On the Night of the Seventh Moon

Forest of Doubt….

Helena Trant has always felt a special fascination for the myths and legends of Southern Germany, where she is living. So, lost in the forest one day, she feels little surprise when a handsome stranger appears and leads her to safety – there is a Prince Charming in all good fairy stories.

But this idyll suddenly becomes a nightmare. The passionate love that grows between Helena and her rescuer seems destined to inspire hatred, treachery, even murder in others. And as Helena draws near to the source of the evil that nurses them, she begins to feel that there will be no happy ending to her story.

Written by Victoria Holt. First published in the UK by Wm. Collins 1973. This edition Fontana Books 1974.

My mum was a big fan of Historical Romances by writers like Anna Seyton and Victoria Holt so even today I get a ‘grown up’ feeling reading these books. I saw this in our local secondhand book store and couldn’t resist the cover so thought I’d give it a go.

The scene is set when our teenage heroine wanders off from her convent school picnic and finds herself lost in the  deep dark woods of Southern Germany. From out of nowhere a tall, handsome stranger appears to carry her away into the ‘safety’ of his hunting lodge. What follows is a night of romance and intrigue where our innocent Helena very nearly loses more than her heart. But, thanks to the quick thinking and eagle eye of the trusty old servant  Hildegarde, her honour is kept intact and the very next day she is delivered safe and sound back into the arms of the worried nuns entrusted to look after her.

Of course she cannot get her handsome stranger, who calls himself Siegfried,  out of her mind, so imagine her delight when once again they meet up during a mid-summer festival of madness known locally as the Night of the Seventh Moon. This time our couple  are determined to consummate their love, so, within just a couple of days, they are married; ready, willing and able to embark on a honeymoon blissfully ensconced in the very same lodge they spent that fateful first night together.

And then, just a few days later, Helena wakes up. In her cousins house. To be told she has been delirious since returning from the woods on the night of the festival, a ravaged wreck, driven half insane by the terrible crimes inflicted on her. No one will listen to her fantastic story of  marriage to the love of her life and their fateful few days together. Plied with drugs and surrounded by disbelieving well-wishers, soon even Helena begins to doubt her own sanity. She returns to her home town of Oxford to recuperate, a shadow of her former self.

Some years later she returns to Germany, hired as a governess teaching English to the children of Count Ludwig of Lokenburg. Back in the land of haunted forests and midsummer madness, the castle’s household start preparations for the return of their Prince and when Helena finally meets him, she can’t believe her eyes or her luck. But little does she realise, her problems are only just beginning.

Seventh Moon started off great – I loved the atmosphere created by the tension in the relationship between the central characters – Helena’s almost obsessive love for this shadowy figure, to whom she is irrestitibly drawn but who you just don’t know whether to trust or not. Ultimately the  book was let down by the too pat, too happy ending- though overall the writing was very good and the story wonderfully twisted. A dark, brooding tale of longing and passion –  peppered with dark forests, haunted castles and Germanic folklore. Four out of five stars.


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The Stones of Strendleigh

Was Strendleigh Hall a gracious refuge offering shelter and comfort – or an elegant deathtrap waiting to destroy the unsuspecting…

It was a set of tragic circumstances that brought Rose to Strendleigh… or perhaps it was fate, for she came to love the English manor and the inhabitants who treated her so kindly.

Butsoon Rose learned that her ties to Strendleigh were closer than that of grateful houseguest. And the closer she got to the truth, the more obvious it became that one of the two handsome Stone brothers vying for her hand in marriage was really trying to rid the hall of its guest…permanently.

Love thwarted by greed was Strendleigh’s evil past, and now it fell to a terrified young girl to avenge that lost love – or die a victim of it…….

Written by Geraldine Killoran. First Ace printing November 1974.

Recently orphaned Rose Douglas, together with her pet pony Bonny, travel all the way down to Cornwall from Scotland to live with her Uncle Andrew in a cottage on the grounds of the Strendleigh Estate. He was the quarryman who designed and built the magnificent Strendleigh Hall and when he dies in a mysterious accident, Rose has no option but to reside at the Hall until she can decide what to do with her life.

At first it looks as if her options are limited -once her Uncle’s debts have been settled there’s not much left over for Rose – so she is very grateful for the hospitality extended to her by the Strendleigh family, in particular the two tall, dark and handsome brothers, Masters  George and Gideon Strendleigh.

Alas, the longer she stays at Strendleigh the more her life is imperilled, as small accidents start turning into death defying near misses, and as Rose learns more about the history of Strendleigh, she starts to suspect she’s inherited a little more than her fiery red hair from Uncle Andrew’s side of the family. But if she wants to claim her inheritance she needs to act fast – someone is out to kill her.

The Stones of Strendleigh is a well written historical suspense novel, with lots of added background on the history of this Cornish family and their ancestral home lending depth and credibility to the story. I’m not a huge fan of this sort of  ‘bodices and bloodlines’ kind of saga myself but the writing was good with just enough suspense to keep me involved. There’s plenty of period touches for those of you who like  your gothic gaslit and even a mysterious mad woman locked in the attic a la Jayne Eyre.  Three out of five stars.


My Love-Haunted Heart

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Everyone should have a few guilty pleasures and one of mine is the romantic gothic fiction that was so popular in the 60’s and 70’s. Long out of print, to only be found tucked away in the dark corners of charity shops, ebay and car boot sales, I find their bewitching covers and the terrible deeds hinted at within impossible to resist.

dyingemberscoverSo what is it about these small, usually unappealingly mouldy smelling paperbacks I find so attractive? Maybe it  was too much time spent watching Dark Shadows growing up or a gradual disenchantment with an over hyped, over priced market in modern horror, but time and time again, like the proverbial moth to a flame, I find myself irresistibly drawn to these haunting tales of romantic suspense and supernatural horror.

Of course with all great loves there are a few fatal flaws. The obligatory happy endings for one. One could, and should, argue that love can only truly be called gothic if it is unrequited, doomed, tortured, twisted or taboo – think Poe’s  Madeline and  Roderick or Emily Bronte’s Catherine and Heathcliff.

But I guess  for this particular genre, market forces dictated that the hapless heroine survive long enough to be swept off her feet by a real thecatspreylive hunk of (mostly) human love. To be fair, I’m sure many readers bought these books specifically for the ‘riding off into the sunset’ happy endings, but for those of us who prefer intrigue over romance, there are usually more than enough plot twists, villains, and unhappy skeletons in the closet to keep us coming back for more.

Another criticism levelled at this type of fiction is the overall quality of writing. It is true that in the wrong hands these stories can come out cliched and cheesy, with stereotyped characters, predictable plot twists and those “oh come on! give me a break!” moments that jar the reader out of the story. The subject matter and sheer numbers of these titles that were mass produced no doubt makes gothic romance an easy target.

raxlvoodooBut  I do not think this genre is any more guilty of “hack” writing than any other and in the right hands many of these books contain absorbing, evocative stories, full of the kind over dramatic gothic melodrama that’s so fun to lose yourself in occasionally, and they are a credit to their authors – particularly when you consider the very restrictive guidelines they  must of conformed to just to get published. In any event, literary snobbery aside, any book that gets people reading is a great book and there is no doubt the gothic romance genre has a loyal and avid readership.

So this blog is a collection of excerpts, cover art and reviews on some of my without a gravefavourite reads in vintage romantic gothic ficton. In their hey day during the 60’s and 70’s there must have been thousands of these books published  but these days they are becoming harder to come by and, just like the haunted houses they  depict, many of them are falling into ever increasing states of decrepitude.  I can only live in hope that someone, someday resurrects this forgotten genre and starts reprinting some of these titles, complete with their original gorgeous artwork, soon.

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