The Possession of Elizabeth Calder

Spirit of Vengeance

After only a few hours in the old mansion on lonely Randall’s Island, Elizabeth Calder realized that some eerie force was watching over her. Fifty years before, the peace of that house had been shattered by murder and suicide – could it be that a revenge-hungry spirit still walked the halls?

Elizabeth was determined to find the truth – and someone was equally determined to kill her before she did. As danger piled on danger and terror on terror, Elizabeth little suspected that, in her moment of greatest need, help would come from the spirit of a woman who had been dead for fifty years!

A Ravenswood Gothic. Written by Melissa Napier. Published by Pocket Books October 1973.

Elizabeth Calder has been having a tough time of it lately. Her fiancé, Jeffrey, has broken off their engagement and run away with her best friend. To make matters worse, all her other so-called friends find the situation hilariously funny and aren’t sympathetic at all. Poor Elizabeth finds herself traumatised and friendless (perhaps that’s for the best though…) retreating ever deeper into her own imaginary world, wistfully dreaming of far off lands from times past and future…

Luckily, before her self -imposed exile drives her completely bonkers, she receives an invitation from her Aunt and Uncle inviting her over to their place. They are park rangers who live and work on the beautiful but isolated Randall’s Island, just off the Jersey coast and Elizabeth decides some time away in such a wondrous place will be just what she needs to get well again.

However, no sooner does she arrive than her imagination starts playing tricks on her again. Or does it? Locals start looking at her funny, muttering darkly about her resemblance to another Elizabeth – an Elizabeth Conway – who died over fifty years ago. Then, on her first night at the island, our Elizabeth is visited by a host of ghostly apparitions –  some good, some bad – doing the dance of death in the middle of her bedroom.

Confused? I was. But it transpires that Elizabeth Calder is being haunted by an evil force that wants to kill her as well as the spirit of Elizabeth Conway – a girl whose own lover had jilted her too. Over fifty years ago. And when that Elizabeth’s sweetheart disappeared she was falsely accused of his murder. So she killed herself.

Or did she? For there is more going on at Randall Island than mere hauntings. Woken up during a raging thunderstorm in the middle of the night, Elizabeth spots some suspicious looking characters lurking outside of the house. Following them into the cellar she narrowly escapes death by a caved in tunnel before stumbling right into the middle of an illegal smuggling operation, led by evil old crone Emily Baxter, a woman who has more than one reason for wanting to kill our heroine…

Some books read like a perfect summertime romance – there’s no point analysing it too deeply (you won’t find much worth looking for anyway) so best to just pour yourself another drink, relax, lie back and enjoy the ride. The Possession of Elizabeth Calder was like this for me – I had no idea of what was going on (still don’t actually) but our time together was short, sweet and great fun while it lasted. And with a cover this groovytastic, who cares what’s on the inside? Three stars out of five.

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The Caldwell Shadow

“My daughter has not uttered a word for four years. Someone, somehow, has to break whatever spell possesses her.”

Mr. Caldwell looked thin and drawn as he confided his desperation to Janelle Farrington, R.N. The beautiful young psychiatric nurse was his last hope. She must try to save his daughter Nadine from the strange silence that had overcome her that dreadful day of her mother’s death.

Janelle looked gently at the distraught father. “Tell me,” she asked, “what is her attitude toward you, sir?”

“I would think,” said Mr Caldwell, “that if the proper opportunity arose, my daughter would kill me…”

Warner Paperback Library Edition. First Printing September 1973. Second Printing August 1975. Cover illustration by Vic Prezio.

Thought I’d share this lovely cover by Vic Prezio. There is something wonderfully eerie about that single gravestone, poised by the edge of the forest, as if quietly waiting for something – or someone. I’ve not read this novel yet so I don’t know whether the ghostly figure next to it is a phantom, mysterious stranger or some awful future vision of the heroine herself. Could be, as with many of my gothics, the cover art has nothing whatsoever to do with the story!


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.

Will-O’-the-Wisp

She was torn between a married man and the lover who haunted her dreams…

When Linda Vaughan is assigned to work in England with her boss, Harvey Seymour, she is, at first, deliriously happy. She is in love with him and for a while has him all to herself.

But when she rents an ancient cottage in Somerset, the deep influence of the cottage’s past impinges on the present.

Then she is promised happiness by the stranger she meets on a journey and from then on Linda struggles between her yearnings for Harvey and the will-o’-the-wisp lover who haunts her dreams.

Written by Derry Moffatt. First NEL paperback edition, July 1974. Cover photograph by Lagarde.

Linda Vaughan has red-gold hair and wears squirrel-fur coats. She lives in Vancouver and works as a PA to Public Accountant Harvey J. Seymour – a man she has been hopelessly in love with for nearly two years. Harvey loves her too and when they are sent away on a business trip to England, they both welcome the chance to continue their illicit affair far from the prying eyes of Harvey’s wife.

However, the hotel they are staying in lacks character and, with so many other work colleagues wandering its corridors at night, it is proving not to be the haven of guilt ‘n’ gossip-free sex they were hoping for. So Linda decides to rent Magpie Cottage, a secluded place full of Olde Worlde charm, located far enough away from work for our amorous couple to enjoy themselves without raising further suspicion.

Soon as the lease is signed, Linda and Harvey move in, settling down to a life of quasi-domestic bliss. And that’s when Linda starts having some very vivid dreams…

The tunnel was long and misty. Linda faltered, fearful and uncertain, then the haze cleared, torn aside like a veil. She was standing in a garden. It was high summer and fluffy white clouds sailed across an azure sky. Fragrant blooms spread a patchwork of colour in the flower beds. Beyond the garden walls soft hills were clad in green and gold … buttercups formed an undulating yellow carpet…

Amongst the shrubberies, his back towards her was a young man. She followed at a distance feeling curiously elated. Slowly the young man walked down a flight of worn steps and along a flag-stoned path between the evergreens to a sunken garden. As if suddenly aware of a presence he stood still, then turned. His wide sea-blue eyes made their way into Linda’s with a long unflinching look. With a start, Linda realised that he alone was aware of her… could actually see her.

For a full minute they gazed in silence at each other. Linda felt her heart hammering against her ribs. Something in the strength and beauty of his features stirred her soul. She opened her mouth to speak but no words came. His vibrating whisper of exultation caught and spun her heart. “My love… at last my love, you have come.”

Hmmm. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking this reads like the perfect gothic romantic threesome – the man, the woman, and her otherworldly lover – but a few pages in and it was clear there was a bit more to this particular mix – not least Harvey’s long suffering wife, Susan, and their two young children.

Now I’m sure I’ve read lots of books full of people embroiled in extra-marital affairs, without thinking anything of it, but here, in the context of what I took to be a fairly straightforward romance, it was a little jarring. And it didn’t help that a large chunk of this novel chronicled Susan’s side of the story in all its soul crushing glory – the pain she endured finding out about the affair, the helplessness of being thousands of miles away from her husband, knowing she couldn’t do anything about it and the struggle she had keeping up a brave face for the sake of her children (one of which was seriously ill and dying in hospital no less).

This made it made it very difficult to empathise with our leading lady Linda, or to care very much about what happened to her and her ghostly lover. True, the ending to her story was suitably romantic and she did get to fall in love with the man of her dreams (literally). But any enjoyment the reader might have derived from this otherworldly romance was completely eclipsed by the wretched reality of Linda’s affair with Harvey and the devastating affect it had on his family

I first read Will-O’-the-Wisp a good few years ago and, even after re-reading it for this blog, I can honestly say I’ve not read a romance – gothic or otherwise – quite like it. And it makes me wonder, just how successful was the New English Library romance series if this was their idea of an example of the genre?

Judging from the signature in my copy, Derina Ridley is a pseudonym for Derry Moffatt. I can’t find out much else about her, except that she also wrote a few Disney movie tie-in books for New English Library in the 1970’s. The Bear Alley Blog states she was married to James Moffatt, the prolific pulp novelist best known for his Richard Allen ‘Skinhead’ books. 

Whether this is the case or not I cannot say but whoever Derry is, he/she has created a gloriously twisted take on the romance genre with Will-O’-the-Wisp. Though if lighthearted escapism is your thing, you’d probably best stick with Wuthering Heights. 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!

The Reimann Curse

SOMETHING BROUGHT HER HERE…

Helen lowered herself into the bath slowly, luxuriating in the warmth as it flowed up and around her body. For the first time since Gerald’s death her mind was occupied only with her own comfort and well being. She fell into a reverie, going over events of the day. After all that driving she wasn’t sorry she got sidetracked off the main highway. She’d get some much needed sleep. She mused on the two other guests at the hotel. The old woman had an aristocratic air and was too spry for someone past seventy. The man was unusually handsome…

What was that? Helen sat bolt upright, blinked and shivered, her fingers grasping the edge of the tub. For a few breathless seconds her eyes searched every shadow in the room and her ears listened intently. Nothing. The wind moaned, tree branches scraped the window panes, and Helen was starkly, utterly alone… and terrified!

Written by Jean DeWeese. A Beagle Book Gothic, first printing February 1975. Cover art Charles Gehm.

The heroine of this story, Helen, has been left financially ruined and emotionally shattered after her husband and only daughter are killed in a tragic car accident. Three months on and she is now starting to put the pieces of her life back together again. We meet her just before she is due to start her new job as a teacher in the little New England town of Wertham, located at least six states away from the crippling memories of her former home. 

So keen is she to escape the depressing, though well-meaning, clutches of her grieving in-laws, she ends up driving all day and nearly half the night to reach her destination. Tired and confused, she loses her way from the main highway and finds herself travelling down a small back road, the end of which leads to a mysterious deserted mansion. A place eerily reminiscent to Helen of times past, although she has never visited here before. And underpinning this familiarity is an aura of something more sinister, something reaching out to her, something inviting her in to the shadowed interior of the abandoned old house…

Resisting the urge to explore those dim, ghostly corridors in the dead of night, Helen U-turns out of there and finds herself a much more convivial place to stay a little ways back down the road. Run by the ever hospitable Martha, Groves Lodge boasts great home cooking and sumptuous bath tubs of palatial proportions. After a mouth-watering casserole and a luxurious bubbly soak, Helen is all set for a wonderful night’s sleep before resuming her journey. And that’s when her nightmare begins….

Regulars to these pages will know how I love old family curses – or cursed old families for that matter – so I was looking forward this one. And right from the start, The Reimann Curse lured me in with its sympathetic heroine, descriptive prose and deft gothic touches of mystery.

Unfortunately, as with many gothics tackling the theme of ancestral curses, there is rather a lot of overly complicated back story, with much of the exciting stuff having already happened somewhere far back in the annals of  Reimann family history. This meant The Reimann Curse was a little on the light side when it came to action and suspense in the here and now – instead of actually getting caught up in anything particularly exciting, Helen spent a lot of her time in long discussions with various locals detailing the dastardly deeds of times gone by. This made it easy for me to drift off and lose the thread of the story at times. She did take a lot of nice long baths though.

And things did get a lot more exciting towards the end, with a dramatic life and death struggle over an open grave, in which Helen was able to prise a satanic idol from the skeletal clutches of a Dead Person Done Wrong (and buried alive no less), smashing the cursed stone to smithereens against the nearest gnarly oak – all the while deftly avoiding being hit over the head by a mad man with a shovel. There were some nicely done flashbacks interwoven within some scary dream sequences and the fate that befell Helena Reimann (whose spirit was the one haunting our Helen) was a truly shocking one.

Jean DeWeese is a pseudonym for Thomas Eugene DeWeese, an American born in 1934 and a writer of mainly science fiction.  He’s written over forty books and I would definitely give another one of his gothics a go.  

The cover art is by Charles Gehm. I reviewed another book with one of his covers ages ago – Stone of Blood – but couldn’t figure out the signature. A few months back I came across a lovely historical romance by Joan Aiken, (pictured below). As well as showing the rather distinctive signature to the bottom right of the front cover, the publishers rather helpfully printed the name of the artist on the back.

Looking Charles Gehm up on the web, he’s done some gorgeous prints of Gone With the Wind and he is married to Judy York, a fine romance and fantasy illustrator. Charles Gehm has also done some great covers for Nurse Romances. A nice scan of the original artwork of Lake Resort Nurse, can be viewed HERE. (And if anyone knows which lake and which resort this book is referring to – can you please let me know? I think I need a holiday soon!)

So, for the page-turningly thrilling climactic ending, as well as its gothic depictions of dastardly deeds, The Reimann Curse gets a four out of five. With bonus points added for all the lovely bubble baths. 

 

There Came Fear

Night flight from Gibraltar. It opened a new world to the lonely girl – a word in which she saw, for the first time, the glittering promise of romance. If only it could have stayed that way. If only…

Written by Jill Newland. Published by Oracle Library, no. 267.

I came across a lovely looking pile of vintage romance magazines, all going cheap at a jumble sale last week and I couldn’t resist digging out a few of the more gothic-looking ones for a read.

There Came Fear tells the tale of Jean, a young lady returning to London from a visit to her sister in Gibraltar. With no job and no boyfriend, she understandably feels there is not much waiting for her at home. That all changes on the plane when she meets a handsome man called Ian, who claims to be a journalist and a famous ex-opera singer, the incomparable Lucia Fidanza, or plain old Lucy Green to her friends.

Lucy takes a shine to Jean immediately, as does Lucy’s dashing nephew Robin. The future starts looking bright for Jean and she finds herself sharing the comforts of Lucy’s grand old mansion, while being wooed by two men, one of whom makes her feel protected and safe, the other, a dangerous playboy, sends her pulse all a flutter.

Of course the good times can’t last. Lucy is murdered, most probably for the beautiful jewels she rather recklessly keeps lying around the house. Jean is beside herself, both her suitors are prime suspects for the killing but without any more proof, the police are powerless to act further. It is up to Jean to solve this heinous crime and lay her worst fears to rest – but, can she choose the right man?

There’s not much I’ve found out about the Fleetwood Oracle Library line, except that they were printed in England and published each month by Fleetwood publications. The magazines themselves comprise of  a single story, about sixty pages long, with no additional information that I can see about the author or the artist.

Though There Came Fear is more of a standard romance rather than a gothic, I can live in hope I might stumble across some gothic romance magazines one day, or perhaps something along the lines of the penny dreadfuls that were so popular in the 19th Century. Marvel published a series of gothic romance magazines in the mid-seventies but they are quite rare nowadays – some cover scans can be seen over at Stl Cover Galleries. They look  gorgeous!

Cotton Moon

Jan Van Ord was a blond brute of a man who’d stop at nothing to get what he wanted. When he found Ellen he won her heart with a glance, her body with a touch. But he had to kill to posess her completely. His land bore heavy crops, harvested with the blood and sweat of his slaves.

He knew no fear – for him all black men were weak and only a strong man could hate. But he sooned learned that every desperate man, white or black, is dangerous.

That even his own wife wasn’t safe.

That too much hatred could plunge a nation into bloody war.

That a man had more to lose than his life…

Written by Catherine Tracy. Published 1973 by World Distributors Ltd, Manchester.

Well, well, well, this is a bit of a find. No sooner had I posted Image of Evil below than I come across this little slice of slave-trade salaciousness in the Trinity Hospice bookshop in Kensington.

I searched for ‘Cameo Romance’ on the web, just to find out more about this series but, apart from my beloved Ace Cameo Gothics, there’s no mention of a Cameo Romance line from the UK at all, so I’m not sure if these were published as ‘straight’ romances or gothics.

Though the rather fetching pink Cameo tag might suggest otherwise, there’s not much romantic about Cotton Moon – a quick flick through the pages revealing a twisted tale of randy old landowners and their innocent young brides getting all hot under the collar amidst a stormy backdrop of mistreated mistresses and sweatin’ slaves. Bonus points for the ending though – in the final chapter, our cruel yet irresistibly virile hero, Van Ord, finally realises it is Ellen who is the love of his life. So he strides across the plantation straight into her bedroom in order to declare his undying love for her. Alas, it is here he discovers our heroine has died. Alone. And unhappy.

And that doesn’t happen in many contemporary romances – not even the gothic ones!

And a link to a much more gorgeous cover over at flikr is – HERE.

Greygallows

GREYGALLOWS

Forced into marriage to the elegant, saturnine Baron Clare, Lucy Cartwright, a young and beautiful heiress, is taken by him to Greygallows, his forbidding Yorkshire estate.

There, she finds herself virtually kept prisoner as Baron Clare’s behaviour alternates between gallantry and brutality…

Confused and bewildered, Lucy is helpless in a hostile world of mounting threat and terror as she gradually discovers the dreadful meaning of the curse of the Clares…

BARBARA MICHAELS

‘Opens the floodgates between suspense and terror.’

Barbara Michaels‘ unique blend of romance and mystery has gained her acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic as one of the most exciting novelists in the Gothic tradition.

Copyright Barbara Michaels 1972. First published in Great Britain 1974 by Souvenir Press ltd. This edition published 1975 by Pan Books ltd.

Greygallows tells the tale of Lucy Cartwright, born in 1826, a full half century before the Married Women’s Property Act. Lucy is seventeen, orphaned and rich – her fortune and future under the control of a fat old Aunt and a crusty solicitor. Now she is of age they want to marry her off as quickly as they can. So Lucy leaves the relative comfort of the orphanage where she was brought up and is taken to London to find a Suitable Match. Enter Baron Clare, a not so wealthy aristocrat with a past who owns a vast stately home in Yorkshire called Greygallows. I think you can guess the rest.

Sometimes you just need to be in the right mood for the right book and this one didn’t work for me. I’ve read a couple of Barbara Michaels’ books and remember really liking them. So what was the problem with Greygallows? Well, there are a few traits I find absolutely unforgivable in my gothic heroines, one not least being a fear of horses – which is probably why I’ve never made it much past page 106 of this book. But not only is Lucy guilty of being ungothically bereft of equestrian skills, she is also unconvincing as a character.

Fawcett Crest 1973

I am sure the author knows her stuff, perhaps teenage girls in ye olden days really were a bunch of spineless molly puppets – but, considering what they had to deal with, I suspect they were far tougher than a lot of modern writers give them credit for.

Lucy starts out as a spirited, spoilt seventeen year old who enjoys practical jokes and almost manages to elope with her music teacher. Then, a few months and a couple of chapters later, she undergoes a complete personality transplant and you’d think you were reading about a staid old maid of fifty five. True, she did catch a rather nasty case of typhoid just before her wedding but I found the total switch in character unconvincing and unnecessary.

Harper Collins 2007

The villains are pretty weak too – as if Michaels couldn’t quite make up her mind to make them proper bad. Sure, Baron Clare wasn’t beneath scaring the horses and plying his wife with Laudanum once in a while but murder? No – that was an act reserved for the sexy vicar. (At least I think it was… I must confess I switched off a bit toward the end).

Greygallows reinforces many of the prejudices I hold against modern historical romances. Writers like Rona Randall and Victoria Holt do this kind of thing very, very well, but, if you’re in the mood for a bit of yesteryear, far better to read the classics of the period methinks.  

As far as the cover art goes, gothics published in the UK don’t usually measure up to their American counterparts, though I really like the design of this Pan edition. (Alas, no amount of photoshopping will pretty up my battered copy). Two out of five stars.

The Hounds of the Moon

The Bride of Evil…

A week ago, Susan Anderson had never laid eyes on handsome Stephen Branthwaite. And now she was his wife, the loving mother of his 6 year old son, and mistress of magnificent Whitehall mansion. It was a dream come true – until the nightmare began. For someone was trying to kill the child!

Suddenly the splendor of Whitehall turned black with terror. Had Susan given her heart to a killer? Would she meet the same macabre fate as the first Mrs. Branthwaite? Could she save her son from the clutches of evil when her own life had become a bonechilling race against death?

Written by Elisabeth Offut Allen, this Popular Library Edition 1974.

Three times a charm, so the saying goes, and in honour of tonight’s full moon, I thought I would  continue the month’s doggy-themed gothics with this hauntingly illustrated Queen Size Gothic.

I’ve not read Hounds of the Moon as yet – but I’ve had a quick peak through the pages and like what I see so far.

Here’s how the book starts –

“Occasionally we are told, time has a way of shaking some of its shutters loose, and if we are alert and keen-sighted enough, we may catch a glimpse through the chinks of what lies ahead.”

I like this opening line enough to want to read on and the back blurb promises ‘READING FIT FOR A QUEEN’ so I guess I  will be adding this to my ever-growing pile of gothics to get through!