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!

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