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 Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw, Daisy Miller, An International Episode, The Aspern Papers, The Altar of the Dead, The Beast in the Jungle.

Henry James considered “the beautiful and blest nouvelle” to be the “ideal form” for fiction, and to this genre he brought the full perfection of his imaginative artistry. The themes he chose and the values he set forth in the six nouvelles that comprise this Signet Classic typify the depth and power of his craftsmanship – the unique perception of a writer who unerringly deciphers the mind of a gay and flirtatious American girl among the sophisticates of Europe…the motivations of a man who spends a lifetime waiting to experience his “rare and strange” destiny.

“Few Writers of fiction have been so inventive as Henry James,” writes William Thorp. Edmund Wilson commented that “he can be judged only in the company of the very greatest.”

Written by Henry James. This Signet Classic edition published 1980.

‘Tis the season for curling up with a good ol’ gothic ghost story and Turn of the Screw is one of my favourites.

A real ‘treading on eggshells’ sense of suspense pervades this novella, with everything you need for a chilling winter night’s reading.

Originally published in 1898 the best thing about this novella  is how artfully James sows the seeds of doubt as to whether the ghosts are real or imagined. Personally I made up my mind years ago the governess was completely barking and not the kind of person you’d want to leave alone with your kids; the conversation she has with the housekeeper after her first sighting of Quint being a great example of how easy people can mislead each other into believing whatever they want to believe.

Lots of people disagree however and the ambiguity is part of what makes this tale so engrossing. At times the children are almost as sinister as the ghosts and having read this a few times I still find myself asking questions. Henry James’ prose weaves a masterful spell of psychological suspense  by allowing the reader room to draw their own conclusions. The isolated setting, unspoken secrets and spiralling emotions all contribute toward creating a truly spooky atmosphere with a shocking climax.

And though Turn of the Screw is the most well known piece in this collection, the other novellas are worth a mention – in particular Altar of the Dead, one of my favourite stories ever.

The cover art is lovely and a very distinctive style. 5 out of 5 stars.


The Deadly Rose and Amber Twilight

THE DEADLY ROSE

A desperate impulse to escape an unhappy romance sent Paula Stanhope fleeing down an unfamiliar road. She instictively recoiled from the monstrous, evil looking old house at its end, but she needed help.

She could not know that her innocent request to use the telephone would imprison her in a nightmare world of terror, at the mercy of madwomen who had no intention of letting her leave – alive…..

AMBER TWILIGHT

Blackhall had slept undisturbed among its wild and desolate surroundings since tragedy claimed its inhabitants twenty years ago – or so Susan Leyton had thought. With mounting horror she discovered that the ominous-looking castle housed a disembodied voice that demanded the young girl’s death – and a cast of characters from a distorted fairy tale who obeyed its every word.

Written by Miriam Lynch. First Ace printing March 1976.

Two gothics for the price of one in this edition of two novella’s written by Miriam Lynch. Both feature unlucky but plucky young women imprisoned against their will, battling to escape from gloomy, dark houses.

In The Deadly Rose, Paula Stanhope’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. She wanders up to the nearest (only) big, gloomy mansion at the end of the road, in the hope of finding a telephone to summon help. Instead she is poisoned and held prisoner by a couple of evil old ladies who will do anything, even commit murder, in order to protect the secret stash of hallucinogenic herbs growing in their hothouse.

Amber Twilight has a similar theme – Susan Leyton ventures out one wintry afternoon, to take some photographs of the seemingly empty ‘gloom-shrouded house’ that is Blackhall. Mistaken for a member of the press, and therefore considered a threat, she gets hit on the head by a misshapen dwarf, dragged into the house and  held captive by the odd assortment of characters living there. To add to her troubles, a disembodied voice from behind the drapery keeps urging them to kill her.

Out of the two, Amber Twilight was my favourite as the plot in Deadly Rose relied just that little too much on coincidence, especially toward the end – when chimneys started  falling onto the bad guys, conveniently aiding and abetting our heroine’s escape. Both stories contain some great descriptive passages and I did quite like the quirky weirdness of the plots.

Four out of five stars – With extra marks given for the fact the cover art could actually relate to the stories!

 

House Malign

housemalignJames Venner was a bluff county squire; his wife kindly but fussy; his daughter withdrawn and secretive; and his only son, Tarquin, a musical prodigy of genius. Their lonely house in Devon seemed a sanctuary to young violinist, Vanessa Orchard, who went to live with them to coach Tarquin.

But the family had a strange history…. Terror came to Vanessa in inexplicable ways – and Death was waiting in attendance at HOUSE MALIGN.

Written by Julie Wellsley and published as a Mayflower-Dell paperback 1967.

Having already read and reviewed Julie Wellsley’s Chateau of Secrets I was pretty excited when I stumbled upon this gothic romance tucked away in the Fifteenth Century Bookshop in Lewes recently – and what a bargain for 20p!

Like Chateau of Secrets, this story centres around the grim and ghostly goings on when a young woman, in this case the violinist Vanessa, ends up living with a rather strange family in a rather isolated area. Vanessa needs to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, in order to grieve over the death of her father and re-evaluate her life, so she jumps at the chance to work as a live-in music tutor with the Venner family in Devon.

The suspense builds nicely as Vanessa finds herself increasingly cut off from her friends and embroiled within some rather strange goings on. There are hints at a terrible curse overshadowing the isolated old farmhouse and with the bad weather comes bad dreams and premonitions that someone or something is out to get her. Armed with nothing but her trusty violin and with no-one but the local vicar to confide in, Vanessa ends up fighting for her life and sanity as the story builds to its fiery climax.

helpmehousemalignThis is an atmospheric suspense novel with some nice gothic touches. We have violins, madness, strange midnight whisperings, foggy, deadly landscapes and a mangled kitten in the bed scene. The Venner family are very weird, especially the child prodigy with a penchant for Nazi memorabilia, Tarquin.

There is very little romance getting in the way of the plot – in fact there is hardly any romance at all, which might put some people off. Though a more than eligible love interest presents himself early on in the guise of the handsome country squire Roderick Egan, Vanessa quickly writes him off as a bit of a bumpkin and he just as quickly fades to the back of the story line. Also I found the ending a little rushed and  teetering precariously toward silliness but the writing is very effective and if evil boy geniuses are your thing then this is the book for you. Three out of five stars.


This Old Evil House

She made the strange turquoise house reveal its terrible secret – and found herself  staring into Death’s face……

thisolhouseRuth Ames could hardly believe her good fortune when she and her husband Charles found a house that they could afford. But the turquoise colour was not the only strange thing about the new house. For soon after they moved in, Ruth knew that evil had happened there.

Was there any truth to the frightening stories her neighbors told – stories about the torture that was a grisly part of the house’s past and the murder that had taken place nearby?

At first Ruth tried to ignore their warnings, until one day she felt the icy fingers of fear, and the death that had haunted her home was no longer a chilling tale, but a horror filled reality…..

Written by Laura Frances Brooks (aka W.E.D Ross) , first Ace Printing August 1975.

Hmmmm. Not sure about this one. It starts off promising enough when Ruth and her husband Charles Ames end up with far more than a bargain after purchasing a too cheap hunk of bright blue real estate along the east coast. Soon enough, before you can scream ‘Oi, look behind you!’ there are all manner of  strange happenings and murderous secrets popping out of the antiquated woodwork.

Unfortunately the pace and plot of the story just didn’t cut it for me and I found it difficult to stay sighinvolved in this one. There are some nice gothic touches and hints of phantasmal goings on, with ghostly footsteps in the attic and mysterious scents haunting Ruth’s sleep, but these are overshadowed by the motley, raggle taggle crew that makes up the novel’s supporting characters – believe me these neighbours are weird, and not in a good way; the poor characterisation and stilted dialogue seriously compromise the novel’s credibility. I also found the relationship between Charles and Ruth a little jarring at times and bordering on the abusive.

Our protagonist, Ruth, was likable enough and the writing was at it’s best when focused on her and her ever increasing anxiety when left alone in the house,  solving it’s secrets while edging  ever closer to her own death, and with a little tweaking this could have turned into a rather good murder mystery, but ultimately it was let down by too many unconvincing chacters all vying for attention, overcomplicating the story and draining it of suspense. Also the ending came about far too sudden and as a result was a little unconvincing but by then I was finding it difficult to care. Two out of five stars.