Monks’ Court

Margaret Collier, a young, attractive, recently widowed American girl, stands at her hotel window looking out over London on a sultry night and is inadvertently caught up in the intricacies of a murder that involves distinguished looking, coldly remote Englishman Hugh Vane.

Giving way reluctantly to a compulsive urge to discover the facts of the murder, she seeks out Sir Hugh at his ancestral estate, Monks’ Court, deep in the Shropshire countryside, and once the site of an ancient monastery.

The spell cast by the enigmatic Sir Hugh and by his beautiful and fateful house are Margaret’s undoing. She is enmeshed in events that take a terrifying turn when the threat of a second murder arises. This time, it is her own life that is menaced, and it is seemingly only the ardent devotion and determination of an American newspaperman, Richard Page, that offer her any hope of escape from the net that is tightening around her.

Once again, Katherine Wigmore Eyre has proved herself expert in creating the atmosphere for a plot charged with excitement. Glimpses of London and the English springtime countryside provide an authentic background for her story. In this splendid, fast-moving tale she demonstrates her mastery of the novel of suspense.

Katherine Eyre lives in San Francisco but knows England well. She loves the English countryside, and of London says, “It fascinates me. I can’t stay away.”

Copyright Katherine Wigmore Eyre 1966. Published by Appleton – Century Meredith Press. Jacket painting by Charles Geer.

I bought this lovely first edition hardcover for £1 at the street market yesterday. I’ve reviewed another of Katherine Wigmore Eyre’s gothics, The Sandalwood Fan, last year and I struggled to finish that book due to its slow pace and lack of gothic mood.  Monks’ Court, with its ancestral, ‘fateful’ house and rural setting, certainly sounds a little more promising so maybe I’ll get round to it one day.

Though I’m not such a huge fan of hardcover books, I love it when I find one adorned with a cover sleeve in such good condition. The artist, Charles Geer, has illustrated a number of gothic dust jackets and he has a very distinctive style – especially his gorgeously ruinous and rambling houses. Check out more of his amazing artwork HERE and HERE and HERE.

Another bonus is this lovely photograph of the authoress on the back – that dramatic lighting combined with such a classy pose makes her look every inch the quintessential gothic romance writer!

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.

Gothic Romance Lending Library

She came to a place of mist and menace – where even kisses tasted of terror… Haunted by a love that could not die but now could kill… Mystery lured her to the old castle, Death would show her the way out…

Foreboding mansions, misty moonlight and the moaning wind… There’s not much better than a night in with your favourite gothic romance is there? Well, imagine having a whole library full of them at your fingertips, delivered right to your door, without any of the hassle of having to find that precious extra shelf space!

Sounds like one of my favourite fantasies, but for those of you living in the good ol’ U.S.of A, this dream is a reality. Kristi Lyn Glass, founder of The Gothic Journal, has sent me some great news regarding the Gothic Romance Lending Library – it has now been re-housed and is looking bigger and better than ever.

Gothic Heaven!

Started in August 1996, the Gothic Romance Lending Library (GRLL) is a not for profit service that now contains over 3,400 volumes. That’s right, 3,400 gothics! I’m lucky (or insane) enough to own a few hundred of these books and the thought of owning a whole library full of them sounds like heaven. Even better, you can order up to eight books at one time and can keep them for approximately three months.

Kristi Lyn Glass is the founder of the Gothic Journal, which she started in 1991. The magazine’s purpose was to connect readers with gothic romance novels and their authors and publishers during a period in which publishers were disguising these books as titles in a variety of other genres.

Throughout the 90’s the Gothic Journal was the news and review magazine for readers, writers, and publishers of romantic suspense, romantic mystery, and gothic, supernatural, and woman-in-jeopardy romance novels. Though the final issue was published October / November 1998 the journal has an online presence, with a recently updated website, and continues to remain a great resource for anyone interested in gothic romance. Back issues of the Journal can also be ordered from here.

So for more information, just follow the links below:

Gothic Romance Lending Library

Gothic Journal Newsletter

Kristi is looking for others who share her passion to sign up as ambassadors and spread the word about the library, journal and all things gloriously gothic romantic. Just visit the link above and add your name to the list! And THANK YOU Kristi for all your suspenseful endeavours in keeping the Gothic Romance genre flag flying! Fans like me really appreciate it!

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.

Wuthering Heights

Dominated by the wild, terrible figure of Heathcliff and infused with much of the bleak beauty of its setting, the Yorkshire Moors, Wuthering Heights is one of the most highly imaginative novels in the English language. Such is the intense power of the atmosphere which Emily Bronte builds up that even the incredible Heathcliff seems real and every detail of the fantastic story of his love for Catherine Earnshaw remains clearly remembered long after one has finished the book. It is a strange story, with something of the vividness of a nightmare and something of the beauty of an old ballad, and it contrasts strongly with Agnes Grey and Jane Eyre, the novels which were written at the same time by Anne and Charlotte Bronte.

Written by Emily Bronte, first published 1847. Published in Penguin Books 1946. This reprint, 1965. Cover art Paul Hogarth.

I’ve said it before and will no doubt say it again – there’s too much running and not enough kissing going on in this blog and so of course I had to share this gorgeously smoochalicious cover of Wuthering Heights the minute I saw it.

According to Wikipedia, Paul Hogarth OBE was an English artist and illustrator best known for the cover drawings that he did in the 1980s for Penguin’s Graham Greene’s books. And yes, his artwork is worth looking out for – search for his book covers online and there is an amazing array of his work out there, it’s great.

And it’s been a good week for ferreting out some of my favourite books and writers – in addition to the Penguin edition of Wuthering Heights above, I also found this:

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte. Written by Daphne du Maurier. Doubleday edtion published March 1961. Giant Cardinal edition published December 1962. 1st printing October 1962.

Of all the Brontes, Branwell, as a child, showed the most promise. He was worshipped by his sisters and his widowed father; it was to him they all looked for literary success. Yet he alone was unable to bridge the gap between childhood fantasy and adulthood, and produce a mature, finished book.

There is, however, no question of his influence upon the writings of his sisters, and certainly Emily drew heavily on him for her memorable portrait of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

Conscious to the end of his sisters’ success and his own monumental failure, he turned to a life of dissipation and withdrew to live in the wild, fantastic imagination of his mythical, self-invented kingdom of Angria.

He died at thirty one, from alcohol and excessive laudanum – an ‘eloquent unpublished poet.’

It’s an amazing biography – Daphne du Marier’s skill as a novelist and storyteller bringing the life and times of the Bronte family alive. Anyone interested in the writings of the Bronte sisters can’t help but be drawn in by this beautifully written and wonderfully observed portrait of their incredibly talented but deeply troubled brother, Branwell.

I bought both these books for £1 at the wonderful Colin Page Books in Brighton, an amazing bookshop known and loved by bibliophiles far and wide. This is the kind of place that sells proper old books – gilt edged, leather bound, dusted in antiquity – rows upon rows of them, stacked floor to ceiling in that wonderful  ‘there must be some sort of order to this chaos’ way that real bookstores have.

And fear not all you cheap’n’cheerful paperback pulp fans – this place has something for everyone! For outside the shop are a couple of trestle tables where the paperbacks are sold and there is always a great selection, most priced at a very reasonable £1. I’m lucky enough to live and work nearby so this is one of my favourite lunchtime stops for a browse and a bargain!

For more info on this wonderful place, check out the antiquarian Booksellers’ Association page HERE.

House of Hate

The Gathering Storm…

The stately mansion of the Thibaults was filled with the treasures and the memories of gracious living… but it held more than that. The world of the Thibaults had been shaped by art and music, but something in the house seemed to feed on a vicious undercurrent of fear and frustration. When Norma Theale came on a mission of mercy, she became a catalyst, around which a storm of dark furies gathered… waiting to burst and spew its evil over all. Because Norma was there, someone was going to die…

Would that someone be Norma herself?

Written by Dorothy Fletcher. A Magnum Book – Complete and Unabridged. Copyright 1967

A little bit of April tomfoolery to usher in the first of the month today. Paul McCartney played the Royal Albert Hall last week and his backing video to Paperback Writer at first glance looked to be a rather fabulous montage of Nurse Romance paperback art.

Nurse romances were very big in the 50’s and early 60’s before the gothic romances eclipsed their popularity. Mind you, the nurses in Sir Paul’s video look rather sinister (something about those surgical masks… and those little trickles of blood..) and they look as if they would be right at home in a gothic, assisting in the horrific experiments of some mad professor, somewhere deep within the dungeons of an isolated asylum…

Anyhow here’s a glimpse of the video taken from another show of his:

I don’t have any Nurse Romances myself, but I have a few gothics featuring nurses on the cover and House of Hate is one of them. Another is Leap in the Dark, written Rona Randall with a stunning cover by Lou Marchetti, which I’ve reviewed earlier on in this blog.

And if you want to have a look at some real Nurse Romances, check out The Vintage Nurse Romance Novels blog HERE.

The Vampire Curse

THE KISS OF DEATH

Teena Halliday, paying an extended visit to Rentlow Retreat, doesn’t want to pose for Jeremy Rentlow, a noted sculptor. There are malicious rumors that he is a vampire, which make Teena uneasy. But Jeremy persists and Teena finally gives in.

Soon after the sittings are underway, Teena begins to feel weak and tired, but Jeremy refuses to let her miss a session. Suddenly Jeremy tells his family of their engagement. Teena does not love him but she does not have the strength to protest. It is as if she has become his prisoner, with no will of her own.

Then Teena notices strange marks on her neck. She dares not ask – are they the marks of a vampire? Is Jeremy’s kiss the kiss of death?

Copyright 1971 Coronet Communications Inc. First Paperback Library Edition January 1971. Cover art Victor Kalin.

Teena Halliday’s mother, the exotic Margaretha, is getting married. Again. She has a six month honeymoon planned in South America with her handsome new beau and there is absolutely no way she can have an eighteen year old daughter in tow. So dear old mum has arranged for Teena to travel four thousand miles across the globe to go stay with distant relatives in New England, and her daughter has just four days notice to pack what she needs and leave the Mediterranean villa she has come to call home.

Teena is devastated by this bombshell, but there is a tiny ray of hope – for her father, whom she hasn’t seen in over twelve years, has written to say he will be meeting her at the airport in Boston.

However, when Teena arrives in Boston her father is nowhere to be found. Instead she is met at the airport by Rory, a family friend of the Rentlows. Rory is tall and handsome, with green eyes and ‘competent’ hands but Teena is too upset by her missing father to notice.

Arriving at Rentlow Retreat, Teena is introduced to her new ‘family’ –  the unwelcoming Aunt June and surly Uncle Charles, her niece, the slightly manic Estrella, who has a massive crush on Rory herself and who is already treating Teena like a competitor for his affections. And then there is cousin Jeremy, the mysterious sculptor – tall and dark with glittering eyes – who has attached himself to the Rentlow family in more ways than one.

Brought up in posh boarding schools in Europe, Teena is not sure what to make of this rag-taggle lot. But, stifling her qualms, she is determined to keep a bright outlook on the situation. Her father must be around here somewhere, and at least she has Scuffy, the cute friendly terrier with whom she can take for long, relaxing walks in the surrounding woods. After all, Teena tells herself as she settles in to her first night at Rentlow Retreat, how bad can things be?

The next day, an ancient mirror falls on her head and Scuffy dies of a strange wasting disease. Things go from bad to worse as Scuffy’s burial gives Jeremy the perfect excuse to show Teena his special pet cemetery at the bottom of the garden. It’s a shadowed place, eerily quiet, dotted with sculptures of the animals buried there, each marble lovingly carved by Jeremy himself…

I allowed him to lead me from statue to statue. Unwillingly, and with a peculiar pounding of my heart, I listened while he told me about each of them, and how he had sculpted them, and how the models had died and been buried.

Jeremy’s voice went on, low, husky, hypnotically gentle, giving me the names, even the biographies, of the pets he had buried there.

And then, suddenly smiling, he said, “I hope you don’t think that I’m showing off, Teena, love. I just wanted you to have a good look. As a homage to what I’ve loved, I suppose. And to see if you think all this a fitting memorial.”

I felt a sudden cold, the silence around us had become painful. But I said, “Off course it is, Jeremy. You do beautiful work.”

Oh dear. Teena is finding Rentlow Retreat a little difficult to adjust to. Her unease increases once Scuffy is buried, for that is when Jeremy turns all his glittery-eyed attention on to her, suggesting she starts to model for him. Teena has a bad feeling about this. A very bad feeling. Hastily making excuses, she does what she can to put him off, but Jeremy’s hypnotic stare and indomitable will are proving all too impossible to resist….

Overall I enjoyed The Vampire Curse – it had vampires, romance, an interesting heroine, and enough spills ‘n’ chills that kept me turning the pages. The gory stuff wouldn’t suit many of today’s readers (well, there wasn’t any gore) but I did like the creepy touches and precarious locations scattered throughout this story –there were mazes to get lost in, cliffs to fall off of and lots of crumbling architecture tumbling down on people’s heads.

Daoma Winston was born in Washington D.C November 1922. I’ve reviewed a couple of her books on this blog – The Love of Lucifer and The Devil’s Daughter and, though her writing can be a little on the light side when it comes to blood and guts horror, I love the unusual settings and macabre twists to her tales.  Four out of five stars.

There Came Fear

Night flight from Gibraltar. It opened a new world to the lonely girl – a word in which she saw, for the first time, the glittering promise of romance. If only it could have stayed that way. If only…

Written by Jill Newland. Published by Oracle Library, no. 267.

I came across a lovely looking pile of vintage romance magazines, all going cheap at a jumble sale last week and I couldn’t resist digging out a few of the more gothic-looking ones for a read.

There Came Fear tells the tale of Jean, a young lady returning to London from a visit to her sister in Gibraltar. With no job and no boyfriend, she understandably feels there is not much waiting for her at home. That all changes on the plane when she meets a handsome man called Ian, who claims to be a journalist and a famous ex-opera singer, the incomparable Lucia Fidanza, or plain old Lucy Green to her friends.

Lucy takes a shine to Jean immediately, as does Lucy’s dashing nephew Robin. The future starts looking bright for Jean and she finds herself sharing the comforts of Lucy’s grand old mansion, while being wooed by two men, one of whom makes her feel protected and safe, the other, a dangerous playboy, sends her pulse all a flutter.

Of course the good times can’t last. Lucy is murdered, most probably for the beautiful jewels she rather recklessly keeps lying around the house. Jean is beside herself, both her suitors are prime suspects for the killing but without any more proof, the police are powerless to act further. It is up to Jean to solve this heinous crime and lay her worst fears to rest – but, can she choose the right man?

There’s not much I’ve found out about the Fleetwood Oracle Library line, except that they were printed in England and published each month by Fleetwood publications. The magazines themselves comprise of  a single story, about sixty pages long, with no additional information that I can see about the author or the artist.

Though There Came Fear is more of a standard romance rather than a gothic, I can live in hope I might stumble across some gothic romance magazines one day, or perhaps something along the lines of the penny dreadfuls that were so popular in the 19th Century. Marvel published a series of gothic romance magazines in the mid-seventies but they are quite rare nowadays – some cover scans can be seen over at Stl Cover Galleries. They look  gorgeous!

Northanger Abbey

DARK SHADOWS,

BRIGHT HUMOR…

If tales of terror set in old, dark houses scare you or inflame your imagination, you’re not unlike Catherine Morland, heroine of this marvelously impish satire by Jane Austen.

Northanger Abbey is the medieval manor of Henry Tilney, with whom, while at a summer resort, Catherine falls in love and wants to marry. But she becomes darkly suspicious of the abbey once invited there – for she has read many of the Gothic horror novels popular in the author’s day. Surely a wicked crime lies buried in it. Surely, Henry’s eccentric father is gruesomely involved…

The true situation at the manor exposes Catherine’s folly. It also subjects her to a deeper humiliation. For NORTHANGER ABBEY (1818) is a literary satire, a mystery, and something more. It is a bright, barbed study of social snobbery, of the search for love frustrated by ambition and greed. As such, critics have rated it not far behind Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE – and, in its own right, one of the greater glories of English literature.

Complete and unabridged. Written by Jane Austen. Finished 1803, first published 1818. Special contents of this edition copyright 1968 Lancer Books. Cover art by Dick Kohfield.

Catherine Morland is 17 and loves reading gothics. Her current fave, The Mysteries of Udolpho, is ‘the nicest book’. Her passion for ancient edifices and all things horrid is second only to the love she feels for Henry Tilney, the young man who has caught her eye while visiting Bath. So when Catherine is invited to stay with his family in the medieval manor of Northanger Abbey, she is ecstatic.

Paperback Library Gothic

Henry is no stranger to the gothic novel himself and he has a fine old time adding fuel to the fire of young Catherine’s over-inflamed imagination, regaling her with tall tales of the sinister servants and haunted passageways that await her at the Abbey. When they do arrive at Northanger, Catherine is almost disappointed to find how well kept and modern it is, bereft of ‘the heaviest stone, of painted glass, dirt, and cobwebs’. Surely there could be nothing to fear in such safe, comfortable surroundings? Could there?  

If you like chick-lit and Regency romance, chances are you already love the works of Jane Austen. Northanger Abbey is a satire on the popular gothic novels of her day and as such is worth a read. The story begins and ends with the usual mélange of men, marriage and money I’d expect from an Austen novel but the middling bits get suitably suspenseful and show off her obvious fondness for this genre. Four out of five stars.

This edition of Northanger Abbey is one of my Minster Classics. From what I can make out by the inside cover, Minster was a company based in London, England who published forty eight classic titles, including such gems as The Adventures of Pinocchio, Black Beauty, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights and Robinson Crusoe.

There is something reassuringly familiar about them – something comforting about their cheap & chunky feel in my hands, their easy on the eye typeface and non-glare paper – not to mention the wonderful cover art and Americanized spelling on the back cover blurb.

Sure enough, though Minster books were sold in the UK, the contents and covers were printed in the U.S.A and copyrighted to Lancer. They are identical to the Magnum Easy Eye Classics range published in 1968, so perhaps Minster was a UK subsidiary or something.

Anyway, here are a couple more of my favourites:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving.

Of Mischief and Mirth…

Two early Dutch – American roques leap merrily to mind whenever their famous creator in mentioned. One is the gangling Yankee schoolmaster Ichabod Crane – that awkward butt of many past pranks – who, riding a plow horse home from a party onne night, is terrifyingly pursued by a headless horseman. The other is a genial lazy Catskillian wo awakens from a twenty-year nap to find the Revolutionary War come and gone, himself an old man in a new young world.

Washington Irving wrote copiously more than ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Rip Van Winkle,’ however, and this volume includes many of his neglected romances told in the slyly humorous vein of his two masterpieces. Not all are set in New York State; indeed, Ichabod and Rip themselves are European folk heroes who Irving Americanized. He was equally at home with German, Spanish and Indian legends, and his eye for local colour makes at least one tale of a plains buffalo hunt unforgettable. This collection, chosen from seven of Irving’s forty volumes, represents at his finest a graceful writer often called ‘the father of American literature.’

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

‘Hullo, Mole!’

Hullo, Rat!’

No they weren’t just calling each other names, for this was the formal first meeting of Mr. Water Rat and Mr. Mole, and they were being polite about it.

The wonderful picnic on the river that came of this meeting is the beginning of the story THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS has to tell. Soon Mr. Toad of Toad Hall – a curious creature indeed – comes on the scene, and then the real fun begins.

Though there is a good deal of genuine animal lore in the book, it is not meant to tell us how animals live. Rather it simply tells a story that is charming fun to read, and leaves the reader with a warm glow of appreciation for both human and animal friends.

Kenneth Grahame, who liked to tell stories to his own little son and later expanded them into this book, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1859. He died in 1932.

The cover scan of the Magnum Easy Eye edition of Northanger Abbey, as well as some more gorgeous illustrations from other editions of this novel, can be found HERE.

The Ledge

Young Catherine Beauchamp had defied her father and ignored all warnings when she took the job at High View. There were whispers about the brilliant ex-senator who lived at the remote mountain estate; ugly rumors about his strange behaviour and the mysterious death of his first wife. But Catherine did not want to hear them. She too had secrets in her past.

Yet from the moment she entered the decaying mansion she was filled with foreboding. With each passing day the ledge from which the senator’s wife had plunged grew more ominous. And sudenly she realized she had trespassed on a nightmare…

… JOURNEY TO TERROR.

Written by Gertrude Schweitzer. First Dell printing January 1973.

I picked this one up at a local used bookshop a couple of weeks ago and though it’s a bit tattered and torn, I just love the cover. There might not be an obligatory light shining from the mansion’s top window, but the colours are gorgeous and the title font has a real seventies look to it.

The Ledge opens with our heroine, the bereaved and vulnerable Catherine Beauchamp, winding her way to a new job as secretary for ex-senator Amos Kent. Early on we learn Catherine has recently recovered from a serious mental breakdown; this job is the start of her new life and an important step towards regaining her sense of self worth and confidence.  

But from the offset the omens aren’t good. Nearing Garretston, the town where the senator lives,  she runs over a squirrel and is forced to pull over, shaking like a leaf, waiting until the ‘old horror loosened its claws.’ And the welcome when she finally arrives at her new home isn’t much better – Amos Kent is a guarded, embittered man suspected of killing his last wife. His West Indian housekeeper, Mrs Willymore or Willy for short, has secrets of her own and looks after her boss with a strange kind of quiet over-possessiveness. And she may or may not be drugging Catherine’s drinks and rifling through her drawers at night, but if she is, then why?

1973 Hardcover

Story-wise I really wasn’t expecting much more than your average ‘guess who wants you dead for your money, honey’ kind of gothic but I must say The Ledge is turning out to be a rather engrossing read. There aren’t any ghosts in this house but plenty of disturbing dreams and damaged psyches, all colliding to create a taut, suspenseful read. Here’s a taster from the inside cover:

“Something rustled. There was the sound of breathing close by. Catherine held her own breath. The sound of breathing continued. This time there was no mistaking it. Someone was in her room.

She sat up, her heart pounding, and called out, “Who’s there?” But she saw who it was before the words were out.

Mrs. Willymore stood beside the bed in her peignoir. Silent. Then slowly she moved a cloth toward Catherine’s face. Catherine shrank back.

“Don’t be frightened.” The housekeeper whispered.

Like the sinister Mrs Willymore, this book whispers rather than screams and if understated, well written psychological thrillers are your thing, I would definitely recommend it. Four out of five stars.

There is a signature to the bottom left of the cover but unfortunately I can’t make head nor tale of it. Any ideas?