The Place of Sapphires

MYSTERY, ROMANCE, TERROR –

Against the eerie backdrop of a demon-haunted house on a small island off the New England coast, this new novel by the author of Hedgerow unfolds a gripping tale of supernatural suspense.

Two beautiful young sisters, seeking refuge from the pain of recent tragedy, become the helpless victims of a sinister and hateful force from the past.

Written by Florence Engel Randall, first Fawcett Crest printing March 1970.

Two sisters, Gabrielle and Elizabeth, are recovering from the dreadful aftermath of a car crash that has left both their parents dead. Elizabeth escapes completely unharmed but her sister, Gabrielle, was left hideously scarred and had to have reconstructive surgery to her face.

In order to aid her younger sister’s recovery, Elizabeth rents an isolated old house in the country, in the hope of providing both sisters with some healing peace and quiet while they try to put the pieces of their life back together.

Things do not go too well however; Gabrielle’s bedroom is haunted and she soon finds herself possessed by the revengeful spirit of Alarice. Gabrielle becomes  increasingly withdrawn, resentful of her sister and difficult to live with. As Alarice takes over more and more of  her mind, Gabrielle finds herself party to  a sinister revenge against the house’s elderly owner.

The real clue to this story is in the cover art – usually we see the protagonist running away from a dark, foreboding house lurking in the background. On this cover however, the perspective and brush strokes give the impression that the heroine and her demon-haunted house are somehow allied, bonded together in a mutual pact of evil spookiness. This sums up most of the book, as the main protagonist, Gabrielle, is a more than willing accomplice for the revengeful Alarice, and happy to act out her own repressed angers and resentments toward the people around her.

The writing is very effective and genuinely chilling – good haunted house stories need to be built up slowly to be scary and this one is crammed with atmosphere and suspense. It was also refreshing to have a less than perfect heroine who was nevertheless a character you could relate to and sympathise with. The downside for me was the sudden switch in perspective – half way through the viewpoint changes from Gabrielle to her sister, Elizabeth, which I found a bit confusing and seemed to detract from the overall creepiness built up in the first half. Four out of five stars.