A Stranger in my Grave

What happened to Daisy Harker on Decemeber 2,1955? That was the date she had seen on the tombstone and yet she was still alive. The name on the grave was hers but whose was the body? Regardless of the lives that would be shattered by the truth, her implacable search for a single day in her past leads back through a maelstrom of hatred and remorse to the single catastrophic fact that underlies a lifetime of deception.

Written by Margaret Millar. First published 1960 by Victor Gollancz. Hodder paperback edition 1967.

Cover design Tom Simmonds. Photography Thomas Simmons.

My beloved Daisy: It has been so many years since I have last seen you…

We meet Daisy Harker one bright sunny morning in February as she sits down to breakfast with her husband Jim. At first glance they seem the perfect couple – young, affluent and good looking, enjoying bacon and eggs in their nice house, situated in a nice part of town. But something is wrong. Behind her brittle smiles and perfunctorily answers to her husband’s questions, Daisy’s peace of mind is becoming increasingly disturbed – she is suffering from panic attacks leaving her feeling out of control and helpless, triggered by a vivid dream in which she visited her own grave, the date on the tombstone marking her death as December 2nd 1955.

This letter may never reach you, Daisy. If it doesn’t, I will know why.

The good news is Daisy is still alive and, since it is now 1959, this dream cannot be a presentiment of her death. Even so, she intuitively knows someone or something close to her died that day and this is what holds the key to her increasing anxiety and unhappiness with her life. So, with the help of sceptical bail bondsman / private detective Pinata, she sets out on a journey to rediscover exactly what happened that fateful day in December over four years ago.

Memories are crowding in on me so hard and fast that I can hardly breathe.

I can’t say too much as I don’t want to spoil a cracking story beautifully written by an author with an amazing talent for bringing to life the little things – those seemingly offhand gestures and turns of speech that give away a character’s innermost thoughts and motivations. Suffice to say, this was a compelling mystery right from the start which I was very quickly drawn into.

Shame? – It’s my daily bread. No wonder the flesh is falling off my bones.

Another great thing about the structure of this novel – each chapter is headed by a couple of lines of prose which we gradually learn are extracts from a letter written, but never delivered to, Daisy herself. Who wrote it and why isn’t revealed until the final pages when she at last reads the entire letter- with the reader learning the whole truth behind her disturbing dream at the same time she does.

It’s powerful stuff and though some of the themes in this novel struck me as a little out-moded, the impact and skill of Margaret Millar’s storytelling more than makes up for this. I also love the eerie cover art; not sure if it’s a co-incidence or a typo but the names of the designer and photographer are strikingly similar, which made me wonder if this isn’t in fact the same person?

Anyway, a better review of this novel, along with some great cover scans, can be found over at the Pretty Sinister Books blog HERE.

Escape the Night

With the success of a New York job behind her and a gay lift in her heart, Serena March returned to Monterey to visit her sister. It was to be a short visit, and one full of fun; but, as things turned out, the bottom fell out of her world. The gay and carefree California group of friends she remembered so well, the sharp, dramatic countryside, even her own lovely sister were not and could not be as she remembered them. Something horrible had touched each one; something unclean was suddenly smeared across her brilliant happiness… something as evil as suspicion and as terrible as murder.

Written by Mignon G Eberhart. Bantam Edition Published August 1946. Second printing December 1946. Third printing.

Mignon Good Eberhart (1899-1996) has over sixty novels to her credit; she was awarded the Mystery Writers of America Award in 1971 and at least six of her books have been made into movies. Escape the Night was first published in hardback in 1944 and I started reading it today. It is more of a crime novel than a supernatural thriller but I think this could easily have passed as a gothic in the 60’s – particularly with the original Random House artwork, which features a rather spooky-looking bat on its cover. (And who knows, perhaps there is a Queen Size Gothic or Lancer Easy-Eye version of Escape the Night out there somewhere…)

Drawing from inside the front cover.

Drawing from inside the front cover.

I’ve been meaning to read this book the moment I was given it as a present a few weeks back, having instantly fallen in love with its creepy surrealist cover. Thankfully, a long train journey today has given me the perfect excuse to start.

Here is how it opens:

She knew that something was happening in the house.

The knowledge of it obtruded itself steadily between her and the book in her hands so she read the same lines over and over, not taking in their sense. She was listening so hard that it was as if her eyes and hands and every pore in her body had suddenly developed audient power; but there was nothing to hear. The house was quiet.

Hmmm, I love this beginning and, though I’m not generally into crime as a genre, I’m liking what I’ve read of Escape the Night so far. Mignon Eberhart’s writing is stripped down and punchy, but poetic too, with just enough descriptive prose to keep me happy. Interestingly she has been credited with contributing to the development of the Romantic Suspense genre and more about this, along with some extracts of her writing, can be enjoyed over at The Girl Detective HERE.

… Oooh, I’ve just been informed this is My Love Haunted Heart’s 100th post! Hooray! Now, where’s my prize? 😉