The Ancestor

The Drury House Was Empty, Haunted – and Damned!

But writer Jill Abbott doesn’t mind – at first. The sinister house is the perfect place to do research on her legendary ancestor, Biddy Comfort, who is said to have been a witch.

Jill’s work goes well, especially after she meets and falls in love with Dr. Dick Reeves.

Dramatically, her pleasure ends with the disturbing appearance of her twin sister, Jennifer. They have been estranged for years – ever since the day Jennifer tried to kill her.

Then Jill discovers that her sister is a witch, the reincarnation of Biddy Comfort herself. She is gripped with terror. When Jennifer, in a jeaous rage, decides to use her fatal powers on Dick Reeves, Jill must try to save him- even at the risk of discovering that she too shares her sisters kinship with Satan.

Written by Robin Carol. Paperback Library edition, first printing December 1968. Cover art Jerome Podwil.

The back blurb says it all really. Set amidst the backdrop of a old, haunted mansion, somewhere in the rustic wilderness of Piker’s Bluff, this is the fight between two sisters, one good one bad, for the love, life and soul of one man.

Drury house – built on the edge of a cliff the locals have a strange habit of falling off of – has lain empty for decades but is maintained in reasonable condition by an old family trust fund. Jill Drury is the first sister to return home. She is a writer researching a book about her ancestors.

Not just any old ancestors mind, for Jill is descended from witches – a good witch, Daisy Drury and a bad one, Biddy Comfort. Information on Biddy is relatively easy to find, since the discovery of her journals and an old portrait in the attic, but the life story of Daisy is proving to be a bit more elusive.

Jill isn’t too bothered, she’s loves staying at the old house with her nose buried in mouldy books and family history. She is also enjoying a whirlwind romance with the handsome local doctor, Dick Reeves. Soon they fall madly in love, spending long winter nights curled up by the fireplace, planning their wedding and the rest of their lives together.

Then… just as life couldn’t get any better, it doesn’t. A knock on the door heralds the arrival of Jennifer Drury, Jill’s gorgeous, green-eyed sister who looks uncannily like Biddy. Needless to say she soon proves herself to be just as wicked.

To make matters worse, it transpires that Dr Reeves is the re-incarnation of Biddy Comfort’s very own beloved husband, Amos. Which means Jennifer / Biddy has no intention of allowing Jill to marry him, for she wants the Doctor and Drury house all to herself. To prove her point, Jennifer casts an evil spell, sending Dr Reeves into a feverish fugue that leaves him perilously close to death.

So what can Jill do to save her man? She knows she has the latent ‘witch substance’ in her body inherited from her ancestors, and that this is the only way to fight the vengeful Biddy Comfort, but she also knows that conjuring her latent powers could result in losing her soul…

There is a lot to like about The Ancestors. The back story is quite complicated but nicely told in eerie flashbacks and the author has obviously taken the time to dream up a suitably well drawn, witchy theme, creating a dark gothic mood.

On the down side, the story is narrated by a male character, Dr Dick Reeves, which confused me a little at the start (I’ve not come across many pipe-smoking heroines enjoying a round of golf between appointments) and, since he spends at least a third of the book in a coma,  created problems with the point of view at times.

But the best and most surprising thing about The Ancestor is the ending. By chapter thirteen our villainess has been suitably dispatched and the good Dr Reeves is making a miraculous recovery. I was all geared up for a happy wedding under a glorious sunset when wham! – possession, madness and wild, weird transmogrification ensues. One of the characters ends up locked away in an asylum, while another one’s face starts painfully remoulding itself. I think you can guess where this is heading – seems like you can’t keep a bad witch down after all…

Four out of five stars. (and thanks again Tom!)

Uncle Silas

WAS THERE NO ESCAPE FOR MAUD RUTHYN FROM HER SINISTER UNCLE SILAS?

“When I closed my eyes I saw him before me still, dressed in deathly black, ashy with a pallor on which I looked with fear and pain.

…And those hollow, fiery, awful eyes! It sometimes seemed to me as though the curtain had opened, and I had seen a ghost.”

Maud Ruthyn was obliged to live with her mad Uncle Silas in his isolated, terrifying old mansion for four years if she wanted to receive her inheritance. If she ran away she would be penniless. If she dared to stay, then one night she would be found lifeless!

UNCLE SILAS ranks with THE MOONSTONE, THE WOMAN IN WHITE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS as one of the most haunting, terrifying Gothic novels in the English language.

Written by Sheridan Le Fanu. This Paperback Library Edition – January 1967.

Known as the father of the modern ghost story, Sheridan Le Fanu is a Victorian novelist and short story writer whose prose continues to  chill and inspire to this day. Virginia Coffman, creator of the fantastically gothic Moura series, cites him as a major influence of hers, so I was very pleased to happenchance upon this gorgeous Paperback Library edition of Uncle Silas on a day out in Eastbourne the other week.

This is a classic gothic story -  where an orphaned teenage heroine, duty bound to the wishes of her dead father, finds herself having to live with her strange Uncle Silas until she is old enough to claim her inheritance.

So all she need do is live long enough to come of age and claim her money.  How difficult can that be? Well, for Maud Ruthyn it’s an isolated, scary existence, trapped in a gloomy old mansion, haunted by sinister secrets and strange visions,  with naught but the usual cast of crackpots for company. I’m about two thirds of the way through and though nothing too terrible has happened to Maud, I’ve a feeling there’s something more menacing going on behind those crazed, opium-glazed eyes of her Uncle’s than Swedenborgianism.

With three hundred and fifty pages of teensy-tiny typeface (times like this I miss my Lancer Easy-Eyes!) this abridged edition is at least twice the length of most my other Paperback Library gothics and is a treat. Stories like this are written to linger over – I’ve been buried in this book for the last ten days or so and can’t put it down.

They say appearances are everything and this was particularly true within the upper echelons of Victorian society. So long as some semblance of normality is seen to skim the surface of social interaction then all  is well – isn’t it? Sheridan Le Fanu uses this sentiment to great effect throughout Uncle Silas, interweaving deft touches of the macabre and grotesque into the story, building a real sense of foreboding and fear that is not always easy to put your finger on, therefore making you feel all the more uneasy. So I’ll be sleeping with the lights on for a few more nights yet…

Five out of five stars with extra gothic points for this copy since it looks (and smells!) as if it’s been providing  sustenance for the rats while lying on the floor of a dungeon somewhere.


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