Shadow of Evil

Shadow of Evil close up

DRIVEN BY AN UNEARTHLY TERROR, PORTIA MUST PROTECT THE MAN SHE LOVES.

The beautiful widow Portia is an investigator into the occult.

She is aided by her fiancé, Owen Edwardes. Suddenly their future is threatened by the diabolical, lovely neighbour, Princess Tchernova – who pursues Owen like a beast of prey. She wants to see him dead. Portia uses every weapon at her disposal – including her love and her mastery of the occult – to keep Owen out of her rival’s clutches.

The duel between Portia and the princess will haunt the memories of addicts of the Gothic novel for many long, dark nights.

Shadow ov EvilOriginal title – Invaders from the Dark. Copyright 1960 by Greye La Spina. Copyright 1925 by the Popular Fiction Publishing Company, for Weird Tales, where an earlier version of this novel appeared in the issues for April, May and June 1925.

This Paperback Library edition is published by arrangement with Arkham House. First Printing September 1966.

Barely a year into her marriage to occult philanthropist Howard Differdale, Portia finds herself widowed when he is struck down dead in the midst of a particularly treacherous ritual. Undaunted by this cruel twist of fate, she makes the brave decision to carry on her husband’s work. But it’s a lonely existence, made all the more difficult by the ill-will and malicious rumour-mongering of her neighbours.

To combat her isolation and curtail the town’s gossips, Portia invites her Aunt Sophie to come live with her and it’s through Sophie’s eyes, presented in the form of a manuscript recovered by Greye La Spina herself, that the story unfolds.

Sophie is initially concerned for her niece but her fears are allayed somewhat by Portia’s new found maturity and unceasing resolve to continue with her late husband’s work.  Even better, there is an handsome young man on the horizon  – the eligible Owen Edwardes – whose interest in Portia appears to be reciprocated, and hopeless romantic Aunt Sophie is determined to bring them together.

But there’s a rival for Owen’s affections – the mysterious, the sensuous, the carnivorous Princess Irma Andreyevna Tchernova. Swathed in furs, her eyes glowing garnet in the gloom, she has a manner that many find alluring, coupled with a sleight of hand as fast as she is fair – linger just a little too long in her presence and you may find yourself the unwary recipient of a strange looking flower pinned to your buttonhole – a foul smelling, fleshy bloom that serves a deadly purpose.

No man can escape her fast-fingered charms and it’s Owen in particular she has set her glittery-eyed sights on. Though many find her pointy-toothed smile irresistible, it only serves to sap the sunlight from Aunt Sophie’s day and her heart sinks each time she sees the hapless Owen falling ever deeper under the princess’s spell.

Sophie isn’t the only one who is heartsick as Portia has long held suspicions of her own. To those with the occult know-how, the signs are obvious; Princess Tchernova keeps wolves for pets and eats nothing but meat; her fingers are unnaturally long, her eyebrows unnaturally low. Moreover, those hideous Orchids she keeps throwing around have a use far more sinister than the townsfolk could ever imagine.

2010 Ramble House reprint

2010 Ramble House reprint

One stormy night Portia confides in her Aunt, simultaneously revealing her suspicions while educating Sophie into the reality of the loup-garou or werewolf. Using her extensive occult library and powers of persuasion she convinces her Aunt that, not only do these monstrous beings exist but that the Princess herself is a shape-changing werewolf, intent on turning Owen into her life-long mate.

Using powers of astral projection along with some good old-fashioned peeping through other people’s windows, Portia and Sophie’s worse fears are confirmed when they witness the princess performing a strange ritual of her own – plying Owen with a liquor extracted from some lycanthropous stream that brings with it the curse of becoming werewolf.

Uh-oh. Time is running out for our intrepid duo if they are to save Owen from the clutches of Princess Tchernova. Preparing for his rescue, disaster strikes in the form of an enormous explosion that rocks through the town, destroying the princess’s mansion. Sophie and Portia watch helplessly from their window as the mansion burns to the ground, dismayed in the knowledge that Owen could not possibly survive such a catastrophe.

The shock has barely worn off when there’s a knock on the door. Portia answers it to find the princess’s mute servant standing on the threshold, accompanied by a large grey wolf….

Shadow of Evil backcover

Shadow of Evil is a fabulous read where romance, intrigue and supernatural thrills ‘n’ spills all combine to create a story as weird as it is wonderful. And as far as anti-heroines go, the Princess Irma Andreyevna Tchernova is a villainess as exotically gothic as her name implies.

Greye La Spina has written a few werewolf stories and it is obvious she has a more than passing interest in her subject matter – I particularly enjoyed Portia’s account detailing lycanthropy in terms of the use and abuse of faith and how those sworn to evil are just as capable of performing miracles as those sworn to good – an explanation which made perfectly spooky sense while I was reading it late at night over a glass of wine or two!

Born in 1880 in Wakefield Massachusetts, Greye La Spina lived a life as unconventional as her gothic heroines. More about her and her contribution to early pulp horror can be found over at The Innsmouth Free Press HERE. There is also an informative thread on her works over at the ever-fabulous Vault of Evil. 

Four out of five stars, with extra gothic points for use of the word decoction

Shadow of Evil

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The Rest is Silence

 DEAF, DUMB…AND DEAD?

Nona O’Carty was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It was her first visit to England, and it should have been a festive vacation. She was looking forward with delighted anticipation to the royal wedding procession, and then…

She witnessed a brutal and seemingly senseless murder. At the same time, she was struck by a bullet which left her alive – but totally deaf.

She was completely unable to communicate what she knew – and she was not even sure how much she had actually seen and how much she had imagined. She was terribly, dreadfully alone. And there was no place to run – because now the murderer was stalking her, to ensure her silence… forever.

Written by Virginia Coffman.

Lancer Books 1968. Cover art Lou Marchetti.

Just when I thought I’d seen most of what Virginia Coffman has to offer gothic-wise, along comes another one! Of course Deaf, Mute and Dead would be the more politically appropriate, though far less alliterative, by-line for today’s back blurb, but I guess this was 1968.

I’ve had a quick flick through the first couple of chapters – the heroine, Nona, has a golden ticket for a royal wedding and she has travelled to England on a once in a lifetime trip from her hometown in Ireland. She is staying at the ‘little’ Richmond Hill Hotel, and this made me smile, for when my family first moved to the UK, we actually lived in this hotel for a few months – and I remember it as being very, very big! (Though I was quite little myself at the time and buildings do have a habit of shrinking as you get older).

Anyway, along with Behind Locked Shutters and The Twilight Web, this cover gets filed in the ‘shady-looking men wearing shades’ section of my bookcase.

Rosevean

SOMETHING SINISTER PURSUED ANN FORRESTER AT ROSEVEAN-

SOMETHING THAT MADE HER SLEEP IN FEAR AND WAKE IN TERROR!

Ann Forrester came to Rosevean, a gloomy gothic mansion, as the personal assistant to its iron-willed mistress, Mrs. Pendine.

At first Ann’s duties were routine. Suddenly she realized that Rosevean was a house riddled with jealousy, secrets and menace.

But it wasn’t until Mrs. Pendine’s strange death that the tentacles of Rosevean reached out to Ann herself, strangling her slowly and surely in its fatal grip…

Written by Iris Bromige. First Paperback Library printing September 1965.

I’m going through a bit of a John Fowles phase at the moment, which means I’m falling a bit behind on my gothic romance reading. I’ve just finished the French Lieutenant’s Woman  (a review of which might possibly be squeezed on to these pages, the leading lady was nicknamed Tragedy after all…) and I’ve now started on The Collector, so it might be a while before I have any reviews to post here.

In the meantime I thought I’d show off another lovely Paperback Library Gothic. This looks like a Lou Marchetti cover to me, though I can’t see a signature. The lady in the foreground looks a little awkward but I love the wintry palette of blues used for that dark bruised sky – a trademark of many of these Paperback Library covers.  

According to my (out of date) reference book on Gothic and Romance writers, Iris Bromige is a British writer born in London 1910, educated at Clapham County Secondary School and married to Alan Frank Bromige. She lived local to me on the Sussex Downs and was one of Women’s Weekly’s most popular contributors.

Best known for her ‘gentle, quiet, English’ romances rather than her gothic novels, she has had over forty titles published on both sides of the Atlantic since the 1940’s.

There’s not much about Iris Bromige on the web, though there is a site dedicated to her books with some photos, here: http://www.thirzajane.com/ib/welcome.html. Seems like they’re looking for more information on the life and works of this author, so if you have anything to share, please get in touch.

Happy reading!

Wuthering Heights

A Strange and Bitter Love…

Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights, a love story, when she was 27 years old. It is the only novel she wrote. She died three years later in 1848, in Yorkshire, English farm country which she had rarely left and which is the setting for this one tempestuous and tragic book that established her fame.

With only her stealthy observations of a few neighbors and the teachings of her hot, proud heart, Emily Brontë created two intense, ill-fated lovers… Heathcliff, brought to Wuthering Heights as a starving Liverpool waif… Catherine Earnshaw, whom he grew up to love in that house with a passion that became a destroying rage when Cathy rejected him for her more proper neighbor Edgar Linton.

As demonic and relentless as the wind whistling across the Yorkshire moors is Heathcliff’s revenge and its inevitably Satanic conclusion.

Written with ardour and astounding competence, this probing novel by a relatively inexperienced young woman remains a masterpiece long after other romantic tales of its time have been forgotten.

Written by Emily Brontë, special contents of this edition copyright Lancer Books 1968.

Cover art by Lou Marchetti (thanks Ruben!). 

If you’ve read my review of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, you will know what a fan I am of the Minster Classics. Wuthering Heights is number 47 in this series. This isn’t my favourite cover by a long shot, but the typeface is nice and big and (fairly) easy to read by candlelight if you were ever so inclined!

Speaking of which, I saw the new Wuthering Heights film recently. Directed by Andrea Arnold, there was a Q&A session with her afterwards. Time and budgetary constraints meant that only about half the book is covered and I got the impression this film was less about making another adaptation of the book and more an attempt to understand and tell Heathcliff’s part of the story.

Largely criticised as being too grim, (I guess none of the critics have read the book then) I thought the film was stunning and, for me anyway, very reminiscent of Emily Bronte’s poetry. One of those rare movies you watch and you immediately want to watch it all over again. Lucky for me, since it’s a Film 4 production, it should be on the telly any day now!

To the Dark Tower

WITCH CULT!

Since the dawn of civilisation, the secret cults – hiding in the dark corridors and gray shadows of night – have ruled the world. Studying cave drawings in the south of Spain, Joan Lambert stumbles on evidence linking the secret witch masters of today with the damned of centuries past…and the dark minds of today control powers as great as the ancients.

Discovered by guardians of the dreaded knowledge, Joan flees for her life…but finds herself unable to outrun the nightmare pursuers. Only one place offers the hope of safety…and then she finds that it too is a puppet to the witch cult!

Copyright 1969 by Script Associates Ltd. Published 1969 Lancer Books. Cover art Lou Marchetti.

Joan Lambert is a somewhat uptight archaeologist who has suffered a terrible trauma on a dig in the Pyrenees.

Alone in a cave, she had discovered ancient relics unequivocally proving the existence of a witch cult in Western Europe that antedates the ancient Egyptians by thousands of years. She also unearthed a terrifying, disembodied presence with fiery eyes that almost killed her, and which continues to threaten her with paralysing flashbacks to this day.

Concerned for her welfare, Joan’s true love, fellow archaeologist and museum curator Wilfred Allen, has summoned her to his isolated mansion, Glen Oaks, in order to introduce her to a select group of psychiatrists, psychical researchers and scholars, whose combined knowledge of all things occult, he is convinced, will dispel Joan’s awful visitations once and for all.

There were dreams just as real. Dreams in which flesh bruised flesh , moist lips parted and you felt yourself to be caught up and held in strong, imprisoning arms. To be held captive in so rapturous a way surely had to mean that there were depths beyond depths in the human mind, and that somewhere buried deep in the mind there was a wild, free world where dreams were the only reality.

 Unfortunately for Joan, Glen Oaks turns out not to be the haven of tranquillity she has been hoping for. Bizarre rituals and horrifying murders have been occurring in the woods. On her drive to the house, a monstrous being forces her car off the road, causing Joan to flee into the arms of Sheriff Forsythe. He has been investigating the murder of the local village idiot, Willie, and his suspicions are piqued when he notices the resemblance between Joan and a little wax doll found near Willie’s body. He takes her to Glen Oaks where Wilfred and his guests are waiting anxiously, and Wilfred’s reticence under questioning makes the Sheriff even more suspicious.

That night, Joan falls into an uneasy slumber, only to be woken by the midnight whisperings of a roomful of shadowy figures standing around her bed. One by one they hypnotise her into believing Wilfred is in mortal danger and only she can save him. So Joan has no option but to sleepwalk right out of Glen Oaks and right into the woods where she believes she will find her beloved.

The branches of the towering oaks were destitute of all foliage now, and swayed in the slight breeze, looking as brittle as the bones of waltzing skeletons in a danse macabre, and the moss on their boles had shrivelled and died after turning a lichenous gray.

Instead she finds herself centre stage in a hideous Black Magic ritual where she is to be the main sacrifice. Joan by this time is too far gone to care and as the celebrants prepare her for slaughter, her only chance of escape rests on one man’s shoulders… 

Dark Tower, with all its lush descriptions of midnight woods and nameless terrors, was a great gothic read. The ‘unseen horror’ that had attached itself to Joan in the caves and which continued to menace her was very effectively done and I wish the author had stuck with this rather than distract us with all that witchy jiggery-pokery.

There were also too many long discussions between characters explaining away the plot and adding unnecessary asides – including a slightly surreal and completely irrelevant conversation about the satanic connections of Joan of Arc while our very own Joan was being gagged and bound to a stake. Overall though, there is a lot to like about this book.

So who wrote To the Dark Tower? Fantastic Fiction states Lyda Belknap Long is a pseudonym for Frank Belknap Long – Lyda being the name of his wife. But on the inside cover of my Lancer copy there is a dedication that reads:

Which begs the question, if you were writing under a pseudonym would you add a dedication to yourself? Why?! Or was this book actually written by his wife? The copyright gives no clue since it is by Script Associates Ltd so maybe neither of them wrote it! Anyway, I would recommend the Lyda Belknap Long gothics if you can find them. Four out of five stars.

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A Woman Possesssed

SHE WAS A WOMAN POSSESSED.

The woman who woke up on the beach thought she was Betty Bates. But the sinister man with her revealed she was Sara Dent- and that he was Henry her husband.

She had never seen him before.

She had never known Sara Dent.

Suddenly she was tormented by doubts of her own identity, fears of going mad and suspicion of her impending murder. When Henry threatened to commit her to an asylum, she ran away – back to her life as Betty Bates. But to her horror, no-one in her hometown recognized her!

Desperate, she returned to Henry to make a last attempt to regain her sanity. And there in his grim, mountaintop mansion she realized that to discover the secret of the mystery, she would have to pay – with her life!

Written by Christine Randell. First printing, Paperback Library Gothic August 1966.

This story plunges straight into the action as it opens with our protagonist, Betty Bates, waking up on a strange beach in Cyprus with a strange man claiming to be her husband and insisting she is in fact a woman called Sara Dent.

The plot gets curiouser and curiouser as we follow Betty  / Sara desperately trying to adapt to her ‘new’ life – surrounded by strangers she has never met but who all claim to know her. Has she imagined her whole life up to this point?

Her ‘husband’  tells her she is ill, that Betty Bates is a figment of her imagination and  she has been prone to these blackouts for a while but Sara / Betty is not so easily convinced. Things get worse when the love of her life, Robbie,  turns up at a dinner party. She cannot ignore the chemistry between them,  but why is it he only knows her as  Sara too?

In desperation she travels to England, hometown of Betty Bates. None of her family recognise her as Betty but at least now she can prove Betty Bates actually existed. What she learns in England helps her to understand a bit more about the mystery surrounding her identity and so she returns to Cyprus for a life and death showdown with her embittered and twisted husband Henry.

I must say this novel intrigued me and kept me turning the pages right from the beginning. The ending won’t disappoint either. The settings aren’t particularly gothic and there isn’t much supernatural going on, but it is well written with lots of suspense driving the story forward.

The cover art is gorgeous; I can’t find a credit for the artist but it looks a bit like a Marchetti to me. Four out of five stars.


Leap in the Dark

Doctor Antoine’s voice penetrated Nurse Jeanne’s shock like a distant echo, recalling her to reality. For of course, she thought numbly, this was nothing but a dream. It couldn’t be happening. This handsome man who had appeared from nowhere couldn’t be ushering in a beautiful stranger and introducing her as herself! This was a moment of madness, a nightmare from which she would awaken.

But even when she took a deep breath and forced her startled glance toward the Doctor she couldn’t focus her senses sufficiently to grasp the reality of it all. In a remote part of her consciousness, she felt as if she had leaped so far into the dark that she found herself in a world where nothing made sense; where the impossible happened, where strangers bore her own name and she was in the guise of someone else.

Written by Rona Randall. Published by Ace Books 1956.

An interesting take on the mistaken identity plot twist. Jeanne Cleary is on her way to nursing college in London and on a whim hops off the train in a remote village in France. The station’s deserted so she follows a dusty path through the countryside leading her to the local chateau.

By a strange (very strange) coincidence, nurse-to-be Jeanne finds herself mistaken as an actual nurse (due to arrive that very day) who had recently been hired to look after the lady of the manor, Comtesse de Clementeaux.

Our pretend nurse and the aristocratic old lady get on like a house on fire and Jeanne finds herself very much at home in her new role. But that’s no surprise to Jeanne for she has recognised the family crest on display in the chateau as the very same one engraved on a gold ring given to her by her deceased mother. Jeanne has stumbled into her long lost ancestral home, she is the Comtesse’s long lost granddaughter and rightful heir to the Clementeaux  inheritance.

Just as Jeanne decides to find a convenient time to break the news to her new found granny, another girl turns up – declaring herself to be Jeanne Cleary, the Comtesse’s granddaughter! The real Jeanne knows this new interloper is just a gold digging impostor but how  can she reveal her true identity without breaking her own cover? So a sticky situation turns into a quagmire of confusion as our heroine battles to assert her rightful position within her new found family and win the heart of the handsome Dr Paul Antoine.

Though the plot is completely and utterly too far fetched for comfort, Rona Randall’s writing does just about make things work and I found this a rather absorbing read. There’s not too much gothic going on – the castle is far too well maintained and sunny for starters – but there is enough intrigue and romance to keep things interesting.

The cover art is credited to Lou Marchetti and is a treat – extra points given for this cover as it’s refreshing to see a heroine dressed in something other than a floaty nightie. Three out of five stars.