Shadow of Evil

Shadow of Evil close up

DRIVEN BY AN UNEARTHLY TERROR, PORTIA MUST PROTECT THE MAN SHE LOVES.

The beautiful widow Portia is an investigator into the occult.

She is aided by her fiancé, Owen Edwardes. Suddenly their future is threatened by the diabolical, lovely neighbour, Princess Tchernova – who pursues Owen like a beast of prey. She wants to see him dead. Portia uses every weapon at her disposal – including her love and her mastery of the occult – to keep Owen out of her rival’s clutches.

The duel between Portia and the princess will haunt the memories of addicts of the Gothic novel for many long, dark nights.

Shadow ov EvilOriginal title – Invaders from the Dark. Copyright 1960 by Greye La Spina. Copyright 1925 by the Popular Fiction Publishing Company, for Weird Tales, where an earlier version of this novel appeared in the issues for April, May and June 1925.

This Paperback Library edition is published by arrangement with Arkham House. First Printing September 1966.

Barely a year into her marriage to occult philanthropist Howard Differdale, Portia finds herself widowed when he is struck down dead in the midst of a particularly treacherous ritual. Undaunted by this cruel twist of fate, she makes the brave decision to carry on her husband’s work. But it’s a lonely existence, made all the more difficult by the ill-will and malicious rumour-mongering of her neighbours.

To combat her isolation and curtail the town’s gossips, Portia invites her Aunt Sophie to come live with her and it’s through Sophie’s eyes, presented in the form of a manuscript recovered by Greye La Spina herself, that the story unfolds.

Sophie is initially concerned for her niece but her fears are allayed somewhat by Portia’s new found maturity and unceasing resolve to continue with her late husband’s work.  Even better, there is an handsome young man on the horizon  – the eligible Owen Edwardes – whose interest in Portia appears to be reciprocated, and hopeless romantic Aunt Sophie is determined to bring them together.

But there’s a rival for Owen’s affections – the mysterious, the sensuous, the carnivorous Princess Irma Andreyevna Tchernova. Swathed in furs, her eyes glowing garnet in the gloom, she has a manner that many find alluring, coupled with a sleight of hand as fast as she is fair – linger just a little too long in her presence and you may find yourself the unwary recipient of a strange looking flower pinned to your buttonhole – a foul smelling, fleshy bloom that serves a deadly purpose.

No man can escape her fast-fingered charms and it’s Owen in particular she has set her glittery-eyed sights on. Though many find her pointy-toothed smile irresistible, it only serves to sap the sunlight from Aunt Sophie’s day and her heart sinks each time she sees the hapless Owen falling ever deeper under the princess’s spell.

Sophie isn’t the only one who is heartsick as Portia has long held suspicions of her own. To those with the occult know-how, the signs are obvious; Princess Tchernova keeps wolves for pets and eats nothing but meat; her fingers are unnaturally long, her eyebrows unnaturally low. Moreover, those hideous Orchids she keeps throwing around have a use far more sinister than the townsfolk could ever imagine.

2010 Ramble House reprint

2010 Ramble House reprint

One stormy night Portia confides in her Aunt, simultaneously revealing her suspicions while educating Sophie into the reality of the loup-garou or werewolf. Using her extensive occult library and powers of persuasion she convinces her Aunt that, not only do these monstrous beings exist but that the Princess herself is a shape-changing werewolf, intent on turning Owen into her life-long mate.

Using powers of astral projection along with some good old-fashioned peeping through other people’s windows, Portia and Sophie’s worse fears are confirmed when they witness the princess performing a strange ritual of her own – plying Owen with a liquor extracted from some lycanthropous stream that brings with it the curse of becoming werewolf.

Uh-oh. Time is running out for our intrepid duo if they are to save Owen from the clutches of Princess Tchernova. Preparing for his rescue, disaster strikes in the form of an enormous explosion that rocks through the town, destroying the princess’s mansion. Sophie and Portia watch helplessly from their window as the mansion burns to the ground, dismayed in the knowledge that Owen could not possibly survive such a catastrophe.

The shock has barely worn off when there’s a knock on the door. Portia answers it to find the princess’s mute servant standing on the threshold, accompanied by a large grey wolf….

Shadow of Evil backcover

Shadow of Evil is a fabulous read where romance, intrigue and supernatural thrills ‘n’ spills all combine to create a story as weird as it is wonderful. And as far as anti-heroines go, the Princess Irma Andreyevna Tchernova is a villainess as exotically gothic as her name implies.

Greye La Spina has written a few werewolf stories and it is obvious she has a more than passing interest in her subject matter – I particularly enjoyed Portia’s account detailing lycanthropy in terms of the use and abuse of faith and how those sworn to evil are just as capable of performing miracles as those sworn to good – an explanation which made perfectly spooky sense while I was reading it late at night over a glass of wine or two!

Born in 1880 in Wakefield Massachusetts, Greye La Spina lived a life as unconventional as her gothic heroines. More about her and her contribution to early pulp horror can be found over at The Innsmouth Free Press HERE. There is also an informative thread on her works over at the ever-fabulous Vault of Evil. 

Four out of five stars, with extra gothic points for use of the word decoction

Shadow of Evil

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The Vampire Curse

THE KISS OF DEATH

Teena Halliday, paying an extended visit to Rentlow Retreat, doesn’t want to pose for Jeremy Rentlow, a noted sculptor. There are malicious rumors that he is a vampire, which make Teena uneasy. But Jeremy persists and Teena finally gives in.

Soon after the sittings are underway, Teena begins to feel weak and tired, but Jeremy refuses to let her miss a session. Suddenly Jeremy tells his family of their engagement. Teena does not love him but she does not have the strength to protest. It is as if she has become his prisoner, with no will of her own.

Then Teena notices strange marks on her neck. She dares not ask – are they the marks of a vampire? Is Jeremy’s kiss the kiss of death?

Copyright 1971 Coronet Communications Inc. First Paperback Library Edition January 1971. Cover art Victor Kalin.

Teena Halliday’s mother, the exotic Margaretha, is getting married. Again. She has a six month honeymoon planned in South America with her handsome new beau and there is absolutely no way she can have an eighteen year old daughter in tow. So dear old mum has arranged for Teena to travel four thousand miles across the globe to go stay with distant relatives in New England, and her daughter has just four days notice to pack what she needs and leave the Mediterranean villa she has come to call home.

Teena is devastated by this bombshell, but there is a tiny ray of hope – for her father, whom she hasn’t seen in over twelve years, has written to say he will be meeting her at the airport in Boston.

However, when Teena arrives in Boston her father is nowhere to be found. Instead she is met at the airport by Rory, a family friend of the Rentlows. Rory is tall and handsome, with green eyes and ‘competent’ hands but Teena is too upset by her missing father to notice.

Arriving at Rentlow Retreat, Teena is introduced to her new ‘family’ –  the unwelcoming Aunt June and surly Uncle Charles, her niece, the slightly manic Estrella, who has a massive crush on Rory herself and who is already treating Teena like a competitor for his affections. And then there is cousin Jeremy, the mysterious sculptor – tall and dark with glittering eyes – who has attached himself to the Rentlow family in more ways than one.

Brought up in posh boarding schools in Europe, Teena is not sure what to make of this rag-taggle lot. But, stifling her qualms, she is determined to keep a bright outlook on the situation. Her father must be around here somewhere, and at least she has Scuffy, the cute friendly terrier with whom she can take for long, relaxing walks in the surrounding woods. After all, Teena tells herself as she settles in to her first night at Rentlow Retreat, how bad can things be?

The next day, an ancient mirror falls on her head and Scuffy dies of a strange wasting disease. Things go from bad to worse as Scuffy’s burial gives Jeremy the perfect excuse to show Teena his special pet cemetery at the bottom of the garden. It’s a shadowed place, eerily quiet, dotted with sculptures of the animals buried there, each marble lovingly carved by Jeremy himself…

I allowed him to lead me from statue to statue. Unwillingly, and with a peculiar pounding of my heart, I listened while he told me about each of them, and how he had sculpted them, and how the models had died and been buried.

Jeremy’s voice went on, low, husky, hypnotically gentle, giving me the names, even the biographies, of the pets he had buried there.

And then, suddenly smiling, he said, “I hope you don’t think that I’m showing off, Teena, love. I just wanted you to have a good look. As a homage to what I’ve loved, I suppose. And to see if you think all this a fitting memorial.”

I felt a sudden cold, the silence around us had become painful. But I said, “Off course it is, Jeremy. You do beautiful work.”

Oh dear. Teena is finding Rentlow Retreat a little difficult to adjust to. Her unease increases once Scuffy is buried, for that is when Jeremy turns all his glittery-eyed attention on to her, suggesting she starts to model for him. Teena has a bad feeling about this. A very bad feeling. Hastily making excuses, she does what she can to put him off, but Jeremy’s hypnotic stare and indomitable will are proving all too impossible to resist….

Overall I enjoyed The Vampire Curse – it had vampires, romance, an interesting heroine, and enough spills ‘n’ chills that kept me turning the pages. The gory stuff wouldn’t suit many of today’s readers (well, there wasn’t any gore) but I did like the creepy touches and precarious locations scattered throughout this story –there were mazes to get lost in, cliffs to fall off of and lots of crumbling architecture tumbling down on people’s heads.

Daoma Winston was born in Washington D.C November 1922. I’ve reviewed a couple of her books on this blog – The Love of Lucifer and The Devil’s Daughter and, though her writing can be a little on the light side when it comes to blood and guts horror, I love the unusual settings and macabre twists to her tales.  Four out of five stars.

Rosevean

SOMETHING SINISTER PURSUED ANN FORRESTER AT ROSEVEAN-

SOMETHING THAT MADE HER SLEEP IN FEAR AND WAKE IN TERROR!

Ann Forrester came to Rosevean, a gloomy gothic mansion, as the personal assistant to its iron-willed mistress, Mrs. Pendine.

At first Ann’s duties were routine. Suddenly she realized that Rosevean was a house riddled with jealousy, secrets and menace.

But it wasn’t until Mrs. Pendine’s strange death that the tentacles of Rosevean reached out to Ann herself, strangling her slowly and surely in its fatal grip…

Written by Iris Bromige. First Paperback Library printing September 1965.

I’m going through a bit of a John Fowles phase at the moment, which means I’m falling a bit behind on my gothic romance reading. I’ve just finished the French Lieutenant’s Woman  (a review of which might possibly be squeezed on to these pages, the leading lady was nicknamed Tragedy after all…) and I’ve now started on The Collector, so it might be a while before I have any reviews to post here.

In the meantime I thought I’d show off another lovely Paperback Library Gothic. This looks like a Lou Marchetti cover to me, though I can’t see a signature. The lady in the foreground looks a little awkward but I love the wintry palette of blues used for that dark bruised sky – a trademark of many of these Paperback Library covers.  

According to my (out of date) reference book on Gothic and Romance writers, Iris Bromige is a British writer born in London 1910, educated at Clapham County Secondary School and married to Alan Frank Bromige. She lived local to me on the Sussex Downs and was one of Women’s Weekly’s most popular contributors.

Best known for her ‘gentle, quiet, English’ romances rather than her gothic novels, she has had over forty titles published on both sides of the Atlantic since the 1940’s.

There’s not much about Iris Bromige on the web, though there is a site dedicated to her books with some photos, here: http://www.thirzajane.com/ib/welcome.html. Seems like they’re looking for more information on the life and works of this author, so if you have anything to share, please get in touch.

Happy reading!

Place of Shadows

SOMEONE TRAPPED LENNITH FORRESTER IN THE AIRLESS WALL SAFE AT HILLHOUSE, AND IN ONE INSTANT, SHE LEARNED THE MEANING OF TOTAL FEAR!

“You are going to die here,” I heard myself say.

I listened to my own sobs.

So black; all around it was so black. I sank down to the floor.

The Safe was sound proof. Air proof.

Down on the floor I started screaming again, kicking my heels furiously against the metal of the sliding door. Somebody must hear that!

But maybe that “somebody” was the person who had locked me in here…

I can’t get out. Nobody will ever let me out.

“You’re afraid,” I cried out to myself.

Oh yes, I’m afraid. I’m so afraid…

Copyright 1959 by C. Kage Booton.

First Paperback Library printing December 1965.

I wanted to post this to show off the gorgeous cover by George Ziel. This time I know who the artist is because Lynn Munroe  has recently forwarded me a link to a booklist he has compiled on cover art by George Ziel, a concentration camp survivor born Jerzy Zielezinski  in Poland 1914, who died in Connecticut USA in 1982.

Fans of the Paperback Library Gothics, as well as the Dell Mary Roberts Rhinehart covers, will instantly recognise George Ziel’s hauntingly beautiful artwork. Very few of George Ziel’s covers were credited on the published books but Lynn has done some exhaustive research, creating a checklist with an amazing collection of covers by this artist.

The booklist of George Ziel covers can be found here: 

http://lynn-munroe-books.com/list62/George_Ziel-home/Ziel_checklist-home.htm

And a fascinating biog of the artist, including some great background information on Paperback Library gothic cover art, can be found here:

http://lynn-munroe-books.com/list62/GEORGE_ZIEL2.htm

Thanks Lynn!

After Dark in the Playing Fields…

… is not the title of the book the above detail was taken from (The Troubled House by Kate Booton) nor is it a ghost story by M. R. James (well it is, but not for the purposes of this post). No, this is the name of a rather lovely blog bestowing pleasing terrors and warnings to the curious. And Mlle Ghoul has been kind enough to ask me a few questions on my fascination with gothics. So if you’re curious too, follow the link here:  After Dark in the Playing Fields.

And if you want to find out more about the book behind this gorgeous cover, here’s the rest:

Written by Kage Booton. Paperback Library Gothic. First printing January 1966.

THE DEAD OF NIGHT WAS A TIME OF TERROR FOR BETH BELLAMY AT SINISTER KING HOUSE.

Even before Beth Bellamy was offered the job of secretary to brooding, secretive novelist Stanley King, she had heard rumours that he was keeping his wife virtually a prisoner in his gloomy old house. But Beth discounted the ominous whispers and took the job anyway.

From the first she was fascinated by Mrs King’s perfect beauty. Why did her strangely intriguing husband act so cruelly toward her? Why did Debbie, the daughter of Stanley King’s first marriage, fearfully avoid her stepmother? And why did Mrs. Bales, the old housekeeper , openly hate  the lovely Rika King?

At first only her curiosity prodded Beth to explore the mysteries of THE TROUBLED HOUSE. But when an “accidental” death occurred, Beth became not merely a bystander but a potential victim. It was then that she realized curiosity could kill more than a cat – it could kill her!

I’ve not found out much about the author except that she also wrote under her real name of Catherine K. Booton. Other gothics she’s written include Place of Shadows and The Toy. I found this obituary for her on the web, taken from The Buffalo News dated September 1994 –

A private memorial service for Catherine K. Booton, 75, a former North Tonawanda resident who wrote mystery and suspense novels, will be held in Pennsylvania.

She died Tuesday (Sept. 6, 1994) in her home in Selinsgrove, Pa., after a long illness.

Born Catherine Kage in Philadelphia, she grew up in North Tonawanda and graduated from North Tonawanda High School and Perkins Business School.

She left Western New York in the late 1940s and moved to Selinsgrove in the 1960s after living in Amsterdam and Canajoharie.

She married John G. Booton Jr. in 1942. He died in 1987.

The Curse of Collinwood

DO ZOMBIES WALK AT COLLINWOOD?

 Upset over the death of Ernest Collins, Victoria begins to believe that phantoms are haunting her. Are they figments of her imagination? As the threats to her life become very real, she is forced to accept the horrifying truth.

The strange figures are not phantoms but the bodies of Derek and Ester Collins, murdered more than a century ago. They were unwittingly released from their coffins by a shaft of moonlight – and doomed to roam the earth as the “living dead.”

Copyright Dan Curtis Productions. First edition printed May 1968. This seventh printing – April 1969.

Dysfunctional families – that great invention of the 1990’s Oprah generation. Of course in the good old days, before all this new-agey psycho babble became all the rage, f***ed-up families weren’t ‘special needs’ at all – of course not, they were cursed. So much more glamourous.

In my last post I had the audacity to suggest that the Collins’ of Dark Shadows fame stood as a shining example to us all of a family so riddled with dark deeds and unnatural lusts even Jeremy Kyle would shudder at the prospect of taking them on. And here’s the proof!  Plundering my collection of Dark Shadows paperbacks, I’ve found not one, not two, but THREE Marilyn Ross novels chronicling the various curses afflicting the Collinwood clan – though truth be told I think the word is being used a little loosely here.

Barnabas, Quentin and the Witch’s Curse

Copyright Dan Curtis Productions. First printing August 1970.

CAN BARNABAS STOP QUENTIN FROM BRINGING HIS COVEN TO COLLINWOOD?

Quentin Collins’ coven of witches, centred in the Castle Asariana in Venice, was the scandal of the city. Reports of the bizarre practices of the Devil worshippers, all of whom were beautiful girls, circulated widely, and invitations to the parties that Quentin sometimes held to attract new members to his cult, were greedily coveted.

Then two Americans died while spending an evening at the castle but before the authorities could investigate, Quentin and his entire group vanished. Soon after, Quentin shows up at Collinwood, with the intent of establishing his cult there.

Barnabas knew it was up to him to stop Quentin before Collinwood was turned into a centre of Black Magic and Satan worship. But who wielded the stronger power – Barnabas or the Devil himself?

Barnabas, Quentin and the Scorpio Curse.

Copyright Dan Curtis Productions. First printing November 1970.

IS THE SIGN OF SCORPIO THE MARK OF DEATH?

Terror reigns at Collinwood when several patients at a nearby psychiatric clinic at which Barnabas Collins is a patient are stabbed to death. Each victim’s forehead is marked with a scorpion, the zodiacal symbol of death,

Then Diana Collins, another relative of the Collins family who is undergoing psychiatric treatment at the hospital, finds a bloody knife in her room. Diana, whose astrological sign is Scorpio, is afraid that she may have committed the murders during one of her blackouts. The fear that she is losing her mind is compounded when no one will believe she has seen a strange, wolf-like creature prowling the grounds.

The only person who will listen to her story is Barnabas. But how can he help her when he too has become a suspect?

As far as I can tell, there is at least one more Dark Shadows ‘curse’ book – Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse, which – considering how much mothers get blamed for everything – must surely be the most cursed curse book of them all…

The Lady of Arlac

“FROM THIS DAY FORTH,” THE ELDEST BERTRAN SAID, “OUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE CURSED FOR TONIGHT’S DEED.”

The legend of the theft of a great church treasure by the Bertrans and its resulting curse – on the Bertrans and the village – persisted through the centuries.

No-one ever discovered the stolen treasure. As the fortunes of the village declined, the Castle of Arlac stood as a grim reminder to the country folk, whose loathing for anyone bearing the name of Bertran seethed like a rumbling volcano.

In 1892 this hatred hung like a sword over the innocent head of Maxine Bertran. She came from England to Arlac as its new mistress, ignorant of her ancestors’ deeds and unaware of the terrible fate awaiting her….

Written by Sandra Shulman. This Paperback Library Edition, first printing April 1969.

I picked this up in a local charity shop the other day and wanted to show-off the wonderful cover by Jerome Podwil.

Maxine Bertran has been living in England with her mother and has not seen her father in years. Now her mother has died she is returning to Silver Ladies – a local nickname given to the ancient, tumbledown Castle Arlac in France, her father’s ancestral home.  

We have learnt from the prologue that the Bertrans are a cruel lot with a bloodthirsty history; that the Chateaux of Arlac was the site of an atrocity which has cursed its soil for centuries. There are rumours of buried treasure from their ill-gotten gains but it remains undiscovered and so the castle, as well as the land surrounding it, has long since fallen victim to misery and misfortune.

In time, the treasure became but a dim legend. Yet the loathing and fear of the country folk for all bearing the name Bertran smouldered threateningly, like the core of a volcano. The chateau of Arlac was a grim reminder of the past; its curse was blamed for every tribulation.

Lady of Arlac backcover scan

Initially, Maxine is puzzled by the hostile reception she receives from the local peasants. And things don’t get any easier. When she arrives at the castle, she learns her father has died by that most gothic of deaths – slow, deliberate poisoning – leaving her his sole heir. This of course does not go down well with the various ingrates and hangers-on living at the castle, and it’s not long before Maxine is receiving death threats herself.

Surrounded by enemies as cold and unfeeling as the decayed castle walls that immure her, Maxine’s first instinct is to run. But where? With who? So she stays, determined to do right by her father and make amends for her family’s sordid past. If the first fifty pages are anything to go by, it won’t be easy and for now, her only friends are a rather eccentric speleologist (I love a book that teaches me new words) called Alan and a wolfhound called Cesare.

Black shadows silently crossed the moon. Two huge bats swooped above the castle, looking like messengers of evil. She understood that the intense loveliness of Arlac had a grim, sombre side. This was no mere picture-book prettiness. It was a complex of beauty, mystery and even terror. Like a person, there were many facets to the castle’s character…

I wasn’t intending to review this just yet, as I have a pile of other stuff to get through, but I started reading and so far I’m enjoying The Lady of Arlac’s gothic setting and seductive prose. (Though too many sentences… just trail off… with ellipses…). Three out of four stars.

And there’s a (not very complimentary) review of Lady of Arlac with an alternate cover at: The Groovy Age Of Horror.

Candace

A DEAD MAN’S EVIL SPIRIT HELD HER PRISONER IN A HOUSE OF MENACE.

When George Haight was alive, Candace Loring disliked and mistrusted him. When he dies, he leaves her his house. She plans to refuse the legacy, but as the executor of the estate swings the key slowly before her eyes, she finds herself hypnotically agreeing to look at it before making a decision.

As she steps inside, she recognizes the house from the nightmares that have haunted her sleep. But she can’t leave. George’s evil spirit holds her there, controlling her, bringing her closer to death night by night.

Pitted against his satanic strength is the young doctor who loves Candace. But is the power of his love strong enough to save her life?

Paperback Library edition. First printing August 1970.

Alice Brennan sounds like a gas. Born in St Louis in 1913 she worked as a hat-check girl, dancer and secretary before turning her hand to writing gothics in her mid-fifties. From the titles of her published novels it seems her books lean heavily toward the witchy / satanic side of things and Candace is no exception.

Candace Loring is a perfectly happy and normal 23 year old. Then she meets George Haight, a ‘particularly unimpressive’ man obsessed with spiritualism and the occult, who has ‘queer blazing eyes’. Candace dates him casually for a while but soon dumps him, not least because all his chit chat about the spirit world bores her. To spare his feelings she pretends she is marrying someone else and randomly picks the name of a nice, quiet young man called Roger who works in the same office she does.

Roger mysteriously dies of carbon monoxide poisoning and George Haight just as mysteriously slips out of Candace’s life.  But not for long. Before the year is up he pops up out of nowhere in the local car park, telling Candace he has been trying to contact her via mental telepathy.

Candace is appalled. And confused – as George Haight goes on to explain he is going to die any day now and he is bequeathing Candace his house. Then he mysteriously disappears again.

A few days and some weird dreams later, Candace receives a letter from a George’s lawyer. George is dead and she has become the new owner of a big old house in Lewisville. Of course, Candace has absolutely no intention of accepting this strange inheritance but the lawyer persuades her to at least take a look.

When she visits the house a strange voice invades her mind, enticing her into giving up her job so she can move in and live with George’s spirit. Candace is powerless to resist but the longer she stays in the house, the more it becomes obvious that something or someone is exerting a powerful hold over her, corrupting her personality and draining her of energy. Friends and family are worried but anyone getting too close to Candace soon ends up ill, dead or stalked by a big black dog. And as Candace falls deeper and deeper under this mysterious spell, it is left to the handsome young Doctor Clemmins to step in and save the day….

This book was ok for a bit of light reading but not much more. I loved the lead character Candace – she was so flirtatious yet so witheringly offhand and dismissive toward the infatuated George it was hilarious. And I couldn’t help warming to her as she floated and flittered around the story, completely oblivious to the threat she was under.

Fourth printing September 1973. Cover photo by Hank Dunning.

Overall though, Candace lacked the creeping aura of menace necessary for this kind of subject to work properly, with the writing almost as frothy as the heroine. And for all the promising blurb, nothing very much happened. Once she was safely ensconced within the creepy dead guy’s house, Candace spent about three quarters of the book making coffee, feeling grumpy, building log fires and falling asleep – with not much more than the ocasional narky phonecall from her mother to add to the excitement. True, there were a few spooky dream sequences, during which the spirit of our dearly-departed George made fresh attempts to woo his captive Candace. But his powers of seduction were even less successful in the afterlife as, apart from a lingering headache and vague feeling of nausea, they left little impression on her or the reader.

I kept turning the pages, waiting for the story to kick in – for a life and death struggle with the forces of evil, for a sinister seance at midnight or a last minute exorcism. At the very least there could have been a blind gypsy woman fortelling bad things about to happen. But no. Just pages and pages of Candace drinking coffee, feeling grumpy, building log fires and falling asleep...zzzzzzz….

Two out of five stars – one for each version of this book I have. I don’t have many gothics with photo covers but I really like this one.

Strangers In The Night

STRANGE SOUNDS

SINISTER STRANGERS

SECRET PLOTS

These nightmares haunt lovely Lesley Larkin at Medwick Manor!

Lesley, a young lawyer, arrives at the old mansion with her client, Elsa Medwick, to handle the sale of the family home. Expecting to stay only a few days, she is suddenly trapped in a murderous web of sinister greed. Terror makes Medwick an accursed place. Surrounded by hostile strangers plotting her death, Lesley learns she can trust no one – not even her own client.

Risking her life, Lesley struggles desperately to unravel the mystery of Medwick Manor before her own murder adds to its growing legend of evil.

Written by Genevieve St. John. Paperback Library Edition first printing January 1967.

Another fab Paperback Library cover to drool over. This has got to be one of the  most  fantastical houses ever conceived and makes non-Euclidean geometry look positively Bauhausian. Her lipstick is kind of gorgeous too. There is no signature for the artist unfortunately.

I started reading this in the bath this morning. Our heroine, the young and lovely Lesley Larkin, has been working with a firm of fusty lawyers for over a year now and is getting a bit fed up of being stuck in their huge reference library, researching boring bits of legal minutiae for the senior partners. So when she is given the opportunity to help an important client sell their home she jumps at the chance. Her client is the glamorous Elsa Medwick and Lesley is to accompany her to the isolated Medwick Manor in order to assist with the negotiations.

However, what starts off as a week out of the office, enjoying the luxury of a grand old mansion on the seacoast, is very quickly  turning out to be the job from hell for Lesley. Her client, Elsa, is a spoilt risk-taker who is ‘not without some disturbing elements’. Then there is Medwick Manor itself – charmless, rundown and currently tenanted by Elsa’s childhood governess, a sinister woman with a strange hold over Elsa. And there is something very peculiar about Alan Crandall, the over-enthusiastic buyer who has just arrived with some unfeasibly heavy handbaggage.

Ho Hum. Such are the perils of  mixing business with pleasure and I have the feeling Lesley is in for an eventful week or two.

So far Strangers in the Night is ticking all the right boxes – we have an isolated ‘architectural monstrosity’ of a setting peopled with characters all ready, willing and able to kill each other at the slightest provocation.  I don’t know much about Genevieve St John but I have enjoyed her books before. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if she has worked in the legal profession herself. Three out of five stars.

Uncle Silas

WAS THERE NO ESCAPE FOR MAUD RUTHYN FROM HER SINISTER UNCLE SILAS?

“When I closed my eyes I saw him before me still, dressed in deathly black, ashy with a pallor on which I looked with fear and pain.

…And those hollow, fiery, awful eyes! It sometimes seemed to me as though the curtain had opened, and I had seen a ghost.”

Maud Ruthyn was obliged to live with her mad Uncle Silas in his isolated, terrifying old mansion for four years if she wanted to receive her inheritance. If she ran away she would be penniless. If she dared to stay, then one night she would be found lifeless!

UNCLE SILAS ranks with THE MOONSTONE, THE WOMAN IN WHITE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS as one of the most haunting, terrifying Gothic novels in the English language.

Written by Sheridan Le Fanu. This Paperback Library Edition – January 1967.

Known as the father of the modern ghost story, Sheridan Le Fanu is a Victorian novelist and short story writer whose prose continues to  chill and inspire to this day. Virginia Coffman, creator of the fantastically gothic Moura series, cites him as a major influence of hers, so I was very pleased to happenchance upon this gorgeous Paperback Library edition of Uncle Silas on a day out in Eastbourne the other week.

This is a classic gothic story –  where an orphaned teenage heroine, duty bound to the wishes of her dead father, finds herself having to live with her strange Uncle Silas until she is old enough to claim her inheritance.

So all she need do is live long enough to come of age and claim her money.  How difficult can that be? Well, for Maud Ruthyn it’s an isolated, scary existence, trapped in a gloomy old mansion, haunted by sinister secrets and strange visions,  with naught but the usual cast of crackpots for company. I’m about two thirds of the way through and though nothing too terrible has happened to Maud, I’ve a feeling there’s something more menacing going on behind those crazed, opium-glazed eyes of her Uncle’s than Swedenborgianism.

With three hundred and fifty pages of teensy-tiny typeface (times like this I miss my Lancer Easy-Eyes!) this abridged edition is at least twice the length of most my other Paperback Library gothics and is a treat. Stories like this are written to linger over – I’ve been buried in this book for the last ten days or so and can’t put it down.

They say appearances are everything and this was particularly true within the upper echelons of Victorian society. So long as some semblance of normality is seen to skim the surface of social interaction then all  is well – isn’t it? Sheridan Le Fanu uses this sentiment to great effect throughout Uncle Silas, interweaving deft touches of the macabre and grotesque into the story, building a real sense of foreboding and fear that is not always easy to put your finger on, therefore making you feel all the more uneasy. So I’ll be sleeping with the lights on for a few more nights yet…

Five out of five stars with extra gothic points for this copy since it looks (and smells!) as if it’s been providing  sustenance for the rats while lying on the floor of a dungeon somewhere.