The Ancestor

The Drury House Was Empty, Haunted – and Damned!

But writer Jill Abbott doesn’t mind – at first. The sinister house is the perfect place to do research on her legendary ancestor, Biddy Comfort, who is said to have been a witch.

Jill’s work goes well, especially after she meets and falls in love with Dr. Dick Reeves.

Dramatically, her pleasure ends with the disturbing appearance of her twin sister, Jennifer. They have been estranged for years – ever since the day Jennifer tried to kill her.

Then Jill discovers that her sister is a witch, the reincarnation of Biddy Comfort herself. She is gripped with terror. When Jennifer, in a jeaous rage, decides to use her fatal powers on Dick Reeves, Jill must try to save him- even at the risk of discovering that she too shares her sisters kinship with Satan.

Written by Robin Carol. Paperback Library edition, first printing December 1968. Cover art Jerome Podwil.

The back blurb says it all really. Set amidst the backdrop of a old, haunted mansion, somewhere in the rustic wilderness of Piker’s Bluff, this is the fight between two sisters, one good one bad, for the love, life and soul of one man.

Drury house – built on the edge of a cliff the locals have a strange habit of falling off of – has lain empty for decades but is maintained in reasonable condition by an old family trust fund. Jill Drury is the first sister to return home. She is a writer researching a book about her ancestors.

Not just any old ancestors mind, for Jill is descended from witches – a good witch, Daisy Drury and a bad one, Biddy Comfort. Information on Biddy is relatively easy to find, since the discovery of her journals and an old portrait in the attic, but the life story of Daisy is proving to be a bit more elusive.

Jill isn’t too bothered, she’s loves staying at the old house with her nose buried in mouldy books and family history. She is also enjoying a whirlwind romance with the handsome local doctor, Dick Reeves. Soon they fall madly in love, spending long winter nights curled up by the fireplace, planning their wedding and the rest of their lives together.

Then… just as life couldn’t get any better, it doesn’t. A knock on the door heralds the arrival of Jennifer Drury, Jill’s gorgeous, green-eyed sister who looks uncannily like Biddy. Needless to say she soon proves herself to be just as wicked.

To make matters worse, it transpires that Dr Reeves is the re-incarnation of Biddy Comfort’s very own beloved husband, Amos. Which means Jennifer / Biddy has no intention of allowing Jill to marry him, for she wants the Doctor and Drury house all to herself. To prove her point, Jennifer casts an evil spell, sending Dr Reeves into a feverish fugue that leaves him perilously close to death.

So what can Jill do to save her man? She knows she has the latent ‘witch substance’ in her body inherited from her ancestors, and that this is the only way to fight the vengeful Biddy Comfort, but she also knows that conjuring her latent powers could result in losing her soul…

There is a lot to like about The Ancestors. The back story is quite complicated but nicely told in eerie flashbacks and the author has obviously taken the time to dream up a suitably well drawn, witchy theme, creating a dark gothic mood.

On the down side, the story is narrated by a male character, Dr Dick Reeves, which confused me a little at the start (I’ve not come across many pipe-smoking heroines enjoying a round of golf between appointments) and, since he spends at least a third of the book in a coma,  created problems with the point of view at times.

But the best and most surprising thing about The Ancestor is the ending. By chapter thirteen our villainess has been suitably dispatched and the good Dr Reeves is making a miraculous recovery. I was all geared up for a happy wedding under a glorious sunset when wham! – possession, madness and wild, weird transmogrification ensues. One of the characters ends up locked away in an asylum, while another one’s face starts painfully remoulding itself. I think you can guess where this is heading – seems like you can’t keep a bad witch down after all…

Four out of five stars. (and thanks again Tom!)

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The Lady of Arlac

“FROM THIS DAY FORTH,” THE ELDEST BERTRAN SAID, “OUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE CURSED FOR TONIGHT’S DEED.”

The legend of the theft of a great church treasure by the Bertrans and its resulting curse – on the Bertrans and the village – persisted through the centuries.

No-one ever discovered the stolen treasure. As the fortunes of the village declined, the Castle of Arlac stood as a grim reminder to the country folk, whose loathing for anyone bearing the name of Bertran seethed like a rumbling volcano.

In 1892 this hatred hung like a sword over the innocent head of Maxine Bertran. She came from England to Arlac as its new mistress, ignorant of her ancestors’ deeds and unaware of the terrible fate awaiting her….

Written by Sandra Shulman. This Paperback Library Edition, first printing April 1969.

I picked this up in a local charity shop the other day and wanted to show-off the wonderful cover by Jerome Podwil.

Maxine Bertran has been living in England with her mother and has not seen her father in years. Now her mother has died she is returning to Silver Ladies – a local nickname given to the ancient, tumbledown Castle Arlac in France, her father’s ancestral home.  

We have learnt from the prologue that the Bertrans are a cruel lot with a bloodthirsty history; that the Chateaux of Arlac was the site of an atrocity which has cursed its soil for centuries. There are rumours of buried treasure from their ill-gotten gains but it remains undiscovered and so the castle, as well as the land surrounding it, has long since fallen victim to misery and misfortune.

In time, the treasure became but a dim legend. Yet the loathing and fear of the country folk for all bearing the name Bertran smouldered threateningly, like the core of a volcano. The chateau of Arlac was a grim reminder of the past; its curse was blamed for every tribulation.

Lady of Arlac backcover scan

Initially, Maxine is puzzled by the hostile reception she receives from the local peasants. And things don’t get any easier. When she arrives at the castle, she learns her father has died by that most gothic of deaths – slow, deliberate poisoning – leaving her his sole heir. This of course does not go down well with the various ingrates and hangers-on living at the castle, and it’s not long before Maxine is receiving death threats herself.

Surrounded by enemies as cold and unfeeling as the decayed castle walls that immure her, Maxine’s first instinct is to run. But where? With who? So she stays, determined to do right by her father and make amends for her family’s sordid past. If the first fifty pages are anything to go by, it won’t be easy and for now, her only friends are a rather eccentric speleologist (I love a book that teaches me new words) called Alan and a wolfhound called Cesare.

Black shadows silently crossed the moon. Two huge bats swooped above the castle, looking like messengers of evil. She understood that the intense loveliness of Arlac had a grim, sombre side. This was no mere picture-book prettiness. It was a complex of beauty, mystery and even terror. Like a person, there were many facets to the castle’s character…

I wasn’t intending to review this just yet, as I have a pile of other stuff to get through, but I started reading and so far I’m enjoying The Lady of Arlac’s gothic setting and seductive prose. (Though too many sentences… just trail off… with ellipses…). Three out of four stars.

And there’s a (not very complimentary) review of Lady of Arlac with an alternate cover at: The Groovy Age Of Horror.

White Violets

 

THE SCENT OF DEATH WAS IN THE AIR AT GLOOMY, MENACING NORTHCOURT – THE FRAGRANCE WAS WHITE VIOLETS!

When young Helen Stone became secretary to the mistress of Northcourt, she quickly learned that her predecessor had died under the most mysterious of circumstances.

The inhabitants of the huge, forbidding mansion were a strange, hostile lot, desperately trying to keep under cover a dread secret about Northcourt’s shadowy past. The only one she was drawn to was Bob Coles a handsome though bitter man.

One day Helen found herself high above the sea, in a tunnel filled with fog and the haunting scent of white violets. She stumbled against Bob Coles and her own nightmare at Northcourt began….

Written by Edward Crandall. Originally published 1953. Fourth paperback printing May 1969.

The blurb on the cover tells it all really – the young Ms Stone is employed as a secretary for Mrs Porter and finds herself trapped in a huge gloomy mansion, peopled by a variety of odd characters who are all bitter and twisted and after their share of the Old Dear’s inheritance.

Piece by piece Helen learns the story behind the death of her unfortunate predecessor and tensions build to bursting as our hapless heroine stumbles upon mutilated photographs, mysterious hats and strangers lurking in her bedroom.

I was attracted to this book by the underground tunnels, as I live in a seaside town rumoured to be riddled with the same  such smuggler’s hidey holes. I also thought the writing was very good, with some great descriptions of windswept cliffs and doom ridden rooms.

My only criticism would be I thought the action was a little too slow, nothing much seemed to be happening for the first part of the book apart from detailed conversations involving the history of the characters and their relationships to each other and I would have preferred a little more spooky and a little less background.

Nevertheless, once things get going,  the writing is very effective with some genuinely scary scenes. There is plenty to please in the romance department too – with a more than eligible love interest provided by the sexy but grouchy gardener Bob. Four out of five stars.

I also like the distinctive cover; there is a signature along the right side of the dress but I can’t quite make out the name. The closest I can guess it to be is Jerome Podwil but I can’t be sure.