The Web of Evil

Web of Evil closeup

Fear and terror creep into the heart of a lovely young bride as she watches her husband change before her eyes – as she learns the tragic story of that other bride who was so like herself – as she becomes the helpless prey of a strange and relentless hatred. Swiftly the web of evil spreads until its meshes enclose – murder! Strangely enough, it is the murder that drives away the evil – while a twenty-foot wall of water washes away the debris of two almost wrecked lives.

Web of EvilCopyright 1948 by Lucille Emerick. Cover painting by Robert Stanley. 

Dell Publishing Company, printed 1951.

I have completely forgotten when or where I found this gorgeous gem of a book, but it stands out as one of the oldest examples of the classic ‘gothic romance’ cover that I own. Painted by Robert Stanley long before the hey-day of the 60’s & 70’s, when gothic romances were at their most popular, this picture is as sinister and storm-swept as any – with those deep, rich colours and airbrush effect combining to create a lush, dreamy feel that I love.

According to The Book of Paperbacks  written by Piet Schreuders, Robert Stanley often used his wife Rhoda as a model for his covers. My curiosity piqued, I looked up some scans of his work on the internet and she is beautiful! You can see what I mean from this fabulous Flickr gallery HERE

Schreuders’ book also includes a short but informative section devoted to gothic cover art, with a wonderful story from an (un-named) author about the immutability of the gothic cover who says:

“Once, just to see what would happen, I wrote a story set in a suburban ranch house in a densely-populated valley, with every single scene taking place in broad daylight; the heroine was a short-haired redhead who wore jeans throughout the entire book. But when the paperback came out, sure enough, there on the cover was a long-haired blonde in a flowing white dress, haring away from some frightening mansion at the top of a lonely hill in the dead of night!”

Web of Evil back coverThis edition of Web of Evil is one of the Dell Mapbacks – a series of paperbacks printed in the 1940’s to 1950’s, each with a map on the back detailing the scenes where the events of novel took place. Apparently Dell’s sales department hated the idea, finding it unnecessary and non-commercial and the practice was phased out in 1951. Personally I think they’re kind of cute and great for those lazy days when you’re much too hazy-headed to read a book – far better to just stare into the map and make up your own! 

Another feature common to this series is the list of story characters set out in the flyleaf, with brief descriptions of who they are. So in Web of Evil for instance we learn CAROLINE SPRINGER is a shy and pretty girl whose parents drowned in her infancy. Her leading man is JONATHAN WARREN; handsome, self possessed and at 41 he knows what he wants and what he stands for. RED KOVACS is a hot-headed young fire boss, blindly devoted to the cause, with a passionate hatred shining in his eyes, whereas AUNT ELOISE is a delicate and self-effacing woman who, fluttering nervously in the wake of her domineering sister Harriet, is relegated to her room as much as possible. 

Web paperback LGThese cast-lists are common in older romance novels and something I am not so fond of  – overly twee and unnecessarily theatrical, not only do they undermine the story telling before you have even reached the start of Chapter 1, but I prefer to get to know the characters in a novel on the writer’s terms, as and when they appear in the story.  

Nevertheless, I love this cover. And with a map that features a cemetery, lilac tree and stables, I think it has all the makings of a very intriguing tale! The Web of Evil was also published by Paperback Library Gothic in 1965. 

Web of Evil

Web of Evil back cover

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Image of Evil

The face of the Louisiana plantation of Southern Moon gleamed invitingly in the summer sun when Susan arrived for her visit. The ravishing, aristocratic plantation mistress, Corinna Hamilton, her elegant suitor, Cedric Raimond, her handsome, dashing son, Paul, her breathtaking daughter, Lacy – all welcomed Susan as one of their own.

But once within the old mansion, Susan soon discovered the dark side of Southern Moon. Too late the lovely young girl knew she was lost and alone in a nighttime world of sinister secrets and fearful danger, where she was being helplessly turned into a slave of love and a prisoner of evil…

Image of Evil by Rosemary A. Crawford. First Dell printing November 1971 & Candlelight Intrigue Dell printing October 1979.

The weather is hot, hot, hot – and it’s raining (again!) – so what better time to immerse myself in a sweat-drippin’ gothic set in the swampy morass of Louisiana.

Susan is twenty three and works as a junior designer in New York. One day she receives a letter from a strange woman, Corinna Hamilton, claiming to be her mother’s long lost sister. Corinna is inviting Susan to come visit the Hamilton plantation so she can become reacquainted with her southern cousins.

Susan is suspicious – as far as she is aware her mother was an only child with no surviving family. If Corinna Hamilton really is her Aunt, then why did her mother lie to her? And for so long? This really is a secret too tempting to resist, so Susan takes an early holiday to travel down to Louisiana to find out the truth for herself.

When she arrives at Southern Moon, Susan finds herself underwhelmed by all her new relatives and their showy pretence at hospitality. Worst of all is Susan’s cousin Paul – by about page sixty he decides he wants to marry her. And he won’t take no for an answer. In fact, to her horror, the whole family won’t take no for an answer – marrying your cousin is quite acceptable in certain circles and, as her Aunt sagely advises: “It saves a great deal of controversy when it comes to divide the spoils – all in the family you know.”

And as if that wasn’t enough to ruin her holiday, Susan also has Billy Ben to contend with. He’s the tobacco chewing deputy sheriff who drawls a lot and has an awkward habit of popping up out of nowhere, languidly leaning on door frames while leering suspiciously at our heroine.He seems to know more than he is letting on, but what?

Dell first printing 1971

Meanwhile Paul conveniently crashes his car and ends up in a coma, leaving Susan free from his unwanted advances and giving her the perfect opportunity to make her excuses and leave. Against her better instincts, Susan decides to stay but, as she uncovers more of the secrets behind her mother’s estrangement from the Hamilton clan, she (eventually) realises her own life is in danger. Escape seems impossible – the horses have all been sold off and her car impounded. Trapped in an isolated mansion, surrounded by lecherous law enforcement officers and treacherous swampland, only the handsome Dr Clay Foster can save her now….

I found Image of Evil a bit like the weather – muggy and dull and heavy going at times, the story bogged down in lengthy genealogical revelations, with not enough actually happening in the here and now. Worse still, the ‘terrible evil’ at the root of this family rift turned out to be nothing more that a stolen stamp collection. Dear God, stamps! With not even a whiff of a ghost to spice up the equation.

On the plus side, I did like the location and all the lush descriptions of swampland and thunderstorms. The car crash towards the end was suitably dramatic and perked me up a little but overall I found this one difficult to finish. Two out of five stars.

I have two copies of this book. The cover on the earlier edition below works better, I think – the artwork more detailed and vivid (though you’d never guess from the condition of my copy). The cover above is a later Dell reprint under their Candlelight Intrigue series – I must admit, the juxtaposition of the tradtional Mills & Boony type design with the creepy gothic artwork is well… intriguing. I’d like to see more of these!

The Ledge

Young Catherine Beauchamp had defied her father and ignored all warnings when she took the job at High View. There were whispers about the brilliant ex-senator who lived at the remote mountain estate; ugly rumors about his strange behaviour and the mysterious death of his first wife. But Catherine did not want to hear them. She too had secrets in her past.

Yet from the moment she entered the decaying mansion she was filled with foreboding. With each passing day the ledge from which the senator’s wife had plunged grew more ominous. And sudenly she realized she had trespassed on a nightmare…

… JOURNEY TO TERROR.

Written by Gertrude Schweitzer. First Dell printing January 1973.

I picked this one up at a local used bookshop a couple of weeks ago and though it’s a bit tattered and torn, I just love the cover. There might not be an obligatory light shining from the mansion’s top window, but the colours are gorgeous and the title font has a real seventies look to it.

The Ledge opens with our heroine, the bereaved and vulnerable Catherine Beauchamp, winding her way to a new job as secretary for ex-senator Amos Kent. Early on we learn Catherine has recently recovered from a serious mental breakdown; this job is the start of her new life and an important step towards regaining her sense of self worth and confidence.  

But from the offset the omens aren’t good. Nearing Garretston, the town where the senator lives,  she runs over a squirrel and is forced to pull over, shaking like a leaf, waiting until the ‘old horror loosened its claws.’ And the welcome when she finally arrives at her new home isn’t much better – Amos Kent is a guarded, embittered man suspected of killing his last wife. His West Indian housekeeper, Mrs Willymore or Willy for short, has secrets of her own and looks after her boss with a strange kind of quiet over-possessiveness. And she may or may not be drugging Catherine’s drinks and rifling through her drawers at night, but if she is, then why?

1973 Hardcover

Story-wise I really wasn’t expecting much more than your average ‘guess who wants you dead for your money, honey’ kind of gothic but I must say The Ledge is turning out to be a rather engrossing read. There aren’t any ghosts in this house but plenty of disturbing dreams and damaged psyches, all colliding to create a taut, suspenseful read. Here’s a taster from the inside cover:

“Something rustled. There was the sound of breathing close by. Catherine held her own breath. The sound of breathing continued. This time there was no mistaking it. Someone was in her room.

She sat up, her heart pounding, and called out, “Who’s there?” But she saw who it was before the words were out.

Mrs. Willymore stood beside the bed in her peignoir. Silent. Then slowly she moved a cloth toward Catherine’s face. Catherine shrank back.

“Don’t be frightened.” The housekeeper whispered.

Like the sinister Mrs Willymore, this book whispers rather than screams and if understated, well written psychological thrillers are your thing, I would definitely recommend it. Four out of five stars.

There is a signature to the bottom left of the cover but unfortunately I can’t make head nor tale of it. Any ideas?

The Sandalwood Fan

Jim Bradford – so handsome, so charming. But why was he so insistent that Nan wed him immediately? Why was he so violently opposed to her seeing her aunt?

Aunt Elizabeth – Beautiful and fabulously rich, she had provided for Nan’s upbringing. But why had she refused to see Nan all these years, and sent her sinister business partner to try to keep Nan away?

Philip Fenton – Was he a dissipated beachcomber or a brilliant painter? What hold had he on Elizabeth that she supported his outrageous conduct even as he mocked her?

Nan didn’t know. She only knew that one of them did not want her to live to learn the secret of  – THE SANDALWOOD FAN.

Written by Katherine Wigmore Eyre. First Dell printing August 1970. This Dell edition Second printing January 1971.

The Sandalwood Fan opens in a dreary tenement room in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where orphaned Nan Allen is looking after the dying Ah Sam, the faithful family servant who has looked after her since she was a baby.

When Ah Sam dies, Nan returns to her gloomy Victorian mansion, made even more melancholic since Ah Sam’s illness and subsequent absence from the house. Now Ah Sam is gone, Nan is left with nothing but an Oriental fan and an indecipherable message of garbled Cantonese linking her to her past.

Overcome with grief and loneliness, Nan decides to track down the one remaining person connected to her family, the elusive Cousin Elizabeth (mistakenly referred to as Nan’s Aunt on the book’s back cover). A self made millionaire who has pulled herself up from humble beginnings in a prisoner of war camp, it was Elizabeth who rescued Nan when her birth mother, a fellow inmate at the camp, died in childbirth.

Though Cousin Elizabeth has been providing limited financial support to Nan, she refuses to visit, so Nan decides to travel to Elizabeth’s home in Hawaii. When she gets there, Elizabeth seems warm and welcoming but behind all the friendly smiles and Mai Tai cocktails, Nan suspects something more sinister may be afoot.

What though, I couldn’t say as I didn’t quite make it to the end of this book. It wasn’t so much that a beach house in sunny Hawaii didn’t really work as a gothic setting, nor that in terms of atmosphere or suspense there was very little of anything gothic happening, it was just that this book was so slow. I gave up about two thirds of the way through as I was getting bogged down by page after page of self reflective rambling and I decided that the action, if there was any, just wasn’t going to be worth waiting for.

I looked up other titles by Katherine Wigmore Eyre and discovered from the Pony Mad Book Lovers site that she is the author of a couple of Pony Books. These were a childhood favourite of mine before gothics took over. A couple of clicks later and I was getting all misty eyed reminiscing on the Pullein-Thompson sister’s books. And how exciting to find out Josephine Pullein-Thomson has written a gothic! Called A Place with Two Faces and written under the pseudonym Josephine Mann, the blurb on the back promises witches rituals and black magic dances of death so it is one I am now looking out for! There is a review of it over at the wonderful Pullein-Thompson pony books and more Blog.

Going back to The Sandalwood Fan – The cover art is lovely, though different from most gothic romances of this era. Unfortunately  I couldn’t find a credit or signature for the artist. Two 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.


Lost Ecstasy

ECHOES OF A DANGEROUS LOVE

“Why have you come back?”

It was dark, but Tom glanced around to make sure no one had seen them. “Just to look at you. I don’t want to make any trouble.”

Suddenly he gazed at her with a strange, smouldering intensity. Look, you may hear things about me. You will… I’m human. But this goes, now and forever…there’s only you. Do you understand? Only you…”

Kay’s Love for Tom was deep and passionate but was it strong enough to withstand the whispered rumors about his past that shadowed her life with terror?

Written by Mary Roberts Rinehart. First published 1927. Seventh Dell printing June 1968. Cover by Victor Kalin.

Oh my, I just had to share this lovely Dell edition with some more gorgeous artwork by Victor Kalin. Flicking through the pages, Lost Ecstasy seems to be more of a ‘romance on the ranch’ kind of a read rather than gothic – though with a cover like this I’d be willing to swap vampires for sexy cowboys any day of the week.

Mary Roberts Rinehart was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1876. She trained as a nurse and became a full-time writer in 1903. A lot of her novels are sold as gothics or works of mystery romance and  are widely respected for their humour and complex storylines. Known as the “American Agatha Christie” she was also the highest paid author in the US during the first half of the 20th Century.

I’m hoping to review some of her books over the coming months so if you have any particular favourites or recommendations, please let me know.

In the meantime, more info on Mary Roberts Rinehart can be found HERE.

And Victor Kalin’s daughter has sent a link to more of her father’s stunning artwork HERE.