When a mysterious benefactor offers to make her his ward, a destitute Sabrina Wilder journeys south to New Orleans, suspicious as she is of this unexplained generosity. She is, at first, delighted with the sensual climate of the city, with its spice-laden trade winds and with the beautiful antebellum mansion at Beelfontaine.

But an ominous thread soon emerges. Why does Abijah Bailey, the handsome family lawyer, accuse her of being an adventuress? And what of the eerie rites of Delzinde, the High Voodoo Priestess? Moreover why are the elegant halls of Beelfontaine hung with corpses that only Sabrina can see? The horror becomes rampant at Mardi Gras, as frenzied mummers drop their masks to reveal themselves as the Devil’s helpers sent to sacrifice Sabrina in a ghastly Satanic ritual!

Written by Saliee O’Brien. This Berkley Medallion Edition, August 1974. Cover art John Duillo.

Oh, I couldn’t resist the back blurb on this one. Either our heroine has found herself enmeshed in an orgiastic quagmire of voodoo and black magic, or someone’s slipped a little something into her Mint Julep and she’s woken up in the middle of a particularly bad acid trip. Whatever her fate, I had to find out and so Beelfontaine went straight to the top of my weekend reading pile.

The story opens on a rain-lashed night in March 1872. Sabrina, accompanied by her little brother Frankie and elderly cousin Massie, are fresh off the steamboat from Salem and standing outside their new home in New Orleans. The last few months have not been kind to this unfortunate trio but help is at hand in the guise of a mysterious benefactor – Pierre Beelfontaine.

Monsieur Beelfontaine has a son but he wants a daughter. Since his wife has died, he needs to find one from someone else’s family, preferably someone descended from witches. He has studied Sabrina’s family tree and is well aware her parents have died, leaving her destitute with a sickly brother desperately in need of medical care. Having apprised himself of Sabrina’s breeding, not to mention her sound mind and beauty, he has decided to offer his home to her as well as a sizeable allowance.

However, on arrival at Beelfontaine Manor, Sabrina is greeted by an unwelcome hulk of a house inhabited by a resentful, vengeful mob – and that’s just the servants. The family all hate her too, in fact no-one, apart from Pierre Beelfontaine and his son Antoine, wants her there and it’s not long before Sabrina finds herself victim to all manor of unfortunate ‘accidents’.

She knows someone is out to kill her but who and why? Curiosity overrides self preservation and so she decides to stay to find out, resignedly putting up with all the voodoo dolls left swinging from her bedroom ceiling, the drugged nightcaps and hateful glances at her fiery red hair. Sooner or later, she tells herself, her unknown enemy will give themselves away.

In the meantime, Pierre Beelfontaine finally reveals the real reason why she is here. He wants her to marry his son and give him a grand-son. His son, Antoine with the mesmerising golden eyes, promptly declares his love for Sabrina before presenting her with a beautiful diamond and pearl necklace – a precious family heirloom known as the Pearls of Beelzebub.

Sabrina is rendered speechless – by both the sudden proposal and the stunning gift. Being a pragmatic lass, she maintains her diplomatic silence while she retires to her room (still wearing the necklace) to weigh up her options.

On the one hand, we have learnt the necklace is cursed – by the blood of the women slain for the beautiful pearls and diamonds that adorn it. But… it is a beautiful necklace. And though marriage to Antoine seems a little hasty, what other prospects has she got? 

Sabrina’s mind is soon made up for her, when she awakes in the dead of night to the sounds of drums and chanting, her little brother Frankie gone from his bed. In desperation (and still wearing the necklace) she runs from the house in the direction of this barbarous cacophony to find herself in the midst of a horrifying Voodoo ritual. Even more terrifying, it looks as if her little brother is next in line to be sacrificed.

Oo-er. It seems our heroine really has found herself enmeshed in an orgiastic quagmire of voodoo and black magic. Before she can scream for Dixie, she is stripped by a congregation of frenzied slaves desperate to spill her pure virgin blood in order to appease their angry gods. Sabrina only just manages to escape, running naked (though still wearing the pearls) and terrified straight into the arms of her husband-to-be Antoine. His response to her dilemma is to insist she marries him right away – marriage into the Beelfontaine family being the only way to guarantee her safety.

By now Sabrina’s had enough of her amber-eyed suitor and his family’s shenanigans. She wants to go home. Now. Back in her bedroom, pretending to be getting dressed for the wedding, she unclasps the necklace and flees, taking her aunt and brother with her. What she doesn’t realise however is that she is running from Beelzebub himself (the necklace was a clue) and that in order for him to return to his rightful place in paradise, he needs to inject his ‘satanic soul’ into a newly sparked embryo through dis-immaculate conception. So with this much at stake, Sabrina’s chances of escape seem less than likely…

Though it sagged a bit in the middle, I rather enjoyed Beelfontaine.  The prose was suitably dramatic, which I loved, adding drive and energy to the story. Beelfontaine is a place where pulses hammer, where ice-hot glowers of hatred smoulder across jalousie-shuttered rooms draped in crimson and black. I particularly liked the passages about the house:

“She could feel the house drawing itself around her, rich as the necklace about her neck, could feel it clasping her bodily. From within itself, from its lowest rooms, through its black heart on the third floor, to the flaming- brain room in which she stood, the house squeezed ever closer, its fiery maw ready to pick from her mind, body and soul her very essence.”

Typical of gothics from this time, the religion of Voodoo gets used and confused alongside Satanism, which doesn’t always work for me, but I can more than forgive Beelfontaine this for its amazing ‘Satan Soul’ plot line and the author’s liberal use of  twisted lusts and demonic pacts. To say just about every character in this book had a complicated love life with a strange tale to tell would be putting things very mildly.

Blood Slave

I couldn’t find out much about Saliee O’Brien, though she is listed on Fantastic Fiction as having written quite a few novels – mostly lust-laden Southern plantation sagas by the looks of things. Her real name was Frankie Lee Janas and  I did find another review of one of her books, with some enlightening comments about her, over at the lovely Bodice Rippers blog HERE

I’m not sure if Saliee O’Brien wrote any more gothics – though The Bride of Gaylord Hall looks and sounds promising – but I hope so as I’d certainly like to read more! Four out of five stars.

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.

The Cup of Thanatos

Dr Paul Holton could no longer ignore the facts: the mystery-shrouded Thanatos Society had sprung up from the smouldering ashes of the evil ‘Circle of Ra’ he had once helped to destroy. The name of the Satanic leader was different but Paul recognized the familiar Machiavellian techniques. Once again the insidious Dr. Blackton was pandering to his all-consuming lust for power and world domination.

Suddenly Paul found himself deeply involved for Sarah Wellington, a young and gentle friend, showed signs of drug addiction – and Sarah wore around her neck the distinctive symbol of the Society, named in honor of Thanatos – the ancient God of Death.

Paul had always known he and Dr Blackton would meet again. He knew, too, that one mistake could plunge them all into the Kingdom of Darkness…

Written by Charlotte Hunt (aka  Doris Marjorie Hodges). An Ace Gothic 1968.

The Cup of Thanatos is the second in Charlotte Hunt’s Dr Holton series, where our eponymous hero is once again fighting for freedom and the soul of a beautiful young girl against the villainous Dr Manfred Blackton and his mistress of ceremonies, the gorgeous I-am-so-evil-I-get-my-green-nail-varnish-specially-made-for-me-by-slaves-in-Cairo Madame Zerena.

Having narrowly escaped the clutches of Scotland Yard in the Gilded Sarcophagus, Manfred Blackton and Zerena are lying low in some North American desert, running a ‘nature cure’ sanatorium under the assumed names of Madame Olga and Dr Julius Grafton.

But it’s not long before they find bigger fish to fry when they are visited by Dr Mefferhossen, the leader of a secret satanic cult known as the Thanatos Society. By utilising mass-hypnosis techniques while channelling the ‘Lucifer Force’, they plan to create a new world order. To do this, Dr Mefferhossen needs our two mystic mercenaries to help him beg, borrow or steal the secrets of some of the greatest scientists in the world.

He sends Manfred and Zerena to England – to ‘soften up’ the famous English inventor Algernon Mannering and his psychically gifted daughter, Sarah. Algernon Mannering has invented an apparatus that, when combined with Sarah’s visionary powers, has the potential to pierce the ‘Barrier of the Cosmos’. The Thanatos Society believes this apparatus, combined with the right drugs, holds the key to taking control of the world.

But they have picked on the wrong victims as Sarah is an old friend of Dr Holton. When she gets drawn into the world of shady séances and drug taking rituals, Dr Holton becomes increasingly concerned for her safety. His worse suspicions are confirmed when she disappears and is presumed dead. He makes it his mission to find out what’s happened to her and what follows is an adventure that takes Paul Holton across Europe, culminating in him gate-crashing a Satanic Mass in a devil haunted monastery in the Austrian Alps.

The Cup of Thanatos is another enjoyable occult thriller in the Dr Holton series. Moving away from the first person viewpoint in The Gilded Sarcophagus, I enjoyed it better as more time is given to following the exploits of Dr Manfred Blackton and Zerena – the globe trotting pseudo-Satanists who are more than happy to lend their support to whichever world dominating, fanatical cults come their way.

There’s not much more to ask for if drug-addled, devil worshipping neo-nazis exploring the outer reaches of time-space consciousness is your thing, though I was a little disappointed by the Thanatos Society – for when one of their rituals successfully conjured a genuine supernatural spectre, most of the members ran off in terror! Hmm, not very hard these Satanists. It did however make it a lot easier for Dr Paul Holton to step in and save the day.

The cover art shares the same signature as my previously reviewed Beauty That Must Die but I’ve yet to find out anything about the artist. Four out of five stars.