Gothic Romance Artwork

gothicpainting

Can anyone help? Robert has emailed me with a scan of this original painting he’s acquired recently and he is trying to find the book it was used for. There is no signature but there is a number on the back (1524). The seller guessed it might belong to a Lancer publication, perhaps an international edition of one of Deanna Dwyer’s (Dean Koontz) gothics. It’s not one that I recognise but it’s an amazing piece of art and would make a fantastically eerie cover. Any ideas? Please get in touch. And thanks for sharing this gorgeous artwork Robert!

Climb The Dark Mountain

Climb the dark mountain close up

Dream… Or Nightmare?

Paris! Anita could not believe it. Her every dream had been of the glories of the City of Light, and now, thanks to aunt Emily’s legacy, she was really here.

Anita had one goal: becoming a successful artist. And what better place to study art than in the world capital of art? When Alexis Binaud agreed to accept her as a student, she was ecstatic… but her idol soon proved himself nothing more than a man. And Anita found she had opened the door to a dark secret… and that door was closing, locking her prisoner in a private hell!

Climb the dark mountainCopyright Press Editorial Services.

This edition published by Zenith Publications, London. (No date). 

It’s been awhile since my last post, I know… so thanks to everyone who has stopped by and left comments & emails – I promise to start replying soon! Bear with me as my beleaguered brain relearns its way around WordPress – I have been doing things the old fashioned way these past few months and am slowly refamiliarising myself with the internet.

Having reviewed a couple of Julie Wellsley novels on this site before – House Malign and Chateau of Secrets – I thought Climb the Dark Mountain would be a good book to start the summer off with since it’s been lurking on my to-read pile for ages.

The story starts when Anita Morris inherits some money and uses it to fulfil her long time ambition of becoming an artist. Thanks to a small legacy left to her in her aunt’s will, she now has enough cash to fly to Paris and study under the tutelage of renowned painter Alexis Binaud.

Lancer Edition

Lancer Edition

Montmartre is a long, long way from Maida Vale and everything Anita imagined it would be – all cutting edge glamour crossed with bohemian insouciance. As for Alexis, well, if drinking Pernod and chain-smoking Gitanes didn’t single him out as a genius, his moody charm and ruggedly handsome good looks sure do – so it’s no wonder Anita has fallen helplessly in love by the end of chapter 3.

When Alexis offers her a part time job illustrating a cartoon strip he is creating for a local paper, she jumps at the chance of spending more time with him. There is one slight catch however – for a mysterious fire at the art school means Anita will now be living and working from the artist’s home.

And it’s not just any old house. Alexis lives with his mother in an old French chateau with a dark past. Occupied by the Gestapo during the war, it is a place impregnated with evil, haunted by the ghosts of prisoners of war who were tortured and buried in its dungeons.

As soon as she moves in, Anita knows something is terribly wrong – strange accidents, a sense of being followed, shadowy figures creeping into her bedroom at night… someone wants her dead… and though she can not know for sure, the sinister, skeletal finger of gothic romance is pointing very much in the direction of one troubled artist with mad glittery eyes…

Climb the DM insert

Fast-paced, action-packed, Climb the Dark Mountain was a lot of fun crammed with whole heaps of gothicness – including eerily painted murals with eyes that follow you in the dark, an artist’s incestuous love for his dead sister, Nazis, secret rooms, madness, murder and much, much, more – I really sensed Julie Wellsley must have had a lot of fun writing this one.

But with so much going on, I found the story did get a little convoluted at times – with a confusing subplot about a spy ring or criminal gang that did not make sense to me at all – although that could be because I was far too engrossed with Alexis’ tortured love for his embalmed sibling to take much notice of other such minor fripperies.

Three out of four stars, with bonus points for this lovely cover which could have been painted by Alexis Binaud himself!

Climb the dark mountain

Do Evil in Return

“Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.”  

W.H. Auden

A dark chain of evil inexorably strangles the lives of those involved: the spirited heroine, Charlotte Keating, a woman doctor; Violet O’Gorman, the innocent victim: Lewis Ballard, who loved himself more than he loved the women in his life; Gwen Ballard, who still lived in the memory of the days when she was belle of the town… the sinister theme is subtly contrived and cleverly executed… a psychological thriller, highly recommended.” The Globe and Mail.

Originally published in hard cover by Random House. Copyright Margaret Millar 1950. Lancer Books 1966.

Another lucky charity shop find. I love this cover; it’s classy (my photo doesn’t do it justice so you’ll have to take my word for it, but her matching coral lipstick and nail polish combo is gorgeous) and it’s spooky too. Look at that sinister silhouette of someone or something lurking in the darkened window behind her – no wonder she’s running away before giving herself time to put her coat on properly!

Margaret Millar (February 5, 1915 – March 26, 1994) was an American-Canadian mystery and suspense writer. She has been credited with being a screenwriter for Warner Brothers Hollywood and was a recipient of the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1956. I think her writing is wonderful; I’m reading another one of her books at the moment and hope to review it soon.

As for Do Evil, a cursory flick through the internet reveals this has been reprinted a number of times. Here’s the back blurb from 1974 Avon Books:

“Girls like Violet often came into Dr. Charlotte Keating’s office. Violet wore a wedding ring, but then, they all did. They bought them at the dime store just before the appointment. And Charlotte’s response was the same each time: firm but sympathetic refusal. But there was something different about Violet…”

And an alternative Dell cover (with Map back) can be viewed on Swallace99’s Flickr page here – http://www.flickr.com/photos/56781833@N06/6371129973/

Evil at Roger’s Cross

THIS IS A NEW NOVEL BY CATHERINE MARCHANT, ENGLAND’S GREATEST WRITER OF GOTHIC MYSTERIES. IT HAS NEVER BEEN PUBLISHED ANYWHERE BEFORE.

Prudence Dudley sought solitude in which to recover from the ache of a lover’s betrayal.

She found an oddly isolated house in which bitter secrets lurked and sinister tensions lay buried just beneath the surface.

She tried to avoid becoming involved, but she was drawn deeper and deeper into the whirlpool of emotion. And finally she had to make a choice between two fiercely proud brothers, and discover what was hidden behind THE IRON FACADE.

Written by Catherine Marchant. Lancer Books 1965.

I’ve not read this one yet but thought I’d post it anyway since I really like the cover art and it seems a suitably storm-tossed one to usher in the Autumn with.

Evil at Roger’s Cross has also been published under the title of The Iron Façade and Catherine Marchant is a pseudonym used by the multi-million selling writer Catherine Cookson – one of the UK’s most widely read novelists, with sales topping 100 million.

Lancer published at least three other Catherine Marchant novels in the 60’s – House of Men, Heritage of Folly and House on the Fens. Out of these, I’ve read House of Men and hope to review that one soon. In the meantime, here’s a sample of  Roger’s Cross from the inside cover:

Don’t let this disturb you unduly, Pru. Yet I felt I ought to warn you.

“Don’t let this disturb you unduly.” My heart was racing now. The old fear was filling me again. My lips were trembling, and I felt sick. I could hear Aunt Maggie talking, but, strangely, I couldn’t see her, for the room had become blurred, dark. I said something. What it was, I don’t know. Then I felt Aunt Maggie’s hand gripping my wrist. So hard did she grip that I winced…

Nothing that I had been through before had caused me to faint. Now I felt myself falling…

To the Dark Tower

WITCH CULT!

Since the dawn of civilisation, the secret cults – hiding in the dark corridors and gray shadows of night – have ruled the world. Studying cave drawings in the south of Spain, Joan Lambert stumbles on evidence linking the secret witch masters of today with the damned of centuries past…and the dark minds of today control powers as great as the ancients.

Discovered by guardians of the dreaded knowledge, Joan flees for her life…but finds herself unable to outrun the nightmare pursuers. Only one place offers the hope of safety…and then she finds that it too is a puppet to the witch cult!

Copyright 1969 by Script Associates Ltd. Published 1969 Lancer Books. Cover art Lou Marchetti.

Joan Lambert is a somewhat uptight archaeologist who has suffered a terrible trauma on a dig in the Pyrenees.

Alone in a cave, she had discovered ancient relics unequivocally proving the existence of a witch cult in Western Europe that antedates the ancient Egyptians by thousands of years. She also unearthed a terrifying, disembodied presence with fiery eyes that almost killed her, and which continues to threaten her with paralysing flashbacks to this day.

Concerned for her welfare, Joan’s true love, fellow archaeologist and museum curator Wilfred Allen, has summoned her to his isolated mansion, Glen Oaks, in order to introduce her to a select group of psychiatrists, psychical researchers and scholars, whose combined knowledge of all things occult, he is convinced, will dispel Joan’s awful visitations once and for all.

There were dreams just as real. Dreams in which flesh bruised flesh , moist lips parted and you felt yourself to be caught up and held in strong, imprisoning arms. To be held captive in so rapturous a way surely had to mean that there were depths beyond depths in the human mind, and that somewhere buried deep in the mind there was a wild, free world where dreams were the only reality.

 Unfortunately for Joan, Glen Oaks turns out not to be the haven of tranquillity she has been hoping for. Bizarre rituals and horrifying murders have been occurring in the woods. On her drive to the house, a monstrous being forces her car off the road, causing Joan to flee into the arms of Sheriff Forsythe. He has been investigating the murder of the local village idiot, Willie, and his suspicions are piqued when he notices the resemblance between Joan and a little wax doll found near Willie’s body. He takes her to Glen Oaks where Wilfred and his guests are waiting anxiously, and Wilfred’s reticence under questioning makes the Sheriff even more suspicious.

That night, Joan falls into an uneasy slumber, only to be woken by the midnight whisperings of a roomful of shadowy figures standing around her bed. One by one they hypnotise her into believing Wilfred is in mortal danger and only she can save him. So Joan has no option but to sleepwalk right out of Glen Oaks and right into the woods where she believes she will find her beloved.

The branches of the towering oaks were destitute of all foliage now, and swayed in the slight breeze, looking as brittle as the bones of waltzing skeletons in a danse macabre, and the moss on their boles had shrivelled and died after turning a lichenous gray.

Instead she finds herself centre stage in a hideous Black Magic ritual where she is to be the main sacrifice. Joan by this time is too far gone to care and as the celebrants prepare her for slaughter, her only chance of escape rests on one man’s shoulders… 

Dark Tower, with all its lush descriptions of midnight woods and nameless terrors, was a great gothic read. The ‘unseen horror’ that had attached itself to Joan in the caves and which continued to menace her was very effectively done and I wish the author had stuck with this rather than distract us with all that witchy jiggery-pokery.

There were also too many long discussions between characters explaining away the plot and adding unnecessary asides – including a slightly surreal and completely irrelevant conversation about the satanic connections of Joan of Arc while our very own Joan was being gagged and bound to a stake. Overall though, there is a lot to like about this book.

So who wrote To the Dark Tower? Fantastic Fiction states Lyda Belknap Long is a pseudonym for Frank Belknap Long – Lyda being the name of his wife. But on the inside cover of my Lancer copy there is a dedication that reads:

Which begs the question, if you were writing under a pseudonym would you add a dedication to yourself? Why?! Or was this book actually written by his wife? The copyright gives no clue since it is by Script Associates Ltd so maybe neither of them wrote it! Anyway, I would recommend the Lyda Belknap Long gothics if you can find them. Four out of five stars.

Related articles

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.

Shadow Of A Past Love

COME BACK TO TERROR!

Kerry Reneau was happy in San Francisco, and confident that the bitter past was safely locked in the dark corners of her memory. She kept herself busy, too busy to think of other people… of one person. It had been years since she had seen that one man.

…And then Aunt Agatha reappeared suddenly after two years – reappeared dead! And like it or not, Kerry found herself thrust back into those other times and other places that she so much wanted to forget. But unpleasant as the homecoming seemed, she knew that it would soon be done with… and then dark horror brought the shadow of death over good memories and bad, and Kerry found herself fighting for her very life against the ghosts of the past!

Written by Willo Davis Roberts. Lancer Books 1970.

Kerry runs a bookshop on the edge of a college campus in San Francisco, so we know she’s smart. And we know she’s pretty because at least half the customers come in just to look at her – skulking around  the bookcases, buying  the occasional 50 cent paperback while working up the courage to ask her out.

But Kerry is not interested in college boys. She’s 26 years old and is carrying a torch for John, her childhood crush who’s a bestselling writer currently travelling in Peru researching his new book.

Or so she thinks. Closing up the shop one day she answers a phone call that drastically alters the course of her life. It is from Coyle, one of her cousins, summoning her back to her home town of Eureka. A woman has been killed in a hit and run accident in nearby Willow Creek. The wristwatch she was wearing has been traced by police to  Kerry’s Aunt Agatha – who disappeared from her home over two years ago and has been presumed dead ever since.

Though Kerry has many fond memories of the summers spent with Aunt Agatha and her cousins, she isn’t particularly interested in attending the funeral until she learns John will be there.

So she returns to Aunt Agatha’s. But it seems her love for John will forever remain unrequited as he continues to treat her as his ‘little cousin’ – refusing to recognise how grown up she has become. And Kerry is convinced John’s new secretary and constant companion, Lois Elliot, is in love with him too.

For Kerry, the whole trip is a bust so she decides to make a quick exit.  Paying her last respects at the funeral she notices Aunt Agatha has a mole on her face she has never noticed before. Hmm, that’s a bit strange. And then, when the contents of the Will are finally revealed,  Kerry finds out she has inherited slightly more than her Auntie’s good looks.

Surrounded by resentful relatives and the new owner of a creaky old mansion, Kerry is finding it difficult to sleep at nights. But making herself a relaxing cup of cocoa in the middle of the night turns out to be far more eventful than she could possibly imagine…

A couple of hundred pages of Lancer Easy Eye large type meant Shadow of a Past Love only took a couple of days to read which was probably just as well as it’s kind of obvious where this one is going. This is one of those ‘hazardous inheritance’ type gothics where the heroine more often than not ends up both rich and married to the man of her dreams. Some girls have all the luck.

Despite all that was happening to her, Kerry only had eyes for John and I would describe  Shadow as more of a romance than a gothic, though there were some nice spooky touches along the way – a body bricked up in the basement is always a good thing, but disappointingly no vengeful ghosts or tell-tale mutterings leading us to the killer, just a bit luck and an underfed Siamese cat. Three out of four stars.

As well as writing gothics, Willo Davis Roberts, who worked in hospitals and GP surgeries herself, wrote a number of Nurse Romances.

Nurse Romances were very big in the 50’s before their popularity was eclipsed by Gothics. My mum read loads of them and she was an actual nurse so they must have something going for them.

And in the spirit of Valentine’s day I have one lovely Ace Nurse Romance by Willo Davis Roberts to give away free to anyone with UK postal address.  Nurse at Mystery Villa is part of the Ace Nurse Romance Series. First published in 1967 this is the Ace 1973 second printing. Just email me via the contacts page and she’s all yours.


A Touch of the Witch

She was Melanie Clauseven, of Port Kulshan, Washington, who lived and worked in New York City – OR WAS SHE?

That question was to terrify the beautiful young Melanie, who, called mysteriously to her ancestral home, found it inhabited by a strange old man, a sprite like teenager – and an incredible secret.

What torturing bond held Whip Benedict fast to the elfin Ursula? Was he mad or was she actually a Clauseven  – like Melanie – but from another time and a different order of being?

But mostly, what did Benedict want from Melanie? Then she found out – there was an unknown power deep within her, and it turned an adventurous lark into a living nightmare…………

Written by June Wetherell. Published by Lancer Books 1969.

Melanie Clauseven and her handsome beau, Ward Dana,  have left the hustle of New York behind them for a trip to spooky ol’ New England.  Why? Because Melanie has received a letter. A letter from a stranger telling her she may be heir to a large  manor house situated in the backwoods of Massachusetts and offering her the chance to lay claim to this fortuitous slice of real estate.

However, imagine her disappointment when she eventually arrives at the location of her ancestral home in the hills only to find a rather eerie little shack perched precariously on the edge of  a fast flowing river. To add to the not so great welcome, the host, Mr W (please call me Whip – everyone else does) Benedict is nowhere to be found – instead our intrepid travellers are greeted by a rather strange elfin woman with a necklace of claws, who calls herself Ursula and speaks as if she lives in a time warp.

Mr Benedict eventually arrives and attempts to put his guests at ease,  filling them in on bits of family history and explaining the shack is only an add on to the main house – which lies hidden by the hill and is accessed via a rickety corridor of bits of timber cobbled together by himself (an idea I loved but found difficult to visualise at times).

But right from the start, Melanie is suspicious of his motives and her unease grows with every passing moment she is forced to stay in this creepy house. Things are not made any easier when she is awakened in the middle of the night by a black magic coven, known as the Omegates, hosting an orgy in the abandoned basement right under her bedroom.

The plot gets thicker than custard as Melanie is forced to confront her family’s murky past and the possibility that she too might be a witch. Things build to a violent climax when Melanie’s only ally, her boyfriend Ward, is knocked out by poison and she is left alone to fight against the forces that have led her to this house and into the clutches of the maniacal witchfinder Whipple Benedict.

Overall, I enjoyed this book for all its New England witchiness and sympathetic approach to our heroine’s heritage. There’s plenty to keep you occupied plot wise and lots of nods and winks toward the supernatural side of things. The characters were all fairly well written and the ending – involving a  suspenseful life and death treasure hunt for a mysterious Peruvian talisman – kept me wanting to keep turning the pages. I would have liked to have learnt a little more about those naughty Omegates though. Three out of five stars.