career on The Thrilling Detective website.  It’s peppered with hilarious anecdotes, my favourite being Mr Avallone’s love of puns, as evidenced by such titles as The Cunning Linguist, Turn the Other Sheik and The Alarming Clock!

The Third Woman gets three out of four stars – with extra marks given for the incredibly inventive, karmic twist in the tale utilising the disastrous maiden voyage of the Titanic in order to meter out justice where justice was due.

The Third Woman

Dark Dowry

ORNAMENT OF EVIL

The black pearl necklace – young, beautiful, enigmatic India Stuart-Brice gazed at it with mingled awe and foreboding. This fabulous treasure was her sole legacy from the aristocratic father whose death had shattered her sheltered life in British Calcutta- and sent her halfway round the globe to relatives she did not know and a fate shrouded in fearful mystery.

Desperately India clung to her precious pearls – even when she discovered their price in peril. Their uncanny beauty was no blessing but a curse that poisoned love and threatened life itself… as East meets West in a climax of horror…

THE BLACK PEARL SERIES

Is the masterpiece of supreme gothic story teller Willo Davis Roberts. You’ll want to read each complete novel of this enthralling epic of romance and suspense, all in Popular Library editions.

Written by Willo Davies Roberts. Published by Popular Library, a unit of CBS Publications. May 1978.

Descended from aristocracy but exiled from England under mysterious circumstances, widower Judson Stuart-Brice is enjoying a cloistered existence, safe in the enclave of his Calcutta mansion and far from the biting gossip of London’s High Society.

All this changes after his brutal murder, when he is shot down in an alley in what first appears to be a motiveless crime.

Now it’s up to India, as the eldest daughter, to do right by her family. Named after the country she grew up in, we meet India as she is sailing to Monterey with her three younger siblings in tow. Orphaned and penniless, they are off to the Golden State in order to throw themselves at the mercy of some distant relatives.  For their father has left them nothing – nothing that is except for Black Pearl necklace hidden under the folds of India’s skirts.

Ahh, them pearls, them pearls…the rarest of them all and a dark dowry indeed; perfectly matched, each a deep iridescent grey, they were once the property of a heartbroken maharajah, who disposed of them when his sweetheart died before she ever had the chance to wear them.

And, before his untimely death, India’s father has handed them down to his daughter, with the sage advice that she should use them as a means to maximise her chances in attracting a suitable husband. He doesn’t disclose exactly how they came into his possession but he does live long enough to reassure her their unhappy past in no way makes them unlucky or cursed.

Well, that was his opinion. India soon begins to suspect otherwise and it’s not long before all manner of accidents, intrigues and incidents start to plague her – stolen luggage, bolting stallions, deadly spiders hiding out in her underwear drawer –her new  life in California is turning out very precarious indeed. Someone is after her precious pearls, and worse, the finger of suspicion is pointing directly towards her handsome new beau, Nathan Peltier.

With a bodice-busting total of eight novels to its name, Willo Davis Roberts’ Black Pearl Series seems like the perfect gothic saga to lose myself in during these long, long rainy days of spring and I’ve been looking forward to making a start on this for a while now.

 As an introduction to this ‘enthralling epic of romance and suspense’ Dark Dowry was an enjoyable enough read, though a little on the light side. There was plenty of romance, a little bit of suspense but, disappointingly, no ghosts or ghouls lurking in the shadows of its pages, despite all the promising talk hinting at demonic deeds, embraces of evil, and honeymoons in hell.

Hopefully this will change as the saga continues and I plan to revisit The Black Pearl Series soon. In the meantime, here’s a taster of instalment number two – The Cade Curse.

THRESHOLD OF TERROR

The fabulous black pearl necklace was blood-warm around beautiful Carolyn Stuart-Brice’s throat, but icy fear filled her heart as she stood before the altar with the man she knew only as Jack Cade. This handsome, iron-willed stranger had swept her off her feet, brushed aside her protests, and compelled her to say yes to his startling marriage proposal.

The cover art to this one is by Hector Garrido. The original artwork, as well as some more of his covers, can be seen on a wonderful flickr gallery devoted to his art: HERE.

The Medea Legend

“Trust no one,”

Aunt Hester tells sensitive Medea when she is called to Margrave House by her mysterious guardian. Once there, Medea’s clairvoyant visions intensify, plunging her into a nightmare of murder, pagan sacrifice, family tragedy, and a psychic battle waged from beyond the grave. Only the power of love can save the young girl from the evils recounted in THE MEDEA LEGEND.

Can Medea resist her shameful destiny – or must the Satanic bargain be fulfilled?

Written by Elizabeth York. This Pocket Book edition published October 1975. Cover art Hector Garrido.

Set in the days of curricles and carpetbags, Anne Carlson is just your normal, high society orphan, living with her Aunt in Bath. Until that is, she turns seventeen, when she is beset by strange visions triggered by an unusual silver bracelet hidden amongst her mother’s jewellery.

Soon after the visions start, a mysterious, handsome stranger makes his appearance. He introduces himself as Leo Courtney aka Viscount Margrave, Anne’s benefactor and guardian of her parent’s money until she comes of age. And he has travelled to Bath to take Anne back to her ancestral home in Norfolk, where she can learn more about her heritage and running the family estate.

Anne is intrigued but her Aunt is appalled – particularly when he informs Anne her real name is Medea, and that her Aunt was only bringing her up as Anne because Medea is too ‘pagan’ a name for high society in Bath.

Medea (as Anne is now called) is desperate to learn more about the strange deaths of her parents and curious about her stately home, so her Aunt reluctantly agrees to accompany her to Norfolk with Lord Margrave and his faithful steward. On the way, they stop by Stonehenge and Medea has another of her fearful visions. This time she is transported back in time and is witness to a horrifying ritual where a young girl is sacrificed.

Things don’t get any better when Medea reaches Margrave House. Her nightmarish visions are becoming increasingly vivid and horrifying. Then young girls from the local village start disappearing, only to be found hideously murdered with their throats cut. The villagers all suspect witchcraft and Medea is horrified to learn Lord Margrave agrees.

In desperation she confides to Lord Margrave about her own premonitions, half expecting him to laugh off or even worse, dismiss her experiences as the product of an over excited imagination. Instead he takes her into his inner sanctum – a secret chamber of prayer and meditation. Here he informs her that he is a member of The Brotherhood, an occult society formed to fight the forces of evil. He explains to Medea that her mother, Diana, was a powerful witch who was channelling the forces of evil using Black Magic rituals. Worse still, he believes Medea may be in danger from possession by her mother’s spirit. So he has brought her to Margrave House to train Medea to control her psychic powers in order to fight this evil and use her gift for good.

After a bit of soothsaying, he takes Medea in his arms and proposes to her, insisting they marry within the week, exclaiming their love will be the most powerful weapon against these malignant forces.   

“Will you have me, Medea? I’m old enough to be your father. I’m an odd fish, with no desire for the fashionable life of Mayfair. Certainly I’ll wish to show you off, but I’ll offer no marriage of convenience. I’ll insist you come to the marriage bed, and I’m a jealous man. Though I’ll allow you the need for the entertainments of youth, I’ll take a switch to you if you try to take a lover. Could you be Lady Margrave and live pleasantly with a student of the occult for your husband and not fear him?”

Medea is ecstatic and in no way suspicious at the rush. Everything seems to be going hunky-dory until the wedding gown arrives – for it is not the one she has ordered but is identical to the one worn by the priestess in her visions. Fleeing for her life, Medea almost makes it out of town. Almost. One minute she is in the local inn, stopping off for a swift half before continuing her escape, the next she has woken up in a crypt, dressed in ceremonial robes while around her familiar faces are preparing for her baptism into the forces of Satan….

I won’t give away the ending but it is suitable suspenseful and romantic and I was mightily impressed with The Medea Legend. The story starts a little slow and some of the dialogue is annoyingly cumbersome in its Olde Worldeness, but there is plenty to please in the occult department with a fine back-story involving Medea’s evil witchy mother. Four out of five stars.

 

The Bat

TERROR WAS MASTER OF THE MANOR…

When lovely Dale Ogden came to the isolated Van Gorder manor to act as companion to the strange and eccentric woman who ruled the household with a grip of iron, she little suspected the turn her unshadowed life would take. Why was there chill fear in the eyes of everyone she met, from the faithful family retainers to the haunted man for whom she felt so dangerous an attraction? What secret horror past and present did the twisted corridors and windswept countryside conceal? And why, suddenly, inexplicably did she feel herself marked as a victim?

Written by Mary Roberts Rinehart. New Dell Edition First Printing 1969.

The story takes place in a large, isolated country house recently rented by an  elderly, adventure-loving patrician called Cornelia Van Gorder, who is accompanied by her beautiful young niece Dale Ogden.

But this is no idyllic summer retreat. There is a masked criminal stalking the streets –  robbing the rich he strikes soundlessly in the night, vanishing into thin air while leaving a trail of dead police and even deader millionaires in his wake.

Get him – get him – get him! From a thousand sources now the clamor arose – press, police and public alike crying out for the capture of the master criminal of a century – lost voices hounding a spectre down the alleyways of the wind.

Cornelia has been following the exploits of this masked marauder and it has not escaped her attention that three of the Bat’s most recent crimes have been committed within a mere twenty miles of very house she is currently staying in.

Cover from Cover Browser

Soon enough all manner of strange comings and goings start scaring off the staff, leaving the indomitable Ms. Cordelia faced with a long restless night in her house full of  horror. Throw in a secret room, a murder, a cache of hidden money, not to mention the forbidden romance between her young niece and the new ‘gardener’ – who incidentally believes Urticaria is a new hybrid of rhubarb – and the night proves to be an eventful one.

Get whom, in God’s name – get what? Beast, man or devil? A spectre – a flying shadow – the shadow of the Bat.

Originally written as a play in 1926, The Bat has a real old-fashioned murder mystery feel to it. There are moments of real suspense, mixed with some genuinely funny dialogue and though I wouldn’t describe it as gothic,  it’s still worth a read. The gorgeously whimsical cover is by Hector Garrido. Three out of five stars.

To watch the silent film version – click HERE.