Unholy Flame

UNHOLY FLAME

Would she find peace or madness behind these orgiastic rites?

Was the high priest, Suliman, saint or devil?

Lissa had to know.

And her only way to truth was a journey through hell.

Prepare yourself for an adventure into the forbidden – as fantastic as it is terrifying.

Fawcett Gold Medal Original. First printing November 1952.

I know, I know. One of these days I will grow clever and wise and will no longer be drawn to books with bylines that read ‘Satan tempted her  – past the point of no return.’  But for now, I am glad that I am! 

Recently widowed when her husband’s plane crashes, our grieving heroine finds herself embroiled in the occult when she attends a séance run by the mysterious Dr Damon Suliman – a sinister mesmerist with a sideline in hosting bacchanalian sex rituals for New York’s high society.

At first Lissa is not too impressed, the phantom claiming to be her husband is just not convincing and anyway, she has since found herself another Air Force man to keep her warm at nights. Wrapped up in her new romance, Lissa decides not to have anything more to do with contacting the dead, but Suliman has other ideas. For he has recognised latent ‘special abilities’ in Lissa he can exploit for his own Machiavellian ends, and he’s not about to let her slip away from him that easily.  

So it’s not long before Lissa is holed up in Suliman’s mansion, learning to read Tarot cards and how to harness her ‘ethereal forces’. Falling ever deeper under Suliman’s spell, Lissa becomes increasingly isolated. (Whether its drugs, hypnotic suggestion or just plain old absent-mindedness, Lissa has by this time completely forgotten she has a new fiance waiting for her on the end of the phone). Then Suliman’s lessons start taking a bizarre turn for the worse, culminating in a horrifyingly blood-curdling ritual that has Lissa fleeing for her life.  But can you ever escape from a man whose powers come direct from Satan himself?

At first glance this may not look like your average gothic romance, but this was the early fifties and I’m not sure whether the gothic romance covers we know and love were around much back then. In any event, Unholy Flame has gothic and romantic elements by the bucket load and I think the publishers missed out by not reprinting this in the seventies with a more typical ‘woman fleeing a doomy mansion’ cover.

As well as romance and intrigue, Unholy Flame is crammed with all sorts of esoteric facts and fancies; Yoga, Tarot, Astral Travel, Scrying, Voodoo, Sex Magick… the intrepid Dr Suliman leaves no stone unturned in his quest for enlightenment. At times there is almost too much detail, threatening to slow down the pace of the story, but the fabulously bizarre black mass towards the end of the book speeds things up again!

Cheiro - inspiration for Suliman?

I wish I knew more about the author. The small scraps of information I’ve gleaned from the internet suggest her life may have been as interesting as her books! The Working Life of Museum of London blog indicates Olga Rosmanith was working as a journalist in 1930’s Hollywood and was acquainted with Cheiro, aka Count Loius Hamon, an Irish astrologer and colourful occult figure of the early 20th Century. According to an excerpt taken from one of Olga’s letters, the Count had a deadline fast approaching for two palmistry books, which she then offered to write for him in exchange for him teaching her ‘his science’ –

‘So I was living in his house (to work at nights) in 1930 and met the people who came there. I met Paul Bern and Jean Harlow together, for they came to him for counsel. I loved her at once, a darling girl and nothing like her screen image of hard-boiled brassiness. Pure acting and very good.’

So Olga Rosmanith was under the tutelage of one of the most famous occultists of the early 20th Century. I guess that’s where the material for the book came from! Anyway, I’m giving Unholy Flame a Love-Haunted 666 stars. Seems like there are quite a few copies of this novel still malingering about on the web, so grab one while you can and enjoy! And if you have any information on Olga Rosmanith or her other works please let me know, I’d love to read more!

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The Devil on Lammas Night

When Tristan Poole moved into Colwyn Court, in a remote Welsh seaside village, was it to form a nudist group? Or was it, as Nicola Morrison suspected, for something much more sinister?

What was the hypnotic effect Tristan had on Lisa, Nicola’s glamourous young stepmother?

What was the explanation for the sudden illnesses, accidents and deaths at Colwyn?

And what was Tristan planning for Nicola?

As Lammas night approaches, and the true, supernaturally evil nature of the group is revealed, Nicola is drawn into deadly danger…

First published in Great Britain 1973 by Hamish Hamilton ltd. This edition second Pan printing 1974.

Tristan Poole worships Satan and is the enigmatic leader of a ‘nature cult’ that fronts for a Black Magic coven. In exchange for his devotions, Satan has blessed Tristan with mesmeric powers over animals and a way with the ladies, but, unfortunately, very little in the way of money. So Tristan and his coven survive by cuckoo-ing themselves into the lives of the rich and the vulnerable, manipulating their way into gaining control of their land and assets.

Tristan is currently staying at Colwyn Court, an estate in Wales owned by Walter Colwyn. Walter is more than happy to allow Tristan to use his house as a base for the ‘Society for the Propagation of Nature Foods,’ since Tristan is showing great success at curing Walter’s wayward daughter, Gwyneth, of her ‘nervous disorder.’

Fawcett Crest edition

Walter’s son, Evan, is not so happy. Working as a Doctor in Africa he is becoming increasingly alarmed by the letters from his family, detailing the goings-on at Colwyn Court. He decides to come home and makes it his mission to rid his family of these pagan interlopers. However, when he returns, things are much worse than he realises. The love of his life, Nicola, has caught the eye of Tristan too – or rather her enormous inheritance has. (Tristan has already bumped-off her millionaire father and started an affair with her mother thinking she was the one getting all of the money. Now he knows who the real heiress is, he has moved on to plan B – hypnotising Nicola into falling in love with him so they can get married and he then can legally steal her cash). As Lammas night draws ever closer and Tristan prepares his bride-to-be for their satanic wedding, Evan himself falls into a suspicious fugue state, leaving him helpless to defend his home or fiancée….

As you’d guess from the title, The Devil on Lammas Night is packed full of all sorts of supernatural shenanigans – with vivid descriptions of black magic rituals, spells and incantations. There is even a demon possessed cat, hell-bent on carrying out its new master’s every command. 

The devilry is all very polite and refined, in that quintessentially English ‘More wormwood with your tea, vicar?’ kind of way and as such reminded me of The Witches written by Peter Curtis (aka Nora Lofts). There is some great attention to detail and these touches really add credibility and depth to an otherwise fantastically over-the-top story.

The ending was a little predictable, with the almost comically sudden demise of our chief villain threatening to ruin the climactic showdown, but the quality of writing and characterisation just about pulls things together. This novel was great fun. Susan Howatch creates a near-perfect blend of the mundane and macabre, therefore making the evil goings on all the more sinister. Four out of five stars.

Oh dear, before posting the above I was just going to add how much I love the cover art on this one. Then I went out, had a few glasses of wine and now I’m back I can’t help but fixate on that humongous hand of hers holding the candle! It’s hideous! There is something very creepy about the perspective here, or maybe my eyes are just a wee bit wobbly and it’ll all be ok in the morning…

Lord Satan

Blood on the Moors

Adrienne is seventeen, beautiful, and loved by Vincent, Lord Satan. She accepts his marriage proposal and begins a new life as mistress of Castle Caudill.

From the moment she enters Castle Caudill, Adrienne is drawn into a world of demonic terror. Does she participate in satanic rituals and black masses or are they only horrifying dreams? Is her husband a witch with great powers at his command? And why does the ghost of Lord Satan’s mother mournfully roam the halls of the castle?

Adrienne is forced to seek the truth, but in the castle shrouded in nightmarish terror she is doomed by the powers she cannot control.

Written by Louisa Bronte. First Avon printing, October 1972.

Lord Satan begins one dreary October day in the year 1815. Adrienne Caudill is seventeen, recently orphaned and about to meet her only remaining relative – her cousin, the wealthy Lord of Castle Caudill aka Vincent Stanton aka Lord Satan.

‘She murmured a phrase to herself, “Arch Angel – ruined -” and looked fascinated at the man. He was like Lucifer himself, she thought, proud, haughty, his cheek scarred in a strange line from left eye to left side of the mouth in an irregular pattern.’

When they meet, Vincent is rather taken with Adrienne’s winsome looks and long blonde curls, not least because she looks uncannily like his dead mother. So he whisks her off to his castle, plies her with sweet meats and heady wine, pats her on the head a lot and starts dressing her in his mother’s clothes. 

 Adrienne is enjoying all this attention, but – as you’d expect from a man who calls himself Lord Satan – life in Castle Caudill is not without some quirks. Though dead, Vincent’s mother still wanders mournfully along the castle’s corridors, her ghost refusing to speak to her son but more than happy to drop in on Adrienne when she is alone, sharing such housekeeping tips as how to keep the tapestries looking lovely. And although Vincent’s father, Roderick Stanton, is very much alive, he seems endowed with strange powers ‘not of this world’ and has a rather annoying habit of popping up out of nowhere smelling strongly of sulphur. Then there is the master of the house himself who, when he isn’t whipping the occasional wayward peasant, likes to disappear into the basement, in order to take part in strange ceremonies involving drinking the blood of young altar girls while surrounded by lots of dancing naked people.

Pocket Books August 1979 edition

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to be carried away by a bit of tall, dark & handsome once in a while – which no doubt is the reason why I read these books in the first place – but if Vincent was my cousin… well, alarm bells would be ringing by now.

Not so Adrienne. She more than willingly accepts his proposal of marriage, not quite realising her marriage ceremony is to be held in the crypt, her mind drugged into a ‘mist of fog and fantasy’ while her husband daubs her in blood and ravishes her, surrounded by yet more dancing naked people.

As Adrienne slowly recovers from her wedding night the penny eventually drops but by then it is too late. So what if her husband is half demon?  She loves him, and besides, she is now carrying his child. So she sets about making herself a proper home in Castle Caudill, doing her best to ignore her beloved’s more unusual eccentricities. But terrible crimes are being committed and Lord Satan is the prime suspect. As more and more young girls are found raped and murdered on the surrounding moors, Adrienne is finding it increasingly difficult to ignore her conscience. Eventually she turns to the local priest for guidance but that’s when her problems really begin…

Janet Louise Roberts was born in Connecticut 1925 and worked as a typist and librarian before becoming a full-time writer in 1978. A prolific Romance novelist, she wrote under three pseudonyms – Janette Radcliffe, Rebecca Danton and Louisa Bronte. As Louisa Bronte she wrote the Greystone series and at least two gothics for the Avon Satanic Gothic series – Her Demon Lover and Lord Satan.

The daughter of a missionary, Ms Roberts used pseudonyms to avoid embarrassing her father and if Lord Satan is typical of her work, I can see why. It appears her treatment of women at the hands of rough, overbearing men has come under some criticism, but if, like me, you can’t help but be suckered in by green-eyed demons dressed in black velvet, mincing around castles shrouded in ‘nightmarish terror’, you are probably far too depraved to care. Four out of five stars. (Minus a point since the cover art makes Adrienne look a bit like a truckdriver in drag).

And in her own words…

‘I have always loved to write, since childhood. There is a deep pleasure in working with words and making them say just what I feel. I find the world unsatisfactory, and in my fiction I try to make things come out the way I want them to, and I love happy endings. My writing is romantic, not realistic.’ Janet Louise Roberts – quoted from Twentieth Century Romance and Gothic Writers, Macmillan publishers, 1982.

Some excellent background information and comments on Janet Louise Roberts can be found over at Mystery*File  HERE.

And another review of Lord Satan can be read and enjoyed over at the Consumed and Judged blog HERE.