Monks’ Court

Margaret Collier, a young, attractive, recently widowed American girl, stands at her hotel window looking out over London on a sultry night and is inadvertently caught up in the intricacies of a murder that involves distinguished looking, coldly remote Englishman Hugh Vane.

Giving way reluctantly to a compulsive urge to discover the facts of the murder, she seeks out Sir Hugh at his ancestral estate, Monks’ Court, deep in the Shropshire countryside, and once the site of an ancient monastery.

The spell cast by the enigmatic Sir Hugh and by his beautiful and fateful house are Margaret’s undoing. She is enmeshed in events that take a terrifying turn when the threat of a second murder arises. This time, it is her own life that is menaced, and it is seemingly only the ardent devotion and determination of an American newspaperman, Richard Page, that offer her any hope of escape from the net that is tightening around her.

Once again, Katherine Wigmore Eyre has proved herself expert in creating the atmosphere for a plot charged with excitement. Glimpses of London and the English springtime countryside provide an authentic background for her story. In this splendid, fast-moving tale she demonstrates her mastery of the novel of suspense.

Katherine Eyre lives in San Francisco but knows England well. She loves the English countryside, and of London says, “It fascinates me. I can’t stay away.”

Copyright Katherine Wigmore Eyre 1966. Published by Appleton – Century Meredith Press. Jacket painting by Charles Geer.

I bought this lovely first edition hardcover for £1 at the street market yesterday. I’ve reviewed another of Katherine Wigmore Eyre’s gothics, The Sandalwood Fan, last year and I struggled to finish that book due to its slow pace and lack of gothic mood.  Monks’ Court, with its ancestral, ‘fateful’ house and rural setting, certainly sounds a little more promising so maybe I’ll get round to it one day.

Though I’m not such a huge fan of hardcover books, I love it when I find one adorned with a cover sleeve in such good condition. The artist, Charles Geer, has illustrated a number of gothic dust jackets and he has a very distinctive style – especially his gorgeously ruinous and rambling houses. Check out more of his amazing artwork HERE and HERE and HERE.

Another bonus is this lovely photograph of the authoress on the back – that dramatic lighting combined with such a classy pose makes her look every inch the quintessential gothic romance writer!

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.