He was a goodly spirit – he who fell:

A wanderer by moss-y-mantled well –

A gazer on the lights that shine above –

A dreamer in the moonbeam by his love:

What wonder? for each star is eye-like there,

A looks so sweetly down on Beauty’s hair;

And they, and ev’ry mossy spring were holy

To his love-haunted heart and melancholy.

Al Aaraaf, E.A Poe 1829

Poe. The Laurel Poetry Series. Published by Dell Publishing. First printing March 1959. This fourth printing, November 1962. Cover drawing by Richard Powers.

A rather lovely little book of the complete poems by Poe, along with an introduction, chronology and notes by the editor Richard Wilbur.

Like most geniuses, Poe didn’t think much of his poetry, describing his verse collections as ‘trifles’ and, though he loved writing poetry, the need to actually earn a living meant most of his energy was spent on editorials and prose fiction. 

The above excerpt is taken from Poe’s longest poem, Al Aaraaf, first published in 1829, which he claims to have written when he was just 15 years old. I thought it’d be fun to quote since (obviously) this is where the title of my blog came from. What I love best about Poe’s writing is the open spaces he creates in my head, the slip-streaming of my own imaginings through and around his words, luring me into a different realm than the one I started reading from. Spellbinding stuff I guess.

Anyway, Happy Birthday Poe old bean, and here’s wishing for an afterlife as flowingly dreamy as the one you’ve conjured here.

This Rough Magic

“Even now with the sun directly in my eyes, I could hardly be sure. Sick and shaken, I hesitated: but of course I would have to look. I sank to my knees at the edge of the pool, and shaded my eyes to peer downwards…”

Distressed by a disastrous West End debut, young actress Lucy Waring was only too happy to accept her wealthy older sister’s offer of a holiday on the Mediterranean island of Corfu. Once there the caressing sun, the warm sea and the thrilling revelation that the nearest neighbour to her sister’s villa was none other than Sir Julian Gale, idol of the London stage since his mysterious disappearance two years ago, soon banished the whole miserable fiasco from her mind!

Equally calculated to stir the curiosity of any woman, were Max, the actor’s handsome, but strangely unfriendly son, and attractive artist Godfrey Manning with his tame dolphin and his intriguing midnight sailing trips. Altogether, the stage seemed perfectly set for a fascinating holiday in blissful surroundings…until a sniper’s bullets and a horrifying discovery on the beach shatters Lucy’s idyll, pushing her into the most terrifying role of her career – as a leading lady in a real-life drama of treachery, dark passion and cold-blooded murder!

Undoubtedly one of this country’s most successful literary ‘exports’ to America and reputed in some quarters to outsell James Bond, Mary Stewart is now known to a still greater audience through the recent filming of her superb romantic thriller, The Moonspinners. Not surprisingly, her latest book, This Rough Magic, is confidently expected to outshine even this success!

 Copyright Mary Stewart 1964. Originally published by Hodder & Stoughton London, England at 18/-This edition published for members only by the Companion Book Club. Cover art Victor Bertoglio.

Ooooh, for a gothic romance blog, there just isn’t enough snogging gracing these pages, so let’s rectify such an appalling oversight with this lovely gothic penned by Mary Stewart

I was first introduced to Mary Stewart’s writing through her Merlin trilogy – The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. My mum had all three novels and I must have been about 12 or 13 when I first read them. Retelling the legends of King Arthur from the perspective of Merlin, the author deftly interweaves legend and historical fact with her own imaginings to create a story that is believable, absorbing and enchanting.

Hodder paperback 1966

The Merlin of Mary Stewart’s novels was portrayed as a more human, more fallible character than that of his usual mythical persona –  I remember there was always a question in her books as to whether the sorcery performed by this most favoured magician of King Arthur was indeed achieved via genuine supernatural ends, plain old trickery, good fortune or a combination of all three. And, far from deadening the magic of legend, her unique style of storytelling enhanced the wonderment of these tales.

 It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I read any of Mary Stewart’s gothics, which I enjoyed just as much – The Ivy Tree and Wildfire at Midnight being two favourites that spring to mind – and shame on me for not having done any reviews of her work here, a situation I hope to put right over the next few months.

For now though, I thought I’d post this gloriously dark take on your typical romance cover. Published in hardback by the Companion Book Club, I love how at first glance you might mistake this scene for your average moonlight romantic embrace. Even better, the publishers not only credit the artist, they give him a little space to say something for himself. To quote the blurb on the dust jacket –

This month’s jacket design is by VICTOR BERTOGLIO who provides a characteristically tongue-in-cheek introduction to himself! “Born in Hampstead in 1911; father Italian, mother English. A seventh child – this means I’m psychic as well as brilliant!” Educated at seven schools and St Martin’s school of Art, he is a prolific and gifted artist whose reputation belies his final, amusingly wry comment “it is now a race between eyesight and senile hand tremor!” 

Hmmm. For romance, intrigue and passion, I’m giving this cover a 5 out of 5. And it certainly looks a lot more fun than running away in your nightie!

House of Tombs


…held the key to her passion – archaeology. She had come to this house of tombs on the windswept Maine island to learn from the greatest scholar of them all, Professor Scot Wiegand.


First she discovered the secret passageway in her room. Then the golden leaf which nearly caused an ‘accident.’ Then the buried cigarette case engraved with the initials L.M. Its owner had also an accident, a fatal accident.

Denise Stanton was beginning to think the Weigand family was not what it seemed.


 A gothic novel by Caroline Farr. Copyright 1966 by Horwitz Publications Inc. First printing December 1966. 

Bizarre ritual murder, a love-starved madman and two beautiful women? Sounds an explosive combination and I was looking forward to getting stuck into this one over the holidays. 

Set in 1966 on an isolated island off the stormy coast of Maine, House of Tombs follows Denise Stanton, a young secretary starting her new job as a live-in assistant for the famous archaeologist, Professor Scot Weigand. Her destination is Werewold House, home to the professor and his extensive collection of encrumbled artifacts.

On the ferry over, Denise learns a bit more about her employer – that he has spent the last year under psychiatric care, having had a breakdown over the mysterious death of his one-time friend Meredith, a man rumoured by locals to have been having an affair with the professor’s (much) younger wife Karen and who met his untimely end when he fell off the cliffs near Werewold.

Denise is naturally uneasy by these stories, and soon finds she has even more to worry about once she arrives at the house. The professor seems a nice enough man, but his wife Karen and son John are giving her the heebeegeebees. Then there are the strange scratching noises emanating from behind the sliding panel in her room, as well as the torn up note, hinting at insanity and murder.

Amidst a backdrop of Sumerian myths, ancient Egyptian burial rites and dusty, sarcophagi-strewn museum rooms, House of Tombs is an enjoyable enough read if a little confusing at times. (The back story about Denise being related to the Weigand family disappears almost as soon as it’s mentioned, making me wonder whether the author just forgot about this part of the plot, with the nutty professor himself becoming a complete nonentity after chapter 2).

Plot holes and vanishing characters aside, there were enough gothic trappings in House of Tombs to keep things interesting and the burial rite towards the end of the book, in which our heroine finds herself the unwitting handmaiden to ‘evil queen’ Karen in Werewold’s very own death pit, provides a suitably suspenseful climax to the adventure. 

As for who wrote this book, well, if lines like – “A love of surfing and the sea has given me a better-than-average figure, with long slim legs and good breasts,”  hadn’t already given away the author as a man, Romancewiki confirmed this in their entry on Caroline Farr by stating:

“Caroline Farr is the pseudonym of Richard Wilkes-Hunter (1906 – 1991), a prolific Australian writer. Under this name, he wrote a number of Gothic romance novels. He used over a dozen pseudonyms and wrote war stories, romances, spy novels, westerns and pornography. Sometimes this name is incorrectly attributed to Allan Geoffrey Yates.”

However, Fantastic Fiction lists Caroline Farr as a pseudonym used by at least two other writers – Carter Brown and Lee Pattinson, as well as Richard Wilkes-Hunter, so I’m not 100% sure who the credit should go to.  Whoever it was, I’m guessing this was a book written to order rather than a labour of love.

Overall then, I’d say this is a slightly better than average gothic-by-numbers but not one worth being buried alive for. 3 out of 5 stars. 

Wuthering Heights

A Strange and Bitter Love…

Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights, a love story, when she was 27 years old. It is the only novel she wrote. She died three years later in 1848, in Yorkshire, English farm country which she had rarely left and which is the setting for this one tempestuous and tragic book that established her fame.

With only her stealthy observations of a few neighbors and the teachings of her hot, proud heart, Emily Brontë created two intense, ill-fated lovers… Heathcliff, brought to Wuthering Heights as a starving Liverpool waif… Catherine Earnshaw, whom he grew up to love in that house with a passion that became a destroying rage when Cathy rejected him for her more proper neighbor Edgar Linton.

As demonic and relentless as the wind whistling across the Yorkshire moors is Heathcliff’s revenge and its inevitably Satanic conclusion.

Written with ardour and astounding competence, this probing novel by a relatively inexperienced young woman remains a masterpiece long after other romantic tales of its time have been forgotten.

Written by Emily Brontë, special contents of this edition copyright Lancer Books 1968.

Cover art by Lou Marchetti (thanks Ruben!). 

If you’ve read my review of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, you will know what a fan I am of the Minster Classics. Wuthering Heights is number 47 in this series. This isn’t my favourite cover by a long shot, but the typeface is nice and big and (fairly) easy to read by candlelight if you were ever so inclined!

Speaking of which, I saw the new Wuthering Heights film recently. Directed by Andrea Arnold, there was a Q&A session with her afterwards. Time and budgetary constraints meant that only about half the book is covered and I got the impression this film was less about making another adaptation of the book and more an attempt to understand and tell Heathcliff’s part of the story.

Largely criticised as being too grim, (I guess none of the critics have read the book then) I thought the film was stunning and, for me anyway, very reminiscent of Emily Bronte’s poetry. One of those rare movies you watch and you immediately want to watch it all over again. Lucky for me, since it’s a Film 4 production, it should be on the telly any day now!

Unholy Flame


Would she find peace or madness behind these orgiastic rites?

Was the high priest, Suliman, saint or devil?

Lissa had to know.

And her only way to truth was a journey through hell.

Prepare yourself for an adventure into the forbidden – as fantastic as it is terrifying.

Fawcett Gold Medal Original. First printing November 1952.

I know, I know. One of these days I will grow clever and wise and will no longer be drawn to books with bylines that read ‘Satan tempted her  – past the point of no return.’  But for now, I am glad that I am! 

Recently widowed when her husband’s plane crashes, our grieving heroine finds herself embroiled in the occult when she attends a séance run by the mysterious Dr Damon Suliman – a sinister mesmerist with a sideline in hosting bacchanalian sex rituals for New York’s high society.

At first Lissa is not too impressed, the phantom claiming to be her husband is just not convincing and anyway, she has since found herself another Air Force man to keep her warm at nights. Wrapped up in her new romance, Lissa decides not to have anything more to do with contacting the dead, but Suliman has other ideas. For he has recognised latent ‘special abilities’ in Lissa he can exploit for his own Machiavellian ends, and he’s not about to let her slip away from him that easily.  

So it’s not long before Lissa is holed up in Suliman’s mansion, learning to read Tarot cards and how to harness her ‘ethereal forces’. Falling ever deeper under Suliman’s spell, Lissa becomes increasingly isolated. (Whether its drugs, hypnotic suggestion or just plain old absent-mindedness, Lissa has by this time completely forgotten she has a new fiance waiting for her on the end of the phone). Then Suliman’s lessons start taking a bizarre turn for the worse, culminating in a horrifyingly blood-curdling ritual that has Lissa fleeing for her life.  But can you ever escape from a man whose powers come direct from Satan himself?

At first glance this may not look like your average gothic romance, but this was the early fifties and I’m not sure whether the gothic romance covers we know and love were around much back then. In any event, Unholy Flame has gothic and romantic elements by the bucket load and I think the publishers missed out by not reprinting this in the seventies with a more typical ‘woman fleeing a doomy mansion’ cover.

As well as romance and intrigue, Unholy Flame is crammed with all sorts of esoteric facts and fancies; Yoga, Tarot, Astral Travel, Scrying, Voodoo, Sex Magick… the intrepid Dr Suliman leaves no stone unturned in his quest for enlightenment. At times there is almost too much detail, threatening to slow down the pace of the story, but the fabulously bizarre black mass towards the end of the book speeds things up again!

Cheiro - inspiration for Suliman?

I wish I knew more about the author. The small scraps of information I’ve gleaned from the internet suggest her life may have been as interesting as her books! The Working Life of Museum of London blog indicates Olga Rosmanith was working as a journalist in 1930’s Hollywood and was acquainted with Cheiro, aka Count Loius Hamon, an Irish astrologer and colourful occult figure of the early 20th Century. According to an excerpt taken from one of Olga’s letters, the Count had a deadline fast approaching for two palmistry books, which she then offered to write for him in exchange for him teaching her ‘his science’ –

‘So I was living in his house (to work at nights) in 1930 and met the people who came there. I met Paul Bern and Jean Harlow together, for they came to him for counsel. I loved her at once, a darling girl and nothing like her screen image of hard-boiled brassiness. Pure acting and very good.’

So Olga Rosmanith was under the tutelage of one of the most famous occultists of the early 20th Century. I guess that’s where the material for the book came from! Anyway, I’m giving Unholy Flame a Love-Haunted 666 stars. Seems like there are quite a few copies of this novel still malingering about on the web, so grab one while you can and enjoy! And if you have any information on Olga Rosmanith or her other works please let me know, I’d love to read more!

Place of Shadows


“You are going to die here,” I heard myself say.

I listened to my own sobs.

So black; all around it was so black. I sank down to the floor.

The Safe was sound proof. Air proof.

Down on the floor I started screaming again, kicking my heels furiously against the metal of the sliding door. Somebody must hear that!

But maybe that “somebody” was the person who had locked me in here…

I can’t get out. Nobody will ever let me out.

“You’re afraid,” I cried out to myself.

Oh yes, I’m afraid. I’m so afraid…

Copyright 1959 by C. Kage Booton.

First Paperback Library printing December 1965.

I wanted to post this to show off the gorgeous cover by George Ziel. This time I know who the artist is because Lynn Munroe  has recently forwarded me a link to a booklist he has compiled on cover art by George Ziel, a concentration camp survivor born Jerzy Zielezinski  in Poland 1914, who died in Connecticut USA in 1982.

Fans of the Paperback Library Gothics, as well as the Dell Mary Roberts Rhinehart covers, will instantly recognise George Ziel’s hauntingly beautiful artwork. Very few of George Ziel’s covers were credited on the published books but Lynn has done some exhaustive research, creating a checklist with an amazing collection of covers by this artist.

The booklist of George Ziel covers can be found here: 


And a fascinating biog of the artist, including some great background information on Paperback Library gothic cover art, can be found here:


Thanks Lynn!


Undine was the first Mrs. Cavell, beautiful and strange, with a secret so well-guarded that only her husband and soft-spoken, monstrous brother knew it.

Miranda is the second Mrs. Cavell. She learns to know her rival by a haunting that is to drive her to the limits of fear.

First published 1964 by W.H Allen & Co. This edition published 1965 by Pan Books Ltd.

Reminiscent of Du Maurier’s classic gothic Rebecca, with an added supernatural sting in its tale, Undine is a chilling novel about love and possession; a book where the haunted lives and unquiet secrets of the past toil and trouble under the supposedly calm, quiet surface of the present.

Our leading lady is Miranda , an actress who is a little too good at her job. Continually typecast into roles playing insane, suicidal women, she finds her style of method acting physically and emotionally draining. After a rather harrowing season playing Ophelia, Miranda has had enough and so decides to take some time out from her career to visit her best friend Maud for a relaxing holiday in the countryside.

Things start out good. While out for a swim in the woods, Miranda is reunited with her one true love, Clint Cavell – a man she once shared a passionate one night stand with four years back but to whom fate had cruelly intervened to separate from her, ensuring their paths would not cross again until now. Clint lives in the big house next door and is recently widowed; his wife  – the beautiful Undine – died under mysterious circumstances just over a year ago.  Rather eerily,  Undine and Miranda bear an uncanny resemblance to each other, but this strange co-incidence does little to dampen our new couple’s ardour. Miranda and Clint are ecstatic to be together again and waste no time in getting married. 

Then things start to get really bad, and what should have been the best year of Miranda’s life, very quickly sours into the worst. As soon as they return from their honeymoon, Clint is swamped with work, defending a child murderer in a sensational criminal case, resulting in him becoming increasingly withdrawn from Miranda. Even worse, the house he now shares with his new wife still shivers with the presence of the old, as the spectre of Undine haunts its rooms, refusing to relinquish the husband she loved so much when she was alive. This unquiet ghost of weddings past is hatching a plan which does not bode well for Miranda. Tippy-toeing on eggshells in her own home, isolated and overwhelmed by forces she cannot understand, let alone fight against, it all becomes too much for her and  it’s not long before Miranda is playing the most dangerous role of her life…

Nevertheless, my first feeling of reassurance is gone, and argue with myself as I will I can’t recapture it. For there is a quality in the total silence around me more unnerving than anything I have experienced at Maud’s. Maud’s house is emotionally noisy, its haunting screams for attention, shreds itself to nothingness with its own clamour. Here there is only silence but it is a suspended silence, the silence of a held breath, of a cautiously arrested moment.

No amount of my florid praise can do justice to Undine so I’ll shut up (soon). If you can find this book, read it – the writing is beautiful, the chills wonderfully crafted and subtle. Told alternatively in flashback and from the first person viewpoint of Miranda, Phyllis Brett Young very successfully creates an atmosphere fraught with suspense strung razor tight right to the very end.

Books this shuddersome don’t come without their fair share of gothic accoutrements and Undine is no exception, having not just one big ol’ haunted house in the woods but two, complete with ancient bloodstains and secret hiding spaces.

And, in addition to all the shady characters, strange dreams and inexplicable happenings haunting our heroine, we also have Gerad – Undine’s grieving brother. A beady-eyed, lisping hulk of a man who spends his free time painting the kind of monstrous grotesqueries which would make Richard Upton Pickman proud. With his strange habits and unhealthy fascination for the children next door, Gerad is a wonderfully sinister focal-point for Miranda’s paranoia and inspires some of the most suspenseful scenes in the novel.  

 I couldn’t find out much about Phyllis Brett Young – a once acclaimed Canadian author who wrote at least six books, including the international bestseller, The Torontonians. All her novels were out of print by the time she died in 1996 and it’s a sobering thought that a writer this good, with such an original voice, can so easily slide into obscurity. However there is some good news – a couple of her novels have recently been re-issued-  The Torontonians in 2007 and Psyche in 2008. As for Undine, I doubt any re-issue could beat this gorgeous candlelit cover for gothickness. Five out of five stars.

The Woman Without A Name

Beware, Penelope!

The mysterious madwoman had come to warn her against Sir Jeffrey Wilstoun, master of Holyoak – the arrogantly handsome young man who had brought her to the big, gloomy house to tutor his two strangely precocious little sisters.

If the warning were to be believed, Penelope was employed by a man who would sooner bury a secret – and the one who discovered it – than allow it to be revealed…

Written by Laurence M. Janifer. First Signet printing August 1966.

Ho hum, I really wanted to love this one (gorgeous cover and all) but if I’m honest, Women Without a Name was as fatally flawed as any tragic gothic anti-hero, and not half as much fun to curl up in bed with.

Where to begin? There’s a governess (Penelope) and some children and an isolated house somewhere in the middle of God knows where. So far so good. Then our heroine stumbles upon the Big Scary Mystery – someone is in the attic! But not the mad woman, no, she’s wandering about in the woods, wearing a multicoloured shawl (therefore demonstrating she is hopelessly insane) mumbling about how evil it all is.

Enter our Lord of the Manor, Jeffrey, who takes a mere 50 pages to fall helplessly in love and propose to Penelope. Unfortunately for us, it takes her twice as long to actually go look in the attic to find out what all the fuss is about. Turns out there’s an evil twin (and I usually LOVE evil twins) which somehow proves our hero is not evil and therefore marriageable material. Penelope faints, then wakes up, then decides she wants to get married too. And so we all live happily ever after. Sigh.

I googled the title of this book half expecting to find not very much at all – but it transpires Laurence M. Janifer is a well known SF writer with a career spanning over 50 years. (More information on the author and some reviews can be found HERE.) Hopefully The Woman Without a Name is Laurence M. Janifer’s only gothic. To be fair the writing is ok, it’s just that he took every cliché he could think of before jumbling them all together without really giving much thought to the development or pacing of the story. At 26,000 words it’s an easy afternoon’s reading – but not necessarily an enjoyable one. Two out of five stars.

*STOP PRESS* For some extra information, check out the comments sent in by Ruben below. The artwork is by George Ziel. Ruben has also posted his collection of paperback art on the web, which can be drooled over HERE.

Ruben, thank you for the info and you have some gorgeous artwork (almost!) worth selling my soul for!

The Spiral Staircase


A lonely mansion, with its strangely assorted guests, and its terrible secret…

The silhouette of a murderer, seen at twilight moving ever closer through the ancient elms…

The frantic turnings of a beautiful young girl, as she is sucked down into a whirlpool of shrieking fear.

All in one of the greatest novels of mystery and suspense ever written – a book filled with “astonishing and diabolical shock.”

New York Herald Tribune

Written by Ethel Lina White. Original title: Some Must Watch.

Though it’s been a while since I’ve read this, I remember it as being a bit of a gem.

Our heroine, Helen Capel, works as a maid for the wealthy Lady Warren and family. Her home is an isolated mansion called Summit, set in a large plantation, surrounded by darkened woods and ghoul-like trees. Intelligent, quick-witted and imaginative, Helen’s too poor to go to the movies but finds the odd assortment of characters inhabiting the household more than enough entertainment for her. 

Then things get even more exciting. For there is a serial killer on the loose. One with a predilection for young girls, just like Helen. The murders are becoming more frequent and closer to home.

One stormy night, a woman is found strangled to death just up the road and the Warren family are put on red alert. As the storm draws ever closer, the house is shuttered up and locked down. To protect the family from the killer, it is agreed no-one, but no-one, will be allowed to leave the house that night and no-one will be allowed in. Sounds like a plan – but will it be enough to keep everyone alive till morning?

Ethel Lina White was one of the best known crime writers in Britain and the USA during 1930s and 1940s. First published in 1933 and made into a film in 1946, The Spiral Staircase is beautifully written – the constant slow-creeping suspense combined with deft touches of humour reminded me a lot of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Bat.  Not sure this book is graphic or gory enough for today’s crime fans but if you’re in the mood for an atmospheric, slow-building whodunit, I would recommend this. Four out of five stars.

And a much more in-depth review with another great cover, can be read over at The Rap Sheet. 

Castle Mandragora

I begin my story on my thirty-fourth birthday because a story must begin somewhere, and it was what happened on that day which led me to Castle Mandragora and involved me in an experience so fantastic that I could almost persuade myself now that I dreamt the entire episode, were it not… But I must not start by violating the story-teller’s art. The reason why I know that Castle Mandragora belongs to the realm of reality will not be revealed till the last chapter.

Written by Margaret Durham. Thriller Book Club. Printed by Ebenezer Bayliss and Son Ltd. This hardcover edition 1951.

‘Tis the season for all things topsy-turvy and for inverting the, well, uninverted, so I thought it would be fun to post some artwork featuring a man running from a doom-laden castle for a change.

And what a gorgeous cover! This THRILLER BOOK CLUB edition contains no blurb revealing anything of the story within. At least we can safely guess there’s a castle – there is even a rather nifty map of the place helpfully inserted into the front pages. The opening paragraph (which I quoted above) sounds rather promising too.

I’m guessing the cover artist must be the same Felix Kelly best known for his paintings of country houses. An introduction to a book about his paintings describes the emotional impact of Kelly’s work:

It is this element of strangeness in his work which both fascinates and eludes one… These canvasses, too, are peopled with the past, though there may be no figure in them. Here, someone has just turned away from a half-opened window. There another has just vanished from a balcony. From the round window at the top of a house, an unseen child looks down at the shadows lengthening across the lawn or observes a slender young tree-now ancient and leafless. One is conscious that, at the very moment one looks at the painting-and only at that moment-the people who are there have turned aside, withdrawn from our gaze, stepped out of the picture, leaving behind them an intensely evocative feeling of their presence…  Paintings by Felix Kelly, Falcon Press, U.K. 1946, with an introduction by Herbert Read.

I used to have another one of Margaret Durham’s Thriller Club books – The Devil was Sick. This has one of the greatest gothic covers ever known to woman, with a devil that’s pure Eric Stanton. Lordy only knows where my copy has gone but you can sneak a peak and read a review of the book HERE.