The Dark Shore

Did the ghost of evil still hover over Clougy House?

Soon after Sarah Hamilton stepped into her new home as the bride of charming, enigmatic Jon Towers, a cold shock of instinct warned her to run for her life – too many ‘accidents’ were beginning to plague her.

Clougy had seen violence when Sophia, Jon’s first wife, mysteriously fell to her death from a cliff. Now someone was trying to kill Sarah, to keep a ghastly secret.

Was it Jon’s beautiful, tormented cousin, Marijohn who had sought refuge in a convent after Sophia died? Or his son Justin who was out on the cliff the night his mother fell? Or his old friend Max, who seemed to be confusing the two Mrs Towers?

Or was it Jon himself, panicking because Sarah was getting too close to what really happened that terrible night…?

THE DARK SHORE is filled with the ingredients that made a bestseller out of Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Written by Susan Howatch. Copyright 1965 Ace Books.

A story with echoes of Rebecca, based on the love triangle between a rich, successful man with a past, his newly wed, innocent bride and the spectre of his first, much sexier wife – who may or may not have been murdered by him.

Jon Towers, a Canadian property millionaire, has returned to Britain to patch things up with his son Justin. Recently married to Sarah, he has not set foot in the UK since the untimely death of his first wife Sophia, who fell (or rather was pushed) over a cliff at their Cornwall Home, Clougy, some ten years ago.

Told from multiple viewpoints, the first part of Dark Shore brings together the same six characters who were present at Clougy that fateful weekend Sophia died. Each has a secret and a reason for wanting her dead. One by one they are reunited at the same isolated farmhouse where Sophia was killed – much to the increasing alarm of Jon’s new wife Sarah. She is already feeling trapped under the shadow cast by the violent death of her husband’s first wife and the more she learns about what happened to Sophia, the more she fears she could be heading for the same fate. But why would anyone want to kill her?

For a short book, Dark Shore packs in a fair amount of gothic suspense, with hidden motives, dark secrets and all sorts of skeletons falling out all kinds of closets (though not literally unfortunately). I particularly liked the mysterious relationship between Jon and his ‘cousin’  – the beautiful telepath Marijohn.

Susan Howatch has enjoyed considerable success with her gothics. She began writing from an early age and submitting work for publication as a teenager. The Dark Shore is her first novel, published when she was in her mid- twenties. I have quite a few of her books and I think her writing works best in the longer novels, where she has room to explore the development of her characters and the impact of their actions on those around them. The Dark Shore is a cracking first novel but, like many gothics written during this period, the ‘shocking’ secret when revealed isn’t all that scandalous to the modern reader, so the drama built up in the first part of the book fizzles out with a bit of whimper towards the end.

On the plus side, Susan Howatch isn’t afraid to explore the darker side of her character’s natures and she achieves a high degree of depth and complexity within this concise and well-paced murder mystery. Three out of five stars.

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The Love of Lucifer

The Letters

Ghosts of the Past

The Mysterious Stranger

Murder…

These were what Nan Sue Carollton found when she returned to the old manor house to find out why her sister Joanne had stopped writing. But Joanne was dead now – the victim of a madman, or a calculating killer? And then, as if history were repeating itself, Nan Sue realized that whatever evil had destroyed Joanne was waiting around the next corner – for her…

Written by Daoma Winston, Lancer books 1970. This edition, first Ace printing April 1976.

Born 1922 Daoma Winston is a prolific writer of gothic romances with strong occult themes and I have previously reviewed one of her books, The Devil’s Daughter HERE.

The Love of Lucifer opens with the heroine, Nan Sue, returning to her family home, the haunted Carollton Manor, after two months away working as a teacher. As she makes her journey through the twilight shrouded Maryland countryside we learn there is very little tying her to this cursed place – both her parents are dead and Carollton Manor has been taken over by Greta James, the dark haired, bony faced lover of Nan Sue’s father, who moved into the Manor soon after Nan Sue’s father had died.

Far from being put off by the rumours of the Carollton Curse, Greta and her family are delighted. Avid believers in the occult and trained as mediums, they soon throw themselves into all sorts of demonic dilly-dallying, making Nan Sue increasingly uncomfortable in her own home and eventually driving her out to find a new life for herself somewhere else.

The only reason Nan Sue is making this journey back is because she is worried about her little sister Joanne – Nan Sue’s only relative who is still being looked after by Greta James. Nan Sue has received some frightening letters from  Joanne, hinting at sinister goings on and she is afraid for her little sister’s safety.

Arriving at Carollton Manor the house seems deserted, the front door open. Following a flicker of light seen under a door at the end of the gloom-ridden hall, Nan Sue finds herself smack bang in the middle of a terrifying séance, her sister Joanne slumped at the table in a trance.

It’s a bad beginning for Nan Sue and it doesn’t get any better. A horrible murder follows which tests Nan Sue’s emotional endurance to the limits. Plagued by nightmares, she finds herself waking up in the local graveyard not knowing how she got there and witnessing all manner of awful apparitions in the middle of the night. It’s not long before she is questioning her sanity, believing herself possessed of evil spirits. Unfortunately, the one person who wants to help her is also the prime suspect for murder…

The Love of Lucifer started out really well, with some great gothic descriptions of creepy séances. The murder, occurring early on in the book, is quite shocking and well written and so sets the scene for an intriguing read. My attention did seem to wander off about half way through – not sure why, but I found it difficult to keep track of the bad guys and they didn’t seem scary enough to me, which made me question why it took so long for them to get their come-uppance.

The cover art is lovely – with a gorgeously detailed wrap around illustration – I haven’t found a name for the artist but I did find a picture of the original artwork HERE.


The Vampyre of Moura

A TIMELESS EVIL WILL NOT REST UNTIL ANNE WICKLOW AND ALL SHE LOVES ARE DESTROYED.

When Anne Wicklow returns to Moura, the home she had shared with her late husband, it is as housekeeper for the mysterious Maitre Stavko and his daughter, Tyra. They have turned Moura into an academy for young ladies, girls innocent of the strange and terrifying events going on about them.

Despite her constant battle with the memory of her love, Anne soon realizes what the school girls do not: that Moura is pervaded by an evil so powerful, so dedicated to destruction that survival seems impossible. At the heart of this terror Anne suspects Stavko, a man she is drawn to and repulsed by; a man she fears and yet is intrigued by. And she knows she must decide which feelings are right… or risk being claimed by the deadly danger which relentlessly pursues her.

A spellbinding story of romantic suspense in the thrilling MOURA series.

An Ace Book. Copyright 1970 by Virginia Coffman.

Born 1914 in San Francisco, Virginia Coffman worked as a secretary in fan mail and publicity departments for a variety of Hollywood studios during the 40’s and 50’s before becoming a full time writer in 1965.

Her first novel, Moura, was published in 1959 and features Ann Wicklow, a feisty Irish housekeeper at a girls school who journeys to France to see what has become of one of the former students. Her destination is Chateau Moura – an isolated, wolf infested estate run by the tall, dark and brooding Master Edmond.  

On arriving at Moura, Anne soon finds herself immersed within a nightmarish adventure where all sorts of spookiness threatens to drive her to the brink of madness and beyond. Thankfully she’s tough enough to solve the curse of the Combing Lady and though there is a certain Radcliffean rationality behind all the ghostliness, the back-story is chilling enough not to leave you disappointed.

 In The Vampire of Moura we revisit the creepy mansion, now owned by the mysterious Maitre Stavko. He has converted Moura’s ruinous rooms and dark cellars into an Academy for Young Females of Quality. And not only are these young ladies rich, they are also all orphaned – conveniently unencumbered by overtly prying, curious family members. The curriculum does not seem to be agreeing with them however and it’s not long before a strange wasting disease starts afflicting Moura’s innocent young tenants.

So Anne Wicklow, now six years older and a widow living in Ireland, decides to return to her old home after receiving some disturbing letters about these strange goings on from her cousin Kate.  Keeping her past connection to Moura a secret, Anne arrives pretending to be the new housekeeper and once again finds herself pitting her wits against an unidentified evil, more than ready to claim her as its next victim….

Those who like their vampires spelt with a ‘y’ and dripping in menace as well as blood, could do a lot worse than Vampyre of Moura. Virginia Coffman can turn on the creepy and really understands how to weave a gothic web of suspense from out of the strange and the sinister. For myself, Chateaux Moura’s  dank, dripping walls and snow-shrouded woods are so vividly depicted in this series that it’s like a second homecoming reading these books  – and what a fantastically evocative place to get lost in once in a while. Four out of five stars.


The Bridge of Strange Music

Three

Women

Loved

John Hardacre….

Prudence – Who felt the evil of Pen Farm embrace her – yet remained bound to a man who could never return her love…

Laura – Beautiful and wilful – whose desire for John Hardacre made her leave the glitter of London for the isolation and lonely terror of Pen Farm…

Violet – Sensuous and provocative who offered first her body and then her soul to possess the master of Pen Farm…

In the ominous silence of the house lay a hidden horror that would soon erupt – which one of the three women would survive the emotional holocaust?

Prudence? Laura? Violet?

An Ace Star Book. Written by Jane Blackmore. Copyright  1952.

Three women. One man. Sowing the seeds of sexual frustration on an isolated farmhouse where there is not much else to do but count chickens and watch the corn grow.

Welcome to Pen Farm,  a hormonal hot-bed of lust and jealousy, home to a pregnant wife who hates her life, a governess desperate to get pregnant and a slatternly milkmaid who is just, well, desperate.  Poor John Hardacre. I was feeling genuinely sorry for the bloke by page 15. Of course,  I soon figured he would end up happy ever after with the goody two-shoes governess, but it was enjoyable reading how he got there.

This book’s blend of witchy mysticism and earthy, farmyard fecundity reminded me a bit of the Nick Roeg film Puffball (based on the book by Fay Wheldon).  I wouldn’t describe the setting nor the story as a gothic romance but I did like the otherworldy, trippy quality threaded throughout Jane Blackmore’s prose – Pen Farm is a place where even something as mundane as frying an egg becomes an exercise in mind-altering metaphysicality:

“The egg fell sizzling, into the fat. She watched the transparency coagulate and tried to think what she should say to him but there seemed to be a heaviness inside her head. She could neither think nor feel. It was as if she were halfway under anaesthetic in that twilight stage where objects take an unexpected vividness, where the whole of existence focuses into a single point.

It was like that now with the egg. The golden globule was huge and magnetic. She knew that the room was around her. That ahead of her waited – decision. But no, in this fateful moment, everything was drawing together, rushing in headlong suction down into the heart of an egg. Perhaps this was how the unborn infant felt in the moment of birth. This aching plunging into space – this unbearable feeling of change.”

Three stars out of five stars with bonus points for use of the word empurpled.

The Casebook of Dr Holton

Like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, Dr Paul Holton and Manfred Blackton enjoy a deadly rivalry. Time and again they meet, on different battlegrounds, but the victor’s prize is always the same: a human soul.

In The Gilded Sarcophagus, their first adventure, the life at stake is very precious to Holton. His fiancée, Julie Font, has become a pawn in a dangerous game of mystic power… and the forces of evil are on Blackton’s side.

The struggle resumes in The Cup of Thanatos, the story of Holton’s clash with a society dedicated to worshipping the ancient God of Death. The gripping climax takes place in the most unholy of monasteries, where the sacred and the profane vie for the possession of an innocent young girl.

Written by Charlotte Hunt (aka Doris Marjorie Hodges). The Gilded Sarcophagus copyright Ace Books 1967. The Cup of Thanatos copyright Ace Books 1968.

These are the first two books in Charlotte Hunt’s Dr Holton series. Dr Holton is an eminent English psychiatrist who finds himself pitted against the evil occultist Manfred Blackton and his exotic sidekick, Zerena.

The Gilded Sarcophagus opens with Dr. Paul Holton’s fiancée, Julie, turning to him for help to find her missing twin brother Simon. A suicide note and a large quantity of drugs has been found at his flat but no body. Julie claims a telepathic connection to her twin and is convinced he is still alive. She suspects his disappearance has something to do with a sinister group of people who call themselves the ‘Circle of Ra.’ Their leader, the enigmatic Manfred Blackton, has been spending a lot of time befriending Julie and Simon’s Uncle Rupert and Julie believes his motives are far from innocent.

For Uncle Rupert is a keen occultist and archaeologist recently back  from Egypt and in possession of a priceless ancient artefact known as the Roth Parchment – an Atlantean papyrus with talismanic powers containing references to a secret mine of Uranium, which, if it fell into the wrong hands, could bring destruction to the world. Devastated over the recent death of his wife, Rupert has been attending séances held by the Circle of Ra to try to make contact with her spirit.

Julie is certain Manfred Blackton is merely exploiting her Uncle’s recent bereavement in order to gain access to the secrets of the Roth Parchment  and since Simon had been transcribing this parchment for his uncle when he disappeared, she is sure Manfred Blackton holds the key to her brother’s disappearance. According to Julie, there had been a terrible row during which Simon threatened to expose Dr Blackton for the philandering fake he really is.

So, with the help of his commando-trained cockney manservant and an old school friend at Scotland Yard, Dr Paul Holton attempts to uncover the truth behind Simon’s disappearance. Little by little he is drawn into the shady world of the occult. And when his beloved Julie is kidnapped and held in a trance-like spell only an evil magician can undo, Paul’s powers of self control are tested to breaking point…

Sarcophagus has plenty to please if occult thrillers are your thing. There are  spooky seances, strange rituals, ancient legends, mysterious talismans and a daredevil plot to bring about world domination, contrived by villains as cold and calculating as they come.

What makes this atypical to most gothic romances is that the protagonist, Paul Holton, is… well, a man. Furthermore, he’s a man who starts and ends the novel completely devoted to his fiancée  Julie so there is absolutely no ‘romantic suspense’ involved at all. However he is a very nice man and I will be reviewing his next run-in with the evil Manfred Blackton in the Cup of Thanatos soon.

The cover art is by Raymond Kursar and matches the  flavour of the story perfectly. A more evil looking mage I’ve not seen for a long time…. Four out of five stars.


Beauty That Must Die

Rosaleen Day could not feel sorry when she learned that Crystal Hugo was dead. The young actress had bewitched Rosaleen’s husband, Rory, and their marriage was in jeopardy. Yet it was a shock to Rosaleen when the police disclosed Crystal hadn’t committed suicide, as they all assumed, but had been murdered.

So many people could benefit from Crystal’s death – so many people wanted her out of the way. She was wrecking Rosaleen’s marriage, harming Rory’s career, and tormenting a rejected lover.

Rosaleen knew that until the cloud of suspicion over them all was erased, she and Rory would never trust one another again – even in death Crystal stood between them. Desperate to discover the murderer before the police did, Rosaleen would prove to be her own worst enemy…

Written by Barbara James, published by Ace Books 1961.

I found this gothic in the lovely Rainbow Books, Brighton, over the weekend. I am intrigued by the cover art, the way the ghostly figure of the woman seems to be metamorphosing into a house herself. When I first picked this up I assumed the effect was due to external damage or damp –  the imprint of another book left on top of this one transposing itself onto the cover perhaps –  but on closer inspection I am not so sure. No matter. Whether by accident or design it is still a great cover, though I am not so sure what it has to do with the story.


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.


 

Ace Cameo Gothic Series Part 1

Thought I’d share these over the next few posts. I have twenty four of these titles published in the 1970’s by Ace books, though I believe there were at least 26 titles in total. Ace are a well known publisher for Gothic Romance and according to the blurb on the back cover, the titles in the Cameo Gothic series were chosen for their excellence and optimum readability, while promoting and developing lesser known writers.

The Ace Cameo series tended to shy away from the more supernatural elements found in a lot of gothic fiction and all basically tell the same story – nice young girl finds a nice young man and / or comes into some money but  someone is out to kill her.  Will she / won’t she survive? Of course she will! But for all the predictable endings, on the most part these books were well written and featured some cracking settings and plot lines. And I for one could never resist the fantastic cover art.

I’m posting in reverse order so here’s numbers 19 to 24.

No. 19 Web of Days

When Jennifer MacKay, known to her friends as Mac, received her promotion, she was unwillingly drawn into her boss’s family life. But nothing could have prepared Mac for the passions that seethed within Bennett Mann’s home – passions that found their focus in his wife, Thea. Both of Ben’s children hated their stepmother; Jenny, a neurotic young girl starved for affection, and Jeffrey, handsome, cold and enigmatic, who despised his weak willed father.

Then one day, Thea Mann was murdered. Each of the tormented family members suspected the other, but only Mac knew Jeffrey had lied to the police. Trapped in a tightening web of horror, Mac was determined to learn the truth – for in spite of herself, she loved Jeffrey Mann, and refused to believe he was a murderer.

Written by Helen Orr. First Ace Printing October 1975

No 20 Girl in the Shadows

Although she recovered from the near fatal accident, the beautiful young woman could remember nothing. It was from her personal effects she learned her name was Janet, and that she was the widow of the wealthy Larry Kirby. Her baby was his son, entitled to a vast inheritance.

But the past was not to be unlocked so easily. Larry’s brother Bruce was determined to prove Janet a fortune-hunting imposer (sic). And the confused young mother, not at all sure she was really Janet Kirby, was powerless to stop him.

No one was prepared for the terrible truth that emerged; an evil hoax that sent the past spinning into the present to cast a sinister shadow on the future.

Written by Zoa Sherburne. First Ace printing November 1975.

No 21 Masquerade of Evil

Left homeless and alone, Sarah York went South to Cameron Oaks, the civil war-wrecked plantation of her cousin. She withstood unexplainable hostility on her arrival, only to be totally humiliated to find herself nothing more than a servant.

With little hope of ever finding happiness here, Sarah turned her attentions more and more to Jaime, her young blind charge. And against her will, her heart turned more and more to the child’s father. Who was this man Adam, who could be so cruel and unfeeling toward his helpless son, yet so kind and attentive to her? And were the dreadful rumours true? Did he set the fire that killed his wife and left his son a cripple? Was he capable of anything for the sake of his precious pride? The questions rose from her confusion, and settled her into despair.

When she could no longer deny her love, a mad charade of twisted passions began, and Sarah found herself lulled by the player’s charm into a trap from which death was the only escape…..

Written by Eva Zumwalt. First Ace printing December 1975.

No 22 Buried Remembrance

Allyn Bourke came to Sheldon’s Crossing to forget a tragedy that haunted her nights, and made sad shadows of her days. But before one scar could heal, tragedy struck again… and again… and again.

There was her friend Nina, one minute laughing gaily, now dead. There was kind Dirk Cameron, now dead – from a letter bomb addressed to her. There was Miss Fleishmann, her spinster employer, alive and healthy while she argued with Allyn; dead when they became friends. There was the cat, frisky until he drank the soup in Allyn’s cup; now dead. Only her obese landlady, Mrs Johnson seemed to be surviving. And Steven Donner;  Steven, who threatend to splinter Allyn’s wall of emotional isolation.

Steven and Mrs Johnson – one of them would not rest until Allyn was as dead as the others. If only she could fathom the reason for this relentless pursuit… if only she could discover which one was the murderer – in time!

Written by Naomi Gladish Smith. First Ace printing January 1976.

No 23 Willough Haven

Willough Haven Ranch represented wealth, beauty, security and love. It was her second home, and the Willough boys were her closest friends. When Diane French became a woman, it seemed only right that she also became Mrs Fred Willough.

But Fate is cruel, and it was through Fred’s tragic death that Diane inherited the ranch she had always loved – and became the target of a madman who wanted it at any cost. Someone had murdered twice already.  Someone Diane called brother, friend – or mother – was trying to kill her……

Written by Geraldine Killoran. First Ace printing February 1976.


No 24 The Unforgiven

Evil happened…

In a picture-book pretty English village – and it destroyed Eve Shannon’s brother. When Eve journeyed to Baldenstock, however, her veiled questions were met with hostility – and worse….

It was from newspaper clippings Eve learned that her brother had left his mark on the tiny village – the terrible mark of murder!

But she didn’t believe it – and with her disbelief she knew real fear… Alone, her identity a secret even from the man she loved, Eve set out to discover what really happened one horrible night not so very long ago…..

Written by Maynah Lewis. First Ace printing March 1976.

Also in this series:

No 25 Winterscape by Anastasia Cleaver. First Ace printing April 1976.

No 26 Deathbed of Roses by Michaeljohn. Or rather this is what is listed in the back of my other Cameo Gothics – however on searching the web I found this cover scan. Though this title does not seem to be numbered, I’m wondering if Deborah Scott is actually the correct author.

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