Widow in White

The Defenceless Target Of A Mysterious Intruder

It began on a rainy Saturday afternoon as Margo was entertaining her new neighbours at a small housewarming party. A car ran into one of the trees on her property, and an injured man was soon installed in her guestroom.

But the smashup, Margo soon learned, was no accident. The handsome, ruthless stranger was after something in the house, and nothing – not even Margo herself – was going to stand in his way of getting it.

Copyright 1973 by Morris Hershman. First Avon printing, January 1973. Cover art Walter Popp. (Thanks Ruben!)

The goddess of all gifts second-hand has been very good to me recently, with at least one lovely gothic a day picked up at the local charity shops this week. Monday’s acquisition was the very fair of face Widow in White and oh, how I love this cover!

One thing I’ve noticed about my Avon gothics though – the cover art is usually stunning but the covers are particularly vulnerable to wear and tear. Quite often the artwork is almost completely scuffed off. This one is in very good condition for an Avon gothic – well, for one found on this side of the Atlantic anyway.

Here’s a taster from the inside cover:

Morris Hershman (born 1926) wrote under several pseudonyms, including Sara Roffman, Janet Templeton, Lionel Webb and Jessica Wilcox. And it’s his Evelyn Bond persona that looks to be the most prolific, with at least twenty gothics published in the 60’s and 70’s.

Here’s a short biog on the author, taken from the Browne Popular Culture Library page:

Morris Hershman was born on January 31, 1926. He attended New York University. On September 6, 1969, he married Florence Verbell, a writer and editor, though they are now divorced.

Hershman writes under the pseudonyms: Evelyn Bond, Arnold English, Sara Roffman, Janet Templeton, Sam Victor, Lionel Webb, and Jess Wilcox. He also writes under various other private pseudonyms. A member of the Mystery Writers of America, Morris Hershman resides in New York City.

And some more information, with scans of all his lovely gothics, can be found over at Fantastic Fiction HERE.

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The Vampyre of Moura

A TIMELESS EVIL WILL NOT REST UNTIL ANNE WICKLOW AND ALL SHE LOVES ARE DESTROYED.

When Anne Wicklow returns to Moura, the home she had shared with her late husband, it is as housekeeper for the mysterious Maitre Stavko and his daughter, Tyra. They have turned Moura into an academy for young ladies, girls innocent of the strange and terrifying events going on about them.

Despite her constant battle with the memory of her love, Anne soon realizes what the school girls do not: that Moura is pervaded by an evil so powerful, so dedicated to destruction that survival seems impossible. At the heart of this terror Anne suspects Stavko, a man she is drawn to and repulsed by; a man she fears and yet is intrigued by. And she knows she must decide which feelings are right… or risk being claimed by the deadly danger which relentlessly pursues her.

A spellbinding story of romantic suspense in the thrilling MOURA series.

An Ace Book. Copyright 1970 by Virginia Coffman.

Born 1914 in San Francisco, Virginia Coffman worked as a secretary in fan mail and publicity departments for a variety of Hollywood studios during the 40’s and 50’s before becoming a full time writer in 1965.

Her first novel, Moura, was published in 1959 and features Ann Wicklow, a feisty Irish housekeeper at a girls school who journeys to France to see what has become of one of the former students. Her destination is Chateau Moura – an isolated, wolf infested estate run by the tall, dark and brooding Master Edmond.  

On arriving at Moura, Anne soon finds herself immersed within a nightmarish adventure where all sorts of spookiness threatens to drive her to the brink of madness and beyond. Thankfully she’s tough enough to solve the curse of the Combing Lady and though there is a certain Radcliffean rationality behind all the ghostliness, the back-story is chilling enough not to leave you disappointed.

 In The Vampire of Moura we revisit the creepy mansion, now owned by the mysterious Maitre Stavko. He has converted Moura’s ruinous rooms and dark cellars into an Academy for Young Females of Quality. And not only are these young ladies rich, they are also all orphaned – conveniently unencumbered by overtly prying, curious family members. The curriculum does not seem to be agreeing with them however and it’s not long before a strange wasting disease starts afflicting Moura’s innocent young tenants.

So Anne Wicklow, now six years older and a widow living in Ireland, decides to return to her old home after receiving some disturbing letters about these strange goings on from her cousin Kate.  Keeping her past connection to Moura a secret, Anne arrives pretending to be the new housekeeper and once again finds herself pitting her wits against an unidentified evil, more than ready to claim her as its next victim….

Those who like their vampires spelt with a ‘y’ and dripping in menace as well as blood, could do a lot worse than Vampyre of Moura. Virginia Coffman can turn on the creepy and really understands how to weave a gothic web of suspense from out of the strange and the sinister. For myself, Chateaux Moura’s  dank, dripping walls and snow-shrouded woods are so vividly depicted in this series that it’s like a second homecoming reading these books  – and what a fantastically evocative place to get lost in once in a while. 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.


Behind Locked Shutters / The Twilight Web

Thought I’d post a couple more of my Dan Ross paperbacks. Dan Ross is the bestselling Canadian writer who wrote a lot of Gothic Romances, using various pseudonyms. As Marilyn Ross he wrote over 30 paperback gothics based on the TV series Dark Shadows.

Both titles below – in addition to The Third Spectre which I reviewed in my last post – are published by Macfadden-Bartell. I thought the covers were interesting in that they both feature rather sinister looking men lurking in the shadows, both of whom seem to be wearing eye patches……

Behind Locked Shutters

A Ghastly Dream Come True….

Elizabeth felt like a beautiful princess in the romantic chalet. It was a setting out of a dream.

Then suddenly her life became part of the bizarre and chilling terrors locked behind the chalet doors – weird noises in the night, cries of madness creeping down the halls, ghostly figures lurking in the shadows and pursuing her.

Where does a dream begin and where – and when – does it end?

Paperback edition Published 1970.

The Twilight Web

Better Dead Than Alive…

Rose Hilary faced a glorious future with the man she loved. Rocky Terrace, the beautiful old mansion that was to be their home, was only part of the fortune she’d inherited.

But dark terrors crouched in the estate’s every corner. The lovely young heiress was about to become a victim of happenings so bizarre she could only wish for death….

Paperback edition published 1970.

Dan Ross was a very prolific writer with over 300 novels to his credit. His Dark Shadows books each took about three weeks to write. Behind Locked Shutters was his hundredth novel, dedicated to his wife Marilyn, and published with this message on the inside cover. How cute is that?! There is an interview with Dan Ross by Craig Hamrick over at Dark Shawdows Online.

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.


Jamaica Inn

The cold walls of Jamaica Inn smelt of guilt and deceit. Its dark secrets made the very name a byword for terror among honest Cornish folk. Young Mary Yellan found her uncle the apparent leader of strange men who plied a strange trade. But was there more to learn? She remembered the fear in her aunt’s eyes…..

Out on wild, rough moors there were only two people to befriend her – a mysterious parson and an insolent, likeable rogue who broke the law every day of his life.

Written by Daphne du Maurier. First published in 1936 by Victor Gollancz ltd. This edition published by Pan Books 1976.

Set on the wild, windswept moors of Cornwall in the  early 1800’s, Jamaica Inn is a beautifully written gothic romance cast amidst the murderous backdrop of the nineteenth century criminal underworld.

Following the death of her mother and the gradual ruin of their family farm, our heroine, 23 year old Mary Yellan, decides to sell up and leave town to go live with her mother’s sister Aunt Patience. Mary has had little contact with her Aunt over the years, only remembering her as a pretty, smiling woman who had lost contact with the family when she married ten years ago. Now Patience lives with her husband,  Joss Merlyn, the landlord of  Jamaica Inn on Bodmin moor.

Suspense and foreboding literally drip from the pages as we accompany Mary on her rain lashed journey through a desolate November night to  get to the inn.  Right from the start the omens aren’t good and they certainly do not get better.  Once she arrives  Mary is greeted by a barren, unlit husk of a building out of which looms the powerful and  frightening figure of her uncle, Joss Merlyn.  The inn is as bleak inside as out and Mary is dismayed when she finally meets her Aunt – an unrecognisable shadow of her former self, reduced to a nervous, tattered wreck by her vicious, drunken husband.

Well, as a bleak November night unfurls into a bleak and dreary mid-winter, things get stranger and scarier for Mary. Jamaica Inn never seems to be open to the public and only caters to a select band of vagabonds befriended by the bullying  landlord.  Strange noises and furtive comings and goings in the dead of night hint at a darker purpose to this inn and all is soon revealed to Mary by landlord Joss himself when he slips into a drunken stupor, revealing the shocking truth behind his business.

From the moment she set foot in the inn her heart has been telling her to  flee but, determined to do right by her Aunt, Mary decides to stay, perhaps even to bring justice and an end to the practices of her murderous Uncle. But she has to tread carefully as her own life is in peril and early on our canny heroine knows she should trust no-one – not even her Uncle’s brother Jem, a horse thief who steals her heart and swears he has nothing to do with his brother’s dastardly deeds.  And what about Francis Davey, the soft spoken, albino Vicar of Altarnun, who comes to her rescue more than once when she finds herself stranded on the moors. Perhaps Mary has found an ally in him – or has she?

Like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or Donna Tartt’s The Secret History,  Jamaica Inn is one of my favourite winter reads. This is a tale steeped in mystery and suspense which grips the reader right up to the end. And this book is dark – really if you thought your Christmas was looking grim have pity on poor Mary Yellan. The prose is beautiful,  full of atmosphere and brimming with all things gloriously gothic. We have murder, madness, passion and mayhem;  stark landscapes, stormy seas and blood curdlingly horrifying crimes. It’s no surprise that Daphne du Maurier’s works are still in print to this day (though I think I prefer the cover art on my edition!). This is the perfect book to curl up with on a dark winter’s evening. Five out of five stars.

Knight’s Keep

knightskeepOrphaned Janet Bewleigh had become an heiress overnight – the unexpected reward for an act of kindness – and now the once locked doors of her beloved Knight’s Keep were open to her.

But there was an aura of evil at the stately manor house which weighed on her like an invisible shroud. She wondered about Lord Ashford, her enigmatic, strangely attractive host, and about the sad, dead girl whose ghost still hovered over the Keep.

And then Janet read the ancient family motto, and knew that the final act was yet to be played…….

Written by Rona Randall and first published in Great Britain 1967. Published by Sphere Books 1973.

Set in Victorian England and narrated in the first person this is the story of one young lady’s quest to seek sanctuary by returning to the home of her recently deceased parents,  only to find madness and murderous intentions awaiting  her.

Our heroine, Janet Bewleigh, enjoyed a poor but happy childhood, helping out in her parents vicarage in Covent Garden, giving out soup and bread to the poor. Then a sudden skating accident leaves her tragically orphaned and she is left to carry on the work of her parents alone. One of her charges, the down and out Uncle Silas, dies in yet another mysterious accident soon after, and Janet becomes an unexpected heiress to a large fortune. Not only that, but he really was her uncle and she soon finds herself visiting the large Elizabethan mansion where her mother had grown up – Knights Keep.

keepsake

As you’d guess from the cover art things don’t start off so well for our Janet, with sinister ladies in waiting, a marriage to a sex obsessed sadist and a poisoned pet puppy to deal with for starters – but after a few interesting adventures and plot twists it all works out for the best. I really enjoyed this book, it’s full of atmosphere and attention to detail with some genuinely creepy bits –  I particularly liked the relationship between Lord Ashford and his rather enigmatic stepmother, the weird and wonderful femme fatale Miranda.

The blurb on the inside cover informs us Rona Randall is established as one of the best writers of Gothic Romance. Furthermore, Knight’s Keep was nominated for a major award of the Romantic Novelists Association. At the time of print the author was living in Sussex and it’s great to read something so good by a local author – I’ll definitely be looking out for more of her stuff. Four out of five stars.

Fear Among the Shadows

fearamongtheshadows

“Because he saved your life you refuse to believe he could take someone else’s…”

Julie Wescott knew that Greg could not have killed his wife; he was with her the night his wife was murdered. But the dead woman’s brother was convinced that Greg was responsible….. and suddenly Julie realized that she didn’t really know the handsome, charming man she loved at all.

In love with Greg, but drawn to David, Julie knew that one man was telling the truth – and the other was trapping her in a maze of deception and greed where death was the only exit…..

Which one could she trust?

Written by Louise Hoffman, first Ace printing September 1974.

shadowsfearThere are no crumbling castles, no ghosts or evil entities lurking in the shadows and the whole story takes place in sunny 1970’s California. But don’t let that put you off as this is a rather well written murder mystery that keeps it’s secrets right up till the end.

Our heroine, Julie Wescott, gets swept out to sea and nearly drowns, only to be swept off her feet by the tall, bronzed and handsome Greg Drake. Things couldn’t get any more perfect until she discovers he’s married – and then events go from bad to worse when his wife ends up dead. What looks like a tragic shooting following a botched burglary becomes enshrouded in mystery as Greg’s brother in law, David, appears on the scene – convinced Greg is the actual culprit and determined to avenge his sister’s death by proving his guilt.

But Julie cannot believe her beloved Greg could do such a thing and, with an alibi tighter than skin on a drum, neither can we. Or can we? But how could he have done it when he was with Julie the night of the murder?And what about David? Is he all he appears to be anyway?

Needless to say it all works out in the end but, with some interesting plot twists, dark revelations and a complete red herring that had me fooled right up to the end, this is a suspenseful, page-turning murder mystery worthy of an episode of Columbo. Three out of five stars.

My Love-Haunted Heart

longlivingshadow

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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