The Casebook of Dr Holton

Like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, Dr Paul Holton and Manfred Blackton enjoy a deadly rivalry. Time and again they meet, on different battlegrounds, but the victor’s prize is always the same: a human soul.

In The Gilded Sarcophagus, their first adventure, the life at stake is very precious to Holton. His fiancée, Julie Font, has become a pawn in a dangerous game of mystic power… and the forces of evil are on Blackton’s side.

The struggle resumes in The Cup of Thanatos, the story of Holton’s clash with a society dedicated to worshipping the ancient God of Death. The gripping climax takes place in the most unholy of monasteries, where the sacred and the profane vie for the possession of an innocent young girl.

Written by Charlotte Hunt (aka Doris Marjorie Hodges). The Gilded Sarcophagus copyright Ace Books 1967. The Cup of Thanatos copyright Ace Books 1968.

These are the first two books in Charlotte Hunt’s Dr Holton series. Dr Holton is an eminent English psychiatrist who finds himself pitted against the evil occultist Manfred Blackton and his exotic sidekick, Zerena.

The Gilded Sarcophagus opens with Dr. Paul Holton’s fiancée, Julie, turning to him for help to find her missing twin brother Simon. A suicide note and a large quantity of drugs has been found at his flat but no body. Julie claims a telepathic connection to her twin and is convinced he is still alive. She suspects his disappearance has something to do with a sinister group of people who call themselves the ‘Circle of Ra.’ Their leader, the enigmatic Manfred Blackton, has been spending a lot of time befriending Julie and Simon’s Uncle Rupert and Julie believes his motives are far from innocent.

For Uncle Rupert is a keen occultist and archaeologist recently back  from Egypt and in possession of a priceless ancient artefact known as the Roth Parchment – an Atlantean papyrus with talismanic powers containing references to a secret mine of Uranium, which, if it fell into the wrong hands, could bring destruction to the world. Devastated over the recent death of his wife, Rupert has been attending séances held by the Circle of Ra to try to make contact with her spirit.

Julie is certain Manfred Blackton is merely exploiting her Uncle’s recent bereavement in order to gain access to the secrets of the Roth Parchment  and since Simon had been transcribing this parchment for his uncle when he disappeared, she is sure Manfred Blackton holds the key to her brother’s disappearance. According to Julie, there had been a terrible row during which Simon threatened to expose Dr Blackton for the philandering fake he really is.

So, with the help of his commando-trained cockney manservant and an old school friend at Scotland Yard, Dr Paul Holton attempts to uncover the truth behind Simon’s disappearance. Little by little he is drawn into the shady world of the occult. And when his beloved Julie is kidnapped and held in a trance-like spell only an evil magician can undo, Paul’s powers of self control are tested to breaking point…

Sarcophagus has plenty to please if occult thrillers are your thing. There are  spooky seances, strange rituals, ancient legends, mysterious talismans and a daredevil plot to bring about world domination, contrived by villains as cold and calculating as they come.

What makes this atypical to most gothic romances is that the protagonist, Paul Holton, is… well, a man. Furthermore, he’s a man who starts and ends the novel completely devoted to his fiancée  Julie so there is absolutely no ‘romantic suspense’ involved at all. However he is a very nice man and I will be reviewing his next run-in with the evil Manfred Blackton in the Cup of Thanatos soon.

The cover art is by Raymond Kursar and matches the  flavour of the story perfectly. A more evil looking mage I’ve not seen for a long time…. Four out of five stars.


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The Black Dog

A STRANGE AND HORRIFYING DEATH

Lottie Daley, a young teacher interested in psychic lore, was sure that the handsome stranger was the creature of legend, born of a virgin centuries before. The legend whispered that he appeared every twenty-five years, accompanied by the black dog who guarded his mothers grave. Lottie could sense his sinister and hypnotic influence sapping her will and pulling her into the strange world of the psychic occult – toward a strange and horrifying death.

Written by Georgena Goff. First published Belmont productions 1971. This Five Star Paperback published by PBS limited 1973.

More canine confabulations this month courtesy of Five Star Paperbacks. I love my Five Star paperbacks! They can always be relied on to deliver the goods in the gothic-occult-thriller pulp fiction stakes.

Lottie is engaged to be married to Jed, a ‘spook-investigator’ currently writing a book based on a local medium called Holmes and the legend behind the source of  his psychic powers – allegedly dating back through his family for twelve generations.

On meeting Holmes, Lottie finds herself irresistibly attracted to his magnetic charms and mesmeric powers. Turning up at his house one day she finds him seated in an enormous gilded cage, projecting images on to a large television screen and she cannot resist him any longer. The deal is subsequently sealed when they are married by Holmes himself in a solitary midnight ceremony.

Alas, much to Lottie’s chagrin, it is not her body Holmes is lusting after and  for the rest of the book she spends alot of her time listlessly wafting around in a floaty white nightie, weeping hysterically into her pillow. Isolated from Jed  and  trapped in Holmes’ mansion,  the naturally feisty Lottie is unable to do anything for herself; it seems the more she loves Holmes the more she is sapped of her energy.

Meanwhile, Holmes’ behaviour towards his new bride becomes increasingly cruel and bizarre and when Lottie discovers the presence of two emaciated ‘child-women’ moaning in the basement she suspects her life is in danger. Summoning every spare ounce from the last vestiges of her strength, she makes a run for it – only to be met in the woods by a ferocious black beast with red glaring eyes…

Black Dog is an enjoyable read; the writing is a bit  touch-and-go at times but the unashamedly wanton kookiness of the plot more than makes up for that. There’s something for everyone here – strange cults, spooky seances, shapeshifting incubi and an impregnated mad woman imprisoned in the cellar. Five out of five stars – naturally!

An interesting note about the cover. I’ve noticed quite a few gothics seem to recycle the same covers for different novels. Why is that? As you can see, this cover is the exact same one used for the Fawcett Crest edition of Ammie Come Home by Barbara Michaels. The cover art here has a signature (Harry Bennett?) which isn’t visible on the Five Star edition.

And here is a much more evocative and fittingly canine cover for Black Dog.  This mass market paperback is the 1972 Belmont / Tower edition. 

Black Dog