The Devil on Lammas Night

When Tristan Poole moved into Colwyn Court, in a remote Welsh seaside village, was it to form a nudist group? Or was it, as Nicola Morrison suspected, for something much more sinister?

What was the hypnotic effect Tristan had on Lisa, Nicola’s glamourous young stepmother?

What was the explanation for the sudden illnesses, accidents and deaths at Colwyn?

And what was Tristan planning for Nicola?

As Lammas night approaches, and the true, supernaturally evil nature of the group is revealed, Nicola is drawn into deadly danger…

First published in Great Britain 1973 by Hamish Hamilton ltd. This edition second Pan printing 1974.

Tristan Poole worships Satan and is the enigmatic leader of a ‘nature cult’ that fronts for a Black Magic coven. In exchange for his devotions, Satan has blessed Tristan with mesmeric powers over animals and a way with the ladies, but, unfortunately, very little in the way of money. So Tristan and his coven survive by cuckoo-ing themselves into the lives of the rich and the vulnerable, manipulating their way into gaining control of their land and assets.

Tristan is currently staying at Colwyn Court, an estate in Wales owned by Walter Colwyn. Walter is more than happy to allow Tristan to use his house as a base for the ‘Society for the Propagation of Nature Foods,’ since Tristan is showing great success at curing Walter’s wayward daughter, Gwyneth, of her ‘nervous disorder.’

Fawcett Crest edition

Walter’s son, Evan, is not so happy. Working as a Doctor in Africa he is becoming increasingly alarmed by the letters from his family, detailing the goings-on at Colwyn Court. He decides to come home and makes it his mission to rid his family of these pagan interlopers. However, when he returns, things are much worse than he realises. The love of his life, Nicola, has caught the eye of Tristan too – or rather her enormous inheritance has. (Tristan has already bumped-off her millionaire father and started an affair with her mother thinking she was the one getting all of the money. Now he knows who the real heiress is, he has moved on to plan B – hypnotising Nicola into falling in love with him so they can get married and he then can legally steal her cash). As Lammas night draws ever closer and Tristan prepares his bride-to-be for their satanic wedding, Evan himself falls into a suspicious fugue state, leaving him helpless to defend his home or fiancée….

As you’d guess from the title, The Devil on Lammas Night is packed full of all sorts of supernatural shenanigans – with vivid descriptions of black magic rituals, spells and incantations. There is even a demon possessed cat, hell-bent on carrying out its new master’s every command. 

The devilry is all very polite and refined, in that quintessentially English ‘More wormwood with your tea, vicar?’ kind of way and as such reminded me of The Witches written by Peter Curtis (aka Nora Lofts). There is some great attention to detail and these touches really add credibility and depth to an otherwise fantastically over-the-top story.

The ending was a little predictable, with the almost comically sudden demise of our chief villain threatening to ruin the climactic showdown, but the quality of writing and characterisation just about pulls things together. This novel was great fun. Susan Howatch creates a near-perfect blend of the mundane and macabre, therefore making the evil goings on all the more sinister. Four out of five stars.

Oh dear, before posting the above I was just going to add how much I love the cover art on this one. Then I went out, had a few glasses of wine and now I’m back I can’t help but fixate on that humongous hand of hers holding the candle! It’s hideous! There is something very creepy about the perspective here, or maybe my eyes are just a wee bit wobbly and it’ll all be ok in the morning…