Dark Dowry

ORNAMENT OF EVIL

The black pearl necklace – young, beautiful, enigmatic India Stuart-Brice gazed at it with mingled awe and foreboding. This fabulous treasure was her sole legacy from the aristocratic father whose death had shattered her sheltered life in British Calcutta- and sent her halfway round the globe to relatives she did not know and a fate shrouded in fearful mystery.

Desperately India clung to her precious pearls – even when she discovered their price in peril. Their uncanny beauty was no blessing but a curse that poisoned love and threatened life itself… as East meets West in a climax of horror…

THE BLACK PEARL SERIES

Is the masterpiece of supreme gothic story teller Willo Davis Roberts. You’ll want to read each complete novel of this enthralling epic of romance and suspense, all in Popular Library editions.

Written by Willo Davies Roberts. Published by Popular Library, a unit of CBS Publications. May 1978.

Descended from aristocracy but exiled from England under mysterious circumstances, widower Judson Stuart-Brice is enjoying a cloistered existence, safe in the enclave of his Calcutta mansion and far from the biting gossip of London’s High Society.

All this changes after his brutal murder, when he is shot down in an alley in what first appears to be a motiveless crime.

Now it’s up to India, as the eldest daughter, to do right by her family. Named after the country she grew up in, we meet India as she is sailing to Monterey with her three younger siblings in tow. Orphaned and penniless, they are off to the Golden State in order to throw themselves at the mercy of some distant relatives.  For their father has left them nothing – nothing that is except for Black Pearl necklace hidden under the folds of India’s skirts.

Ahh, them pearls, them pearls…the rarest of them all and a dark dowry indeed; perfectly matched, each a deep iridescent grey, they were once the property of a heartbroken maharajah, who disposed of them when his sweetheart died before she ever had the chance to wear them.

And, before his untimely death, India’s father has handed them down to his daughter, with the sage advice that she should use them as a means to maximise her chances in attracting a suitable husband. He doesn’t disclose exactly how they came into his possession but he does live long enough to reassure her their unhappy past in no way makes them unlucky or cursed.

Well, that was his opinion. India soon begins to suspect otherwise and it’s not long before all manner of accidents, intrigues and incidents start to plague her – stolen luggage, bolting stallions, deadly spiders hiding out in her underwear drawer –her new  life in California is turning out very precarious indeed. Someone is after her precious pearls, and worse, the finger of suspicion is pointing directly towards her handsome new beau, Nathan Peltier.

With a bodice-busting total of eight novels to its name, Willo Davis Roberts’ Black Pearl Series seems like the perfect gothic saga to lose myself in during these long, long rainy days of spring and I’ve been looking forward to making a start on this for a while now.

 As an introduction to this ‘enthralling epic of romance and suspense’ Dark Dowry was an enjoyable enough read, though a little on the light side. There was plenty of romance, a little bit of suspense but, disappointingly, no ghosts or ghouls lurking in the shadows of its pages, despite all the promising talk hinting at demonic deeds, embraces of evil, and honeymoons in hell.

Hopefully this will change as the saga continues and I plan to revisit The Black Pearl Series soon. In the meantime, here’s a taster of instalment number two – The Cade Curse.

THRESHOLD OF TERROR

The fabulous black pearl necklace was blood-warm around beautiful Carolyn Stuart-Brice’s throat, but icy fear filled her heart as she stood before the altar with the man she knew only as Jack Cade. This handsome, iron-willed stranger had swept her off her feet, brushed aside her protests, and compelled her to say yes to his startling marriage proposal.

The cover art to this one is by Hector Garrido. The original artwork, as well as some more of his covers, can be seen on a wonderful flickr gallery devoted to his art: HERE.

The Medea Legend

“Trust no one,”

Aunt Hester tells sensitive Medea when she is called to Margrave House by her mysterious guardian. Once there, Medea’s clairvoyant visions intensify, plunging her into a nightmare of murder, pagan sacrifice, family tragedy, and a psychic battle waged from beyond the grave. Only the power of love can save the young girl from the evils recounted in THE MEDEA LEGEND.

Can Medea resist her shameful destiny – or must the Satanic bargain be fulfilled?

Written by Elizabeth York. This Pocket Book edition published October 1975. Cover art Hector Garrido.

Set in the days of curricles and carpetbags, Anne Carlson is just your normal, high society orphan, living with her Aunt in Bath. Until that is, she turns seventeen, when she is beset by strange visions triggered by an unusual silver bracelet hidden amongst her mother’s jewellery.

Soon after the visions start, a mysterious, handsome stranger makes his appearance. He introduces himself as Leo Courtney aka Viscount Margrave, Anne’s benefactor and guardian of her parent’s money until she comes of age. And he has travelled to Bath to take Anne back to her ancestral home in Norfolk, where she can learn more about her heritage and running the family estate.

Anne is intrigued but her Aunt is appalled – particularly when he informs Anne her real name is Medea, and that her Aunt was only bringing her up as Anne because Medea is too ‘pagan’ a name for high society in Bath.

Medea (as Anne is now called) is desperate to learn more about the strange deaths of her parents and curious about her stately home, so her Aunt reluctantly agrees to accompany her to Norfolk with Lord Margrave and his faithful steward. On the way, they stop by Stonehenge and Medea has another of her fearful visions. This time she is transported back in time and is witness to a horrifying ritual where a young girl is sacrificed.

Things don’t get any better when Medea reaches Margrave House. Her nightmarish visions are becoming increasingly vivid and horrifying. Then young girls from the local village start disappearing, only to be found hideously murdered with their throats cut. The villagers all suspect witchcraft and Medea is horrified to learn Lord Margrave agrees.

In desperation she confides to Lord Margrave about her own premonitions, half expecting him to laugh off or even worse, dismiss her experiences as the product of an over excited imagination. Instead he takes her into his inner sanctum – a secret chamber of prayer and meditation. Here he informs her that he is a member of The Brotherhood, an occult society formed to fight the forces of evil. He explains to Medea that her mother, Diana, was a powerful witch who was channelling the forces of evil using Black Magic rituals. Worse still, he believes Medea may be in danger from possession by her mother’s spirit. So he has brought her to Margrave House to train Medea to control her psychic powers in order to fight this evil and use her gift for good.

After a bit of soothsaying, he takes Medea in his arms and proposes to her, insisting they marry within the week, exclaiming their love will be the most powerful weapon against these malignant forces.   

“Will you have me, Medea? I’m old enough to be your father. I’m an odd fish, with no desire for the fashionable life of Mayfair. Certainly I’ll wish to show you off, but I’ll offer no marriage of convenience. I’ll insist you come to the marriage bed, and I’m a jealous man. Though I’ll allow you the need for the entertainments of youth, I’ll take a switch to you if you try to take a lover. Could you be Lady Margrave and live pleasantly with a student of the occult for your husband and not fear him?”

Medea is ecstatic and in no way suspicious at the rush. Everything seems to be going hunky-dory until the wedding gown arrives – for it is not the one she has ordered but is identical to the one worn by the priestess in her visions. Fleeing for her life, Medea almost makes it out of town. Almost. One minute she is in the local inn, stopping off for a swift half before continuing her escape, the next she has woken up in a crypt, dressed in ceremonial robes while around her familiar faces are preparing for her baptism into the forces of Satan….

I won’t give away the ending but it is suitable suspenseful and romantic and I was mightily impressed with The Medea Legend. The story starts a little slow and some of the dialogue is annoyingly cumbersome in its Olde Worldeness, but there is plenty to please in the occult department with a fine back-story involving Medea’s evil witchy mother. Four out of five stars.

 

The Bat

TERROR WAS MASTER OF THE MANOR…

When lovely Dale Ogden came to the isolated Van Gorder manor to act as companion to the strange and eccentric woman who ruled the household with a grip of iron, she little suspected the turn her unshadowed life would take. Why was there chill fear in the eyes of everyone she met, from the faithful family retainers to the haunted man for whom she felt so dangerous an attraction? What secret horror past and present did the twisted corridors and windswept countryside conceal? And why, suddenly, inexplicably did she feel herself marked as a victim?

Written by Mary Roberts Rinehart. New Dell Edition First Printing 1969.

The story takes place in a large, isolated country house recently rented by an  elderly, adventure-loving patrician called Cornelia Van Gorder, who is accompanied by her beautiful young niece Dale Ogden.

But this is no idyllic summer retreat. There is a masked criminal stalking the streets –  robbing the rich he strikes soundlessly in the night, vanishing into thin air while leaving a trail of dead police and even deader millionaires in his wake.

Get him – get him – get him! From a thousand sources now the clamor arose – press, police and public alike crying out for the capture of the master criminal of a century – lost voices hounding a spectre down the alleyways of the wind.

Cornelia has been following the exploits of this masked marauder and it has not escaped her attention that three of the Bat’s most recent crimes have been committed within a mere twenty miles of very house she is currently staying in.

Cover from Cover Browser

Soon enough all manner of strange comings and goings start scaring off the staff, leaving the indomitable Ms. Cordelia faced with a long restless night in her house full of  horror. Throw in a secret room, a murder, a cache of hidden money, not to mention the forbidden romance between her young niece and the new ‘gardener’ – who incidentally believes Urticaria is a new hybrid of rhubarb – and the night proves to be an eventful one.

Get whom, in God’s name – get what? Beast, man or devil? A spectre – a flying shadow – the shadow of the Bat.

Originally written as a play in 1926, The Bat has a real old-fashioned murder mystery feel to it. There are moments of real suspense, mixed with some genuinely funny dialogue and though I wouldn’t describe it as gothic,  it’s still worth a read. The gorgeously whimsical cover is by Hector Garrido. Three out of five stars.

To watch the silent film version – click HERE.