Dragonmede

THRESHOLD OF FEAR…

For Eustacia Rochdale it is like a dream come true when she becomes the wife of Julian Kershaw, heir to Dragonmede. For her gay, reckless mother Luella, it is the achievement of a lifelong ambition.

The marriage is tempestuous and stormy but worse is to come. At Dragonmede Eustacia learns of a sinister legend, threatening her life and that of her unborn child. And she learns that her marriage was arranged – with her husband an unwilling partner…

Written by Rona Randall. First published 1974 by William Collins Sons & Co. First issue in Fontana Books 1975.

I’ve read  and enjoyed a few Rona Randall gothics, so was very pleased to come across this Fontana edition of Dragonmede at a local jumble sale.

Dragonmede follows the fortunes of Eustacia Rochdale, a young Victorian woman who falls in love with Julian Kershaw, suave Sussex aristocrat and regular visitor to the illegal gambling den run by Eustacia’s mother, Luella.  Despite his gambling addiction, Julien appears to be everything a woman would want in a man – handsome, passionate and rich, rich, rich and Eustacia is overjoyed when her feelings for him appear to be reciprocated.

Luella Rochdale notices the mutual attraction between the two and is eager to marry her daughter into a good family. However, Luella has a reputation for being a bit of a tart and her gambling  house, though tolerated, is frowned upon by the neighbours. Though she has done everything possible to raise her daughter as a lady, educating her in the best schools and sheltering her from the caprices of her more amorous clientele, she realises Eustacia may be considered a less than desirable catch for such a gentleman and so uses all her wiles to ensure her daughter is safely wedded and bedded into the respectable Kershaw clan.

1979 Ballantine Edition

Eustacia is ecstatic when Julian proposes, but, this being a Rona Randall gothic, marriage to the man of your dreams is when your problems really begin. Arriving at Dragonmede, Eustacia is made to feel less then welcome by the usual gaggle of gothic misfits living there, while her husband’s behaviour towards her very quickly becomes increasingly cruel and controlling.

Worse still, her husband is not the only sadistic psychopath living at Dragonmede and when he is found hanging from the rafters, Eustacia  becomes  the prime suspect and in mortal danger herself…

Dragonmede has all the necessary ingredients for a good gothic – an old gloomy house, an isolated imperilled heroine, ancient curses, handsome men, sadistic men, mad artistic  creepy-paintings-in-the-attic men, secret love affairs, inexplicable accidents and a grisly murder.

Though the plot seemed to meander a bit for me toward the end, I liked the cast of unconventional characters – particularly Luella, the scheming cardsharp who stopped at nothing to better her daughter’s position. Four out of five stars.


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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.


 

Knight’s Keep

knightskeepOrphaned Janet Bewleigh had become an heiress overnight – the unexpected reward for an act of kindness – and now the once locked doors of her beloved Knight’s Keep were open to her.

But there was an aura of evil at the stately manor house which weighed on her like an invisible shroud. She wondered about Lord Ashford, her enigmatic, strangely attractive host, and about the sad, dead girl whose ghost still hovered over the Keep.

And then Janet read the ancient family motto, and knew that the final act was yet to be played…….

Written by Rona Randall and first published in Great Britain 1967. Published by Sphere Books 1973.

Set in Victorian England and narrated in the first person this is the story of one young lady’s quest to seek sanctuary by returning to the home of her recently deceased parents,  only to find madness and murderous intentions awaiting  her.

Our heroine, Janet Bewleigh, enjoyed a poor but happy childhood, helping out in her parents vicarage in Covent Garden, giving out soup and bread to the poor. Then a sudden skating accident leaves her tragically orphaned and she is left to carry on the work of her parents alone. One of her charges, the down and out Uncle Silas, dies in yet another mysterious accident soon after, and Janet becomes an unexpected heiress to a large fortune. Not only that, but he really was her uncle and she soon finds herself visiting the large Elizabethan mansion where her mother had grown up – Knights Keep.

keepsake

As you’d guess from the cover art things don’t start off so well for our Janet, with sinister ladies in waiting, a marriage to a sex obsessed sadist and a poisoned pet puppy to deal with for starters – but after a few interesting adventures and plot twists it all works out for the best. I really enjoyed this book, it’s full of atmosphere and attention to detail with some genuinely creepy bits –  I particularly liked the relationship between Lord Ashford and his rather enigmatic stepmother, the weird and wonderful femme fatale Miranda.

The blurb on the inside cover informs us Rona Randall is established as one of the best writers of Gothic Romance. Furthermore, Knight’s Keep was nominated for a major award of the Romantic Novelists Association. At the time of print the author was living in Sussex and it’s great to read something so good by a local author – I’ll definitely be looking out for more of her stuff. Four out of five stars.