Menfreya

Menfreya close up (2)

“Love, lust and the Cornish sea pound through this saga of a 19th century family.” EVENING STANDARD.

For Harriet Delvaney, the great house of Menfreya, standing like a fortress on the Cornish coast, has always been a citadel of happiness and high spirits. Not until she herself comes to Menfreya as a bride does Harriet discover its legend of infidelity, jealousy and murder. And not until that legend comes dangerously to life does Harriet begin to believe the old story that when the tower clock of Menfreya stops, it means that someone is about to die…

“Sinister… a splendidly wild background.” BOOKS AND BOOKMEN.

Menfreya Fontana (2)Written by Victoria Holt. First published 1966. First issued in Fontana Books 1968. 

Our first encounter with Harriet Delvaney is as a thirteen year old runaway – fleeing the confining, hostile environment of her father’s grand London house to hide out in an abandoned old cottage on an island just off the Cornish coast.

From here she gazes across the dawn-lit sea towards Menfreya, an enchanting stately manor sprawled across the cliff top. Home to the Menfrey’s and more castle than house, Menfreya’s gothic turrets, machicolated towers and ancient flint walls symbolise for Harriet everything she has been longing for in her short, sad life – romance, intrigue, mystery and adventure.

Menfreya Fawcett Crest (2)

Fawcett Crest reprint. Cover art Harry Bennett

Fast forward a few years and Harriet’s adolescent dreams have come true. Now a wealthy heiress and married to the dashingly handsome Bevil Menfrey, she has become mistress of Menfreya. However, this being a gothic romance, the best of times very quickly sour into the worst of nightmares for our heroine, with madness, murder, treachery and rape being just a few of the ordeals she finds herself enduring. Worse still are the mercurial moods and roving eyes of husband Bevil, forcing Harriet to ask herself – did he marry her for love or for a reason much more sinister?

Menfreya Fontana banana

Fontana 19th Impression 1979

Menfreya is a great read full of all the usual ingredients beloved by fans of Victoria Holt’s novels – gorgeous settings oozing atmosphere, a likeable heroine who is feminine without being flighty partnered alongside a dangerously rakish leading man whose motives will keep you guessing right till the end. It’s a familiar formula yes, but in Holt’s hands never predictable and I love the way she weaves complex family histories and mythologies so effortlessly into her books, creating back-stories which are just as engrossing as the main plot of the novel itself. 

I have three copies of this book. My favourite by far being the older Fontana edition with its wild n’ wuthering crimson-stained sky. I got this from Healthy Planet, complete with a stamp on the inside cover asking me to pass this book on once I have read it… but I think I’ll be keeping this one for some time yet!

Menfreya Fontana (2)

Advertisements

Where Shadows Lie

Tonight, with the room almost completely dark, the chairs and love seats and footstools had lost their outlines and seemed to have become crouching shadows.

More fancies – I am letting myself become obsessed with them, Elizabeth thought, allowing my imagination to run away with me. Still, she was glad to reach her small bedroom and lock the door behind her.

Once in bed, she fell asleep almost immediately, deeply and dreamlessly.

What awakened her she did not know. Sounds became magnified. The creaking of an old board somewhere outside her bedroom door was like a groan in the stillness. The muttering of the ocean seemed to rise to a roar. A fog horn far out on the water sang its melancholy song.

And through those other sounds came another, so unlikely that she pulled herself up on her pillow and sat hugging her knees, her ears straining and her eyes staring sightlessly into the darkness.

Surely there could not be a baby crying here in Gray House!

Written by Miriam Lynch

An original Pinnacle Books edition. First printing March 1972.

Our heroine, the lovely Elizabeth Lyman, is a true blue-blooded American, whose ancestors were prominent in the days before the Revolutionary War. We meet her as she is on her way to her childhood home, Gray House, situated in a small town just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. The house once belonged to her forefather the legendary John Hackett Gray, a hero of the American Civil war. These days, Gray House is open to the public over the weekends, presided over by its two elderly custodians, Elizabeth’s Aunts, Lydia and Dorothy.

Elizabeth doesn’t have too many fond memories growing up in the company of these ‘stern, sour faced’ women and so her unexpected visit is not a social one. Clearing out the belongings of her recently deceased parents, she has recently come into possession of an old steel box. Inside this box are some letters, written by the late, great John Hackett himself, as well as a leather bound journal belonging to his wife. Convinced her Aunts will be ecstatic at her find and will want to preserve these treasures for future generations, Elizabeth has decided to deliver the documents over to them herself.  

Alas, her welcome is worse than even she could of imagined. Her Aunts make it plain they are far from happy with Elizabeth’s sudden arrival, their mood improving not a whit when they receive the diary and papers.

By now Elizabeth is too tired to care. Exhausted by the long journey she just plans to say her hello and goodbyes before beating a hasty retreat back to her apartment and her job as a secretary in the Town Hall. But fate conspires against her as sickness and a broken down car force her into accepting her Aunt’s begrudging hospitality.

Now most gothic heroines end up in perilous situations as a direct result of having too much curiosity – with Elizabeth Lyman however, the opposite is true. For if she had only read through the old diary before handing it over (and let’s face it, who can ever resist reading someone else’s secret thoughts given half a chance?) she could have saved herself a whole heap of trouble. As it happens, the few days she spends at Gray House with her vinegar-veined Aunties prove not only unpleasant but potentially lethal. Fortunately for Elizabeth, there is a handsome young author around to lend her a hand or two, but how far can she really trust him…?

I’ve reviewed a few Miriam Lynch titles on this blog, and enjoyed them all. One of them, The Deadly Rose, shares a similar ‘psychotic little old lady running wild in a rambling death-trap of a house’ plot to this novel and Miriam Lynch certainly knows how to work the spooky spinster theme very convincingly.

What I really like about her writing is the way she can keep a story moving – avoiding bogging the reader down in narrative – while still finding the time to lend a gothic hand to the proceedings. All the books of hers I’ve read contain some very effective scene setting, with wonderful terror-laden descriptions of her heroines’ state of mind as they find themselves embroiled ever deeper in danger.

The cover art for this one is rather lovely too. I found a slightly more modern version (pictured above) at a Miriam Lynch book covers page here: http://book-covers.lucywho.com/miriam-lynch-book-covers-t603914.html.

I’m giving Where Shadows Lie four out of five stars, with extra gothic points for the grisly discovery of two skeletons found hidden in the cellar, entwined in each other’s bones.

 

House of Tombs

THE SARCOPHAGUS

…held the key to her passion – archaeology. She had come to this house of tombs on the windswept Maine island to learn from the greatest scholar of them all, Professor Scot Wiegand.

DAYS PASSED. WEEKS.

First she discovered the secret passageway in her room. Then the golden leaf which nearly caused an ‘accident.’ Then the buried cigarette case engraved with the initials L.M. Its owner had also an accident, a fatal accident.

Denise Stanton was beginning to think the Weigand family was not what it seemed.

AND THEN SHE FOUND THE MUMMY…

 A gothic novel by Caroline Farr. Copyright 1966 by Horwitz Publications Inc. First printing December 1966. 

Bizarre ritual murder, a love-starved madman and two beautiful women? Sounds an explosive combination and I was looking forward to getting stuck into this one over the holidays. 

Set in 1966 on an isolated island off the stormy coast of Maine, House of Tombs follows Denise Stanton, a young secretary starting her new job as a live-in assistant for the famous archaeologist, Professor Scot Weigand. Her destination is Werewold House, home to the professor and his extensive collection of encrumbled artifacts.

On the ferry over, Denise learns a bit more about her employer – that he has spent the last year under psychiatric care, having had a breakdown over the mysterious death of his one-time friend Meredith, a man rumoured by locals to have been having an affair with the professor’s (much) younger wife Karen and who met his untimely end when he fell off the cliffs near Werewold.

Denise is naturally uneasy by these stories, and soon finds she has even more to worry about once she arrives at the house. The professor seems a nice enough man, but his wife Karen and son John are giving her the heebeegeebees. Then there are the strange scratching noises emanating from behind the sliding panel in her room, as well as the torn up note, hinting at insanity and murder.

Amidst a backdrop of Sumerian myths, ancient Egyptian burial rites and dusty, sarcophagi-strewn museum rooms, House of Tombs is an enjoyable enough read if a little confusing at times. (The back story about Denise being related to the Weigand family disappears almost as soon as it’s mentioned, making me wonder whether the author just forgot about this part of the plot, with the nutty professor himself becoming a complete nonentity after chapter 2).

Plot holes and vanishing characters aside, there were enough gothic trappings in House of Tombs to keep things interesting and the burial rite towards the end of the book, in which our heroine finds herself the unwitting handmaiden to ‘evil queen’ Karen in Werewold’s very own death pit, provides a suitably suspenseful climax to the adventure. 

As for who wrote this book, well, if lines like – “A love of surfing and the sea has given me a better-than-average figure, with long slim legs and good breasts,”  hadn’t already given away the author as a man, Romancewiki confirmed this in their entry on Caroline Farr by stating:

“Caroline Farr is the pseudonym of Richard Wilkes-Hunter (1906 – 1991), a prolific Australian writer. Under this name, he wrote a number of Gothic romance novels. He used over a dozen pseudonyms and wrote war stories, romances, spy novels, westerns and pornography. Sometimes this name is incorrectly attributed to Allan Geoffrey Yates.”

However, Fantastic Fiction lists Caroline Farr as a pseudonym used by at least two other writers – Carter Brown and Lee Pattinson, as well as Richard Wilkes-Hunter, so I’m not 100% sure who the credit should go to.  Whoever it was, I’m guessing this was a book written to order rather than a labour of love.

Overall then, I’d say this is a slightly better than average gothic-by-numbers but not one worth being buried alive for. 3 out of 5 stars. 


The Love of Lucifer

The Letters

Ghosts of the Past

The Mysterious Stranger

Murder…

These were what Nan Sue Carollton found when she returned to the old manor house to find out why her sister Joanne had stopped writing. But Joanne was dead now – the victim of a madman, or a calculating killer? And then, as if history were repeating itself, Nan Sue realized that whatever evil had destroyed Joanne was waiting around the next corner – for her…

Written by Daoma Winston, Lancer books 1970. This edition, first Ace printing April 1976.

Born 1922 Daoma Winston is a prolific writer of gothic romances with strong occult themes and I have previously reviewed one of her books, The Devil’s Daughter HERE.

The Love of Lucifer opens with the heroine, Nan Sue, returning to her family home, the haunted Carollton Manor, after two months away working as a teacher. As she makes her journey through the twilight shrouded Maryland countryside we learn there is very little tying her to this cursed place – both her parents are dead and Carollton Manor has been taken over by Greta James, the dark haired, bony faced lover of Nan Sue’s father, who moved into the Manor soon after Nan Sue’s father had died.

Far from being put off by the rumours of the Carollton Curse, Greta and her family are delighted. Avid believers in the occult and trained as mediums, they soon throw themselves into all sorts of demonic dilly-dallying, making Nan Sue increasingly uncomfortable in her own home and eventually driving her out to find a new life for herself somewhere else.

The only reason Nan Sue is making this journey back is because she is worried about her little sister Joanne – Nan Sue’s only relative who is still being looked after by Greta James. Nan Sue has received some frightening letters from  Joanne, hinting at sinister goings on and she is afraid for her little sister’s safety.

Arriving at Carollton Manor the house seems deserted, the front door open. Following a flicker of light seen under a door at the end of the gloom-ridden hall, Nan Sue finds herself smack bang in the middle of a terrifying séance, her sister Joanne slumped at the table in a trance.

It’s a bad beginning for Nan Sue and it doesn’t get any better. A horrible murder follows which tests Nan Sue’s emotional endurance to the limits. Plagued by nightmares, she finds herself waking up in the local graveyard not knowing how she got there and witnessing all manner of awful apparitions in the middle of the night. It’s not long before she is questioning her sanity, believing herself possessed of evil spirits. Unfortunately, the one person who wants to help her is also the prime suspect for murder…

The Love of Lucifer started out really well, with some great gothic descriptions of creepy séances. The murder, occurring early on in the book, is quite shocking and well written and so sets the scene for an intriguing read. My attention did seem to wander off about half way through – not sure why, but I found it difficult to keep track of the bad guys and they didn’t seem scary enough to me, which made me question why it took so long for them to get their come-uppance.

The cover art is lovely – with a gorgeously detailed wrap around illustration – I haven’t found a name for the artist but I did find a picture of the original artwork HERE.