The Vampyre of Moura

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

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

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

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

An Ace Book. Copyright 1970 by Virginia Coffman.

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

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

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

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

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

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


My Love-Haunted Heart

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Everyone should have a few guilty pleasures and one of mine is the romantic gothic fiction that was so popular in the 60’s and 70’s. Long out of print, to only be found tucked away in the dark corners of charity shops, ebay and car boot sales, I find their bewitching covers and the terrible deeds hinted at within impossible to resist.

dyingemberscoverSo what is it about these small, usually unappealingly mouldy smelling paperbacks I find so attractive? Maybe it  was too much time spent watching Dark Shadows growing up or a gradual disenchantment with an over hyped, over priced market in modern horror, but time and time again, like the proverbial moth to a flame, I find myself irresistibly drawn to these haunting tales of romantic suspense and supernatural horror.

Of course with all great loves there are a few fatal flaws. The obligatory happy endings for one. One could, and should, argue that love can only truly be called gothic if it is unrequited, doomed, tortured, twisted or taboo – think Poe’s  Madeline and  Roderick or Emily Bronte’s Catherine and Heathcliff.

But I guess  for this particular genre, market forces dictated that the hapless heroine survive long enough to be swept off her feet by a real thecatspreylive hunk of (mostly) human love. To be fair, I’m sure many readers bought these books specifically for the ‘riding off into the sunset’ happy endings, but for those of us who prefer intrigue over romance, there are usually more than enough plot twists, villains, and unhappy skeletons in the closet to keep us coming back for more.

Another criticism levelled at this type of fiction is the overall quality of writing. It is true that in the wrong hands these stories can come out cliched and cheesy, with stereotyped characters, predictable plot twists and those “oh come on! give me a break!” moments that jar the reader out of the story. The subject matter and sheer numbers of these titles that were mass produced no doubt makes gothic romance an easy target.

raxlvoodooBut  I do not think this genre is any more guilty of “hack” writing than any other and in the right hands many of these books contain absorbing, evocative stories, full of the kind over dramatic gothic melodrama that’s so fun to lose yourself in occasionally, and they are a credit to their authors – particularly when you consider the very restrictive guidelines they  must of conformed to just to get published. In any event, literary snobbery aside, any book that gets people reading is a great book and there is no doubt the gothic romance genre has a loyal and avid readership.

So this blog is a collection of excerpts, cover art and reviews on some of my without a gravefavourite reads in vintage romantic gothic ficton. In their hey day during the 60’s and 70’s there must have been thousands of these books published  but these days they are becoming harder to come by and, just like the haunted houses they  depict, many of them are falling into ever increasing states of decrepitude.  I can only live in hope that someone, someday resurrects this forgotten genre and starts reprinting some of these titles, complete with their original gorgeous artwork, soon.

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