The Rest is Silence

 DEAF, DUMB…AND DEAD?

Nona O’Carty was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It was her first visit to England, and it should have been a festive vacation. She was looking forward with delighted anticipation to the royal wedding procession, and then…

She witnessed a brutal and seemingly senseless murder. At the same time, she was struck by a bullet which left her alive – but totally deaf.

She was completely unable to communicate what she knew – and she was not even sure how much she had actually seen and how much she had imagined. She was terribly, dreadfully alone. And there was no place to run – because now the murderer was stalking her, to ensure her silence… forever.

Written by Virginia Coffman.

Lancer Books 1968. Cover art Lou Marchetti.

Just when I thought I’d seen most of what Virginia Coffman has to offer gothic-wise, along comes another one! Of course Deaf, Mute and Dead would be the more politically appropriate, though far less alliterative, by-line for today’s back blurb, but I guess this was 1968.

I’ve had a quick flick through the first couple of chapters – the heroine, Nona, has a golden ticket for a royal wedding and she has travelled to England on a once in a lifetime trip from her hometown in Ireland. She is staying at the ‘little’ Richmond Hill Hotel, and this made me smile, for when my family first moved to the UK, we actually lived in this hotel for a few months – and I remember it as being very, very big! (Though I was quite little myself at the time and buildings do have a habit of shrinking as you get older).

Anyway, along with Behind Locked Shutters and The Twilight Web, this cover gets filed in the ‘shady-looking men wearing shades’ section of my bookcase.

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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.

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A Woman Possesssed

SHE WAS A WOMAN POSSESSED.

The woman who woke up on the beach thought she was Betty Bates. But the sinister man with her revealed she was Sara Dent- and that he was Henry her husband.

She had never seen him before.

She had never known Sara Dent.

Suddenly she was tormented by doubts of her own identity, fears of going mad and suspicion of her impending murder. When Henry threatened to commit her to an asylum, she ran away – back to her life as Betty Bates. But to her horror, no-one in her hometown recognized her!

Desperate, she returned to Henry to make a last attempt to regain her sanity. And there in his grim, mountaintop mansion she realized that to discover the secret of the mystery, she would have to pay – with her life!

Written by Christine Randell. First printing, Paperback Library Gothic August 1966.

This story plunges straight into the action as it opens with our protagonist, Betty Bates, waking up on a strange beach in Cyprus with a strange man claiming to be her husband and insisting she is in fact a woman called Sara Dent.

The plot gets curiouser and curiouser as we follow Betty  / Sara desperately trying to adapt to her ‘new’ life – surrounded by strangers she has never met but who all claim to know her. Has she imagined her whole life up to this point?

Her ‘husband’  tells her she is ill, that Betty Bates is a figment of her imagination and  she has been prone to these blackouts for a while but Sara / Betty is not so easily convinced. Things get worse when the love of her life, Robbie,  turns up at a dinner party. She cannot ignore the chemistry between them,  but why is it he only knows her as  Sara too?

In desperation she travels to England, hometown of Betty Bates. None of her family recognise her as Betty but at least now she can prove Betty Bates actually existed. What she learns in England helps her to understand a bit more about the mystery surrounding her identity and so she returns to Cyprus for a life and death showdown with her embittered and twisted husband Henry.

I must say this novel intrigued me and kept me turning the pages right from the beginning. The ending won’t disappoint either. The settings aren’t particularly gothic and there isn’t much supernatural going on, but it is well written with lots of suspense driving the story forward.

The cover art is gorgeous; I can’t find a credit for the artist but it looks a bit like a Marchetti to me. Four out of five stars.


Leap in the Dark

Doctor Antoine’s voice penetrated Nurse Jeanne’s shock like a distant echo, recalling her to reality. For of course, she thought numbly, this was nothing but a dream. It couldn’t be happening. This handsome man who had appeared from nowhere couldn’t be ushering in a beautiful stranger and introducing her as herself! This was a moment of madness, a nightmare from which she would awaken.

But even when she took a deep breath and forced her startled glance toward the Doctor she couldn’t focus her senses sufficiently to grasp the reality of it all. In a remote part of her consciousness, she felt as if she had leaped so far into the dark that she found herself in a world where nothing made sense; where the impossible happened, where strangers bore her own name and she was in the guise of someone else.

Written by Rona Randall. Published by Ace Books 1956.

An interesting take on the mistaken identity plot twist. Jeanne Cleary is on her way to nursing college in London and on a whim hops off the train in a remote village in France. The station’s deserted so she follows a dusty path through the countryside leading her to the local chateau.

By a strange (very strange) coincidence, nurse-to-be Jeanne finds herself mistaken as an actual nurse (due to arrive that very day) who had recently been hired to look after the lady of the manor, Comtesse de Clementeaux.

Our pretend nurse and the aristocratic old lady get on like a house on fire and Jeanne finds herself very much at home in her new role. But that’s no surprise to Jeanne for she has recognised the family crest on display in the chateau as the very same one engraved on a gold ring given to her by her deceased mother. Jeanne has stumbled into her long lost ancestral home, she is the Comtesse’s long lost granddaughter and rightful heir to the Clementeaux  inheritance.

Just as Jeanne decides to find a convenient time to break the news to her new found granny, another girl turns up – declaring herself to be Jeanne Cleary, the Comtesse’s granddaughter! The real Jeanne knows this new interloper is just a gold digging impostor but how  can she reveal her true identity without breaking her own cover? So a sticky situation turns into a quagmire of confusion as our heroine battles to assert her rightful position within her new found family and win the heart of the handsome Dr Paul Antoine.

Though the plot is completely and utterly too far fetched for comfort, Rona Randall’s writing does just about make things work and I found this a rather absorbing read. There’s not too much gothic going on – the castle is far too well maintained and sunny for starters – but there is enough intrigue and romance to keep things interesting.

The cover art is credited to Lou Marchetti and is a treat – extra points given for this cover as it’s refreshing to see a heroine dressed in something other than a floaty nightie. Three out of five stars.