The Possession of Elizabeth Calder

Spirit of Vengeance

After only a few hours in the old mansion on lonely Randall’s Island, Elizabeth Calder realized that some eerie force was watching over her. Fifty years before, the peace of that house had been shattered by murder and suicide – could it be that a revenge-hungry spirit still walked the halls?

Elizabeth was determined to find the truth – and someone was equally determined to kill her before she did. As danger piled on danger and terror on terror, Elizabeth little suspected that, in her moment of greatest need, help would come from the spirit of a woman who had been dead for fifty years!

A Ravenswood Gothic. Written by Melissa Napier. Published by Pocket Books October 1973.

Elizabeth Calder has been having a tough time of it lately. Her fiancé, Jeffrey, has broken off their engagement and run away with her best friend. To make matters worse, all her other so-called friends find the situation hilariously funny and aren’t sympathetic at all. Poor Elizabeth finds herself traumatised and friendless (perhaps that’s for the best though…) retreating ever deeper into her own imaginary world, wistfully dreaming of far off lands from times past and future…

Luckily, before her self -imposed exile drives her completely bonkers, she receives an invitation from her Aunt and Uncle inviting her over to their place. They are park rangers who live and work on the beautiful but isolated Randall’s Island, just off the Jersey coast and Elizabeth decides some time away in such a wondrous place will be just what she needs to get well again.

However, no sooner does she arrive than her imagination starts playing tricks on her again. Or does it? Locals start looking at her funny, muttering darkly about her resemblance to another Elizabeth – an Elizabeth Conway – who died over fifty years ago. Then, on her first night at the island, our Elizabeth is visited by a host of ghostly apparitions –  some good, some bad – doing the dance of death in the middle of her bedroom.

Confused? I was. But it transpires that Elizabeth Calder is being haunted by an evil force that wants to kill her as well as the spirit of Elizabeth Conway – a girl whose own lover had jilted her too. Over fifty years ago. And when that Elizabeth’s sweetheart disappeared she was falsely accused of his murder. So she killed herself.

Or did she? For there is more going on at Randall Island than mere hauntings. Woken up during a raging thunderstorm in the middle of the night, Elizabeth spots some suspicious looking characters lurking outside of the house. Following them into the cellar she narrowly escapes death by a caved in tunnel before stumbling right into the middle of an illegal smuggling operation, led by evil old crone Emily Baxter, a woman who has more than one reason for wanting to kill our heroine…

Some books read like a perfect summertime romance – there’s no point analysing it too deeply (you won’t find much worth looking for anyway) so best to just pour yourself another drink, relax, lie back and enjoy the ride. The Possession of Elizabeth Calder was like this for me – I had no idea of what was going on (still don’t actually) but our time together was short, sweet and great fun while it lasted. And with a cover this groovytastic, who cares what’s on the inside? Three stars out of five.

Image of a Ghost

There – in Paris Match – were photographs of THE GHOST OF HER MOTHER!

The first photograph showed a swirling mass halfway down a staircase. In the next, a shape began to emerge. There, in the third, stood my mother, who had died eighteen months ago, wearing a dress from the Forties. I remembered that dress! In the fourth shot, the image swirled again, dissolving.

The accompanying story reported that these pictures had been taken by a respected artist in Maine. His wife had seen the ghost, and the shots had been developed and printed before witnesses. It was no hoax. I must go to Maine and discover for myself why my mother’s spirit had returned…

Written by Dorothy Daniels. First printing December 1973. This Third printing May 1976. Cover art Vic Prezio.

A former actress and schoolteacher, Dorothy Daniels wrote some 150 novels. I have already reviewed the Strange Paradise series, which I enjoyed and Romany Curse (written as Suzanne Somers) which I didn’t.

A quick flick through the pages shows Image of a Ghost has all the right ingredients for a gothic – a beautiful, orphaned heroine,  a haunted house by a lake and a handsome love interest living in the woods called Steve.

Here’s an excerpt from inside the front cover:

“Look,” I cried. “Don’t you see her?”

There on the path to the lake backgrounded by tall pines, stood my mother. She was enveloped in a strange, blue green light that came from nowhere. She smiled and nodded as if in approval of the love between Steve and me.

Suddenly from inside the lodge came a wild scream, so high-pitched as to be a shriek of plain terror. I looked back into the living room. Someone was on the gallery and the screaming was louder. I turned back. Where my mother had stood, bathed in that weird light, there was nothing but solid darkness.

I’m still on the fence as to whether I will read this one or not but I wanted to post it anyway as the cover art is by Vic Prezio, who created the gorgeous artwork to Curse of Deepwater by Christine Randell.


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.


Phantom Manor

THE GRUESOME LEGEND OF PHANTOM MANOR

“When the ‘ghost’ appears in the sinister monk’s corridor, someone will die!”

From the moment she came to live at Phantom Manor, a rotting pile of stone she had suddenly inherited, Jan Davis became the terrified victim of a series of ‘accidents’.

The lurking murderer could be anyone whose life was tied to the dread secret of the eerie mansion; a homicidal half-witted young man; a jealous relative who wanted the manor for herself; even a neighboring landowner with whom Jan had fallen in love.

But the hidden villain of Phantom Manor could also be one of the ‘unliving’ – the legendary ghost that stalked its shadowy corridors, leaving horror and death in the echo of its unearthly footsteps…

A Paperback Library Gothic by Marilyn Ross. First printing January 1966. Cover art Victor Kalin.

This one I found in pristine condition  at a local charity shop.  It promises all sorts of gothicky goodness and has gone straight on to my pile of must-reads over the Christmas holidays.


The Hounds of the Moon

The Bride of Evil…

A week ago, Susan Anderson had never laid eyes on handsome Stephen Branthwaite. And now she was his wife, the loving mother of his 6 year old son, and mistress of magnificent Whitehall mansion. It was a dream come true – until the nightmare began. For someone was trying to kill the child!

Suddenly the splendor of Whitehall turned black with terror. Had Susan given her heart to a killer? Would she meet the same macabre fate as the first Mrs. Branthwaite? Could she save her son from the clutches of evil when her own life had become a bonechilling race against death?

Written by Elisabeth Offut Allen, this Popular Library Edition 1974.

Three times a charm, so the saying goes, and in honour of tonight’s full moon, I thought I would  continue the month’s doggy-themed gothics with this hauntingly illustrated Queen Size Gothic.

I’ve not read Hounds of the Moon as yet – but I’ve had a quick peak through the pages and like what I see so far.

Here’s how the book starts –

“Occasionally we are told, time has a way of shaking some of its shutters loose, and if we are alert and keen-sighted enough, we may catch a glimpse through the chinks of what lies ahead.”

I like this opening line enough to want to read on and the back blurb promises ‘READING FIT FOR A QUEEN’ so I guess I  will be adding this to my ever-growing pile of gothics to get through!


Wuthering Heights

The ominous and brooding shadows of the Yorkshire moors set a dramatic background for the tragedy of WUTHERING HEIGHTS. It tells of the frustrated love of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. When Catherine marries another man, Heathcliff’s passion turns to revenge – an urge to destroy the people and the raw beauty of the places the two of them had enjoyed as children.

Emily Bronte’s only novel , a masterpiece, lays bare the full misery of a man and woman who can never be free to love one another and the ultimate destruction this brings.

Written by Emily Bronte. First published 1847. This edition published 1967 by Pan Books Ltd, second printing 1968. With an introduction by Elizabeth Jennings and notes by Phyllis Bentley. Also includes  a selection of Emily Bronte’s poems. Cover art John Raynes (Thanks Tim!).

Of course this book needs no introduction. I thought I would share this lovely edition I picked up last week at the Worthing Car Boot Fair for a £1.

I love this cover – those dark, brooding purples and turbulent brushstrokes really capture the spirit of the story. Check out more of artist John Raynes’ work over at the amazing Pan Paperback Books website. Just follow the artists link at the top of the page.

I’m reading this again for what must be the hundredth time and still loving it – the poems are an extra treat too. Five out of five stars.


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.


The Brides of Saturn

A true bride of January, Vanessa thrived on the strength of her ambitions. Even her most secret dream to marry into nobility was suddenly within her grasp when handsome Lord Edward Norville fell madly in love with her.

But Edward’s proud ancestry was marred by an unearthly malignancy that was destined to twist her hopes and challenge her Saturnian endurance.

For, the instant she dared to marry him, the ancient family curse against the brides of Capricorn would be hungrily waiting to claim her as its fourth victim.

Resurrection of Evil!

Then the lights went out. She was helpless in the dank, cavernous wine cellar. Then suddenly from a distance she heard a low, gloating chuckle – a malevolent sound that sent her fears soaring!

Wheeling around she snapped her flashlight beam in the drection of the sound. To her utter shock, she saw the outline of a crouching figure in some sort of ragged robe. Then the beam leveled on the features of a gargoyle with a twisted mouth and glittering, insane eyes.

Vanessa screamed and stumbled into total blackness…….

Writen by W.E. Dan Ross. Published by Berkley Medallion Books December 1976.

The last in this months themed Gothics, Brides of Saturn is one in a series, published by Berkley, featuring a book for each sign of the zodiac.

Other titles in this series include:

TWILIGHT FOR TAURUS By Miriam Lynch

TERROR OF THE TWIN By Dorothy Daniels

THE MOON SHADOW By Kim Allyson

THE LION’S GATE By J. Alexander

MAIDEN OF GLORY ISLAND By June Wetherell

BALANCE OF TERROR By Cynthia Van Hazinga

NIGHT OF THE SCORPION By Saliee O’Brien


Twilight Return

Stars Reincarnated

Beautiful Marge Trotter – with Cancerian impulsiveness and love for travel – accepts a summer job which takes her to the fabulous French Riviera and to Carcassonne, the place of her birth. There she becomes the focus of a bizarre contest – that involes Emilio Santori, a composer who has been dead for forty years.

Marge is told to unearth information about the notorious Santori. With her fascination for the occult, she is drawn into a series of tempestuous romantic encounters – and in a terrifyng climax discovers a love so wildly passionate that it reaches beyond the grave…

Twilight Return – An Astrological Gothic Novel for Cancer.

The Zodiac Gothic Series

An amazing new line of astrological romantic suspense novels in which the signs of the Zodiac determine the ultimate destinies.

SYDNEY OMARR, the internationally acclaimed astrologer, casts the horoscope for each heroine, to illuminate the interplay of human character and astrological influence.

Watch for your birth sign’s appearance in future editions of this star studded Ballentine series.

Written by John Kimbro. First edition Ballentine Gothic July 1976. Cover art George Ziel.

Wow, what a fantastic idea – a Zodiac Gothic series where the events are influenced by astrological birth signs. There is even an introduction where astrologer Sydney Omarr casts the chart for Marge Trotter, Twilights Return’s heroine, the last paragraph of which informs us –

“Yes, we have here a complicated, confused, talented, stubborn, loyal heroine. by September 1975, Marjorie finds peace through acheivement, is vindicated by faith displayed in her ‘murderer,’ solves a mystery, and obtains her father’s approval concerning love and family situations.”

The introduction alone is a story in itself!

This is the only Zodiac Gothic I possess and I haven’t got round to reading it yet. The other titles in this series are:

HOME TO THE NIGHT (Capricorn) by Julia Thatcher

THE WAITING EYES (Aquarius) by Evelyn Bond

TEMPLE OF DARKNESS (Pisces) by Marilyn Ross

FEAR STALKS THE BAYOU (Aries) by Juanita Coulson

MOORMIST (Taurus) by Georgina Ferrand

TEMPEST AT SUMMER’S END (Gemini) by Julia Thatcher

DRUMS OF DARKNESS (Leo) by Marion Zimmer Bradley

CAVE OF THE MOANING WIND (Virgo) by Jean DeWeese

INHERIT THE MIRAGE (Libra) By Julia Thatcher


The Third Spectre

WELCOME TO TERROR…

The newlyweds had come home to the Marchand mansion. But the silent old manor house quivered with hidden terrors.

Their life together had just begun, yet, suddenly, it faced a horrible – and abrupt – ending. For the beautiful bride had just received an invitation to die. And the murderer was near… very near…

Written by Dan Ross. First printing by Macfadden-Bartell April 1969, second printing June 1971.

Nancy Marchand is newly wedded to Ralph, a hot shot criminal defence lawyer and proud owner of a large ancestral mansion situated on the shore of the idyllic Green Ridge Lake in Vermont.

Sounds to good to be true? Of course it is! For one thing, Nancy’s husband takes his work far too seriously, giving the phrase ‘bringing your work home with you’ a whole new meaning when he brings one of his clients – the beautiful blonde and accused poisoner Jean Gilbert – home to live with them.

Ralph insists his motives are entirely professional but Nancy has her doubts, especially when Jean confesses to her she actually quite fancies him. And then Nancy starts getting ill – someone is trying to poison her…..

I quite enjoyed this book as a bit of a thriller but I did not find it very gothic. There was a lot of dialogue but not much in the way of atmosphere. The  spooky bits were very few and far between and centred around the appearance of a ghostly spectre of a long dead ancestor supposedly acting as a portent of bad things to come – but ultimately I was left with the impression it was merely  a device tacked on to the story to add a supernatural dimension. I do however love the dreamy, almost psychedelic, cover art. Three out of five stars.