The Curse of the Clodaghs

As the new visitors’ guide, Tess Connolly is a lovely addition to historic Clodagh House. Neither Richard, the new Lord Clodagh, nor the other members of the household, however, are aware that Tess is really the key element in a dangerous scheme concocted by her fiancé, Shaun Clodagh, to expose his brother’s murderer…

When it appears that Shaun, too, is dead, Tess is torn between the knowledge that this is part of the plan, and a horrible suspicion that he has unwittingly become the victim of his own ruse.

Alone on a mission that has lost its meaning, in a house full of people she doesn’t trust… Tess stands in the way of a murderer bent on total victory.

Written by Frances Cowen. First Ace printing March 1974.

Since we are now in the middle of our ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ great British summer, I thought it’d be nice to post something light and summery looking to cheer me up – and counter-balance the fact it’s been pouring with rain all day.

Curse of the Clodaghs takes place in Ireland in July and, coincidently, it is raining there too. Our heroine, Tess Connolly, has just turned up to her new job at the ‘unutterably dreary’ and storm-soaked Clodagh House. Her fiancé, Shaun Clodagh, has suspicions about the new family taking over his home and he has come up with a plan. His brother was recently drowned in a boating accident just off the coast and Shaun suspects foul play, so he decides to ‘disappear’ while faking his own death. Meanwhile, Tess takes a summer job at Clodagh House as a tour guide – using her position in the house to inveigle herself into the confidences of the new owners in order to find out the real story behind the infamous Clodagh Curse.

It is a scheme that looks good in theory but, when Shaun misses his secret rendezvous with her, Tess begins to suspect he really is dead. Grief stricken and alone, she has no idea who she can turn to for help. She decides to stick things out for the summer to see if she can solve the mystery behind these suspicious disappearances but before too long, strange accidents start to plague her…

I am irresistibly drawn to books about family curses for some reason but I have yet to read one that fully lives up to the promises hinted at within. The ancestral curse was a staple in earlier gothics and there is something about the idea of vengeful ghosts reaching out from the past, punishing the innocent for their forefather’s misdeeds, that chills the cockles of my heart.

Then there are those families so messed up, so unutterably deranged that they may as well be cursed – and these make for great gothic reading too. Dark Shadows very own Collins family or V.C Andrew’s Flowers in the Attic are good examples of this.

Alas, Curse of the Clodaghs doesn’t quite fulfil my expectations in the ‘curse’ department but it does have some nice gothic touches – with legends of sea monsters, mysterious ghostly ladies and lots of mist-laden, lush descriptions of the Irish coast. Three out of five stars.

The Hounds of Carvello

Did the Marchessa Carvello guess what might be going on under the palazzo roofs, or the evil which threatened to descend on the ancient family whose roots lay in blood long dried, whose future now lacked permanence?

Longing to escape the dull familiarity of her father’s home in England, Harriet agrees to go to the great Carvello palace in Italy to take her cousin Ann’s place as governess to the Carvello children. But how could Harriet know she would be thrown into the midst of strange and frightening events, and herself be involved in the tragedy that haunts the Carvello family….

Written by Frances Cowen. First Ace printing 1973.

Ann Mannering is in Italy working as a governess for the Marchesa Carvello. The Carvello family are incredibly rich and live on a huge estate, built on the site of an ancient castle, a few kilometres from Milan.

Ann is not happy; she has spotted trespassers lurking within the Pallazo grounds and feels threatened. She wants to leave – the sooner the better – so she makes a few calls, throws herself at the mercy of the Marchesa and in no time has arranged for her cousin, the recently widowed Harriet, to come over from England to take her place.

Enter our heroine, Harriet. Everyone tells her she is very pretty and the children adore her. But soon tragedy strikes when her cousin Ann is found dead, killed by a blow to the head and it is left to Harriet to uncover the deadly secret  surrounding the Carvello family.

Hounds of Carvello started out quite promising and reads very well as an adventure/romance, since most of the story is taken up by Harriet’s blossoming love affair with the tall, dark and deadly Niccolo. Unfortunately –  apart from some uncanny howling early on in the story and the odd murder or two –  there is nothing much gothic about this title. Lovely cover though. Two out five stars.

Shadow of Theale

A three week working vacation at Theale House seemed a pleasant way to spend a holiday. Shortly after her arrival, however, Ruth Hilton realized that beneath the facade of quiet elegance, the peaceful seaside estate pulsed with a malignant evil…

What was the secret of the mute, half-witted retainer who tried desperately to communicate by means of pictures drawn on the family crypt? Why did fourteen-year-old Theo wake screaming in the night? Slowly but surely the events surrounding the disappearance of Lady Theale reached out to cast a pall of darkness about Ruth as she struggled to save her young charge – and herself – from the SHADOW OF THEALE.

Written by Frances Cowen. First Ace printing January 1974.

An ancient curse, a hidden treasure and murder to boot, this Ace Gothic has it all in abundance.

Ruth has spent the whole year saving for a dream holiday abroad, but  her brother has  just lost his job so she gives all her money to him and decides to take a working holiday in sunny Cornwall instead.

Answering an ad in the local paper she finds herself a paid companion to teenage Theadora – daughter of Lord and Lady Theale.

But Theale House has its secrets; the previous year, Lady Theale disappeared within the estate in mysterious circumstances. Ruth suspects some members of the household know a lot more than they are letting on and she soon finds her own life in peril when she uncovers an illegal smuggling ring operating from the cliffs at the bottom of the garden.

Shadow of Theale was an enjoyable read, though some of the writing was a little clunky, particularly early on in the book, and I found myself  having to re-read bits to make sure I understood them properly. I think a little more time editing would have fixed this and overall I liked Frances Cowen’s prose and gothic touches. Portents, premonitions and pitiful halfwits abound in this remote part of the Cornish coastline and it came as no surprise to learn those hippies camped out in the bottom of the garden were up to no good.

Three out of four stars.

There is a signature to the bottom right for the cover artist, but I can’t be sure I have the name right; I think it might be H Barton. I have another cover by this artist, A Touch of Myrrh written by Charlotte Hunt (detail  posted below). I love the artist’s use of colour and brushstrokes – you can almost smell those oil paints dripping off the canvas! If anyone has any idea who the artist is, please let me know!

**Stop Press!** I have been told the artist is Harry Barton. I can’t find much about him on the web but here’s some more of his work HERE.