Where Shadows Lie

Tonight, with the room almost completely dark, the chairs and love seats and footstools had lost their outlines and seemed to have become crouching shadows.

More fancies – I am letting myself become obsessed with them, Elizabeth thought, allowing my imagination to run away with me. Still, she was glad to reach her small bedroom and lock the door behind her.

Once in bed, she fell asleep almost immediately, deeply and dreamlessly.

What awakened her she did not know. Sounds became magnified. The creaking of an old board somewhere outside her bedroom door was like a groan in the stillness. The muttering of the ocean seemed to rise to a roar. A fog horn far out on the water sang its melancholy song.

And through those other sounds came another, so unlikely that she pulled herself up on her pillow and sat hugging her knees, her ears straining and her eyes staring sightlessly into the darkness.

Surely there could not be a baby crying here in Gray House!

Written by Miriam Lynch

An original Pinnacle Books edition. First printing March 1972.

Our heroine, the lovely Elizabeth Lyman, is a true blue-blooded American, whose ancestors were prominent in the days before the Revolutionary War. We meet her as she is on her way to her childhood home, Gray House, situated in a small town just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. The house once belonged to her forefather the legendary John Hackett Gray, a hero of the American Civil war. These days, Gray House is open to the public over the weekends, presided over by its two elderly custodians, Elizabeth’s Aunts, Lydia and Dorothy.

Elizabeth doesn’t have too many fond memories growing up in the company of these ‘stern, sour faced’ women and so her unexpected visit is not a social one. Clearing out the belongings of her recently deceased parents, she has recently come into possession of an old steel box. Inside this box are some letters, written by the late, great John Hackett himself, as well as a leather bound journal belonging to his wife. Convinced her Aunts will be ecstatic at her find and will want to preserve these treasures for future generations, Elizabeth has decided to deliver the documents over to them herself.  

Alas, her welcome is worse than even she could of imagined. Her Aunts make it plain they are far from happy with Elizabeth’s sudden arrival, their mood improving not a whit when they receive the diary and papers.

By now Elizabeth is too tired to care. Exhausted by the long journey she just plans to say her hello and goodbyes before beating a hasty retreat back to her apartment and her job as a secretary in the Town Hall. But fate conspires against her as sickness and a broken down car force her into accepting her Aunt’s begrudging hospitality.

Now most gothic heroines end up in perilous situations as a direct result of having too much curiosity – with Elizabeth Lyman however, the opposite is true. For if she had only read through the old diary before handing it over (and let’s face it, who can ever resist reading someone else’s secret thoughts given half a chance?) she could have saved herself a whole heap of trouble. As it happens, the few days she spends at Gray House with her vinegar-veined Aunties prove not only unpleasant but potentially lethal. Fortunately for Elizabeth, there is a handsome young author around to lend her a hand or two, but how far can she really trust him…?

I’ve reviewed a few Miriam Lynch titles on this blog, and enjoyed them all. One of them, The Deadly Rose, shares a similar ‘psychotic little old lady running wild in a rambling death-trap of a house’ plot to this novel and Miriam Lynch certainly knows how to work the spooky spinster theme very convincingly.

What I really like about her writing is the way she can keep a story moving – avoiding bogging the reader down in narrative – while still finding the time to lend a gothic hand to the proceedings. All the books of hers I’ve read contain some very effective scene setting, with wonderful terror-laden descriptions of her heroines’ state of mind as they find themselves embroiled ever deeper in danger.

The cover art for this one is rather lovely too. I found a slightly more modern version (pictured above) at a Miriam Lynch book covers page here: http://book-covers.lucywho.com/miriam-lynch-book-covers-t603914.html.

I’m giving Where Shadows Lie four out of five stars, with extra gothic points for the grisly discovery of two skeletons found hidden in the cellar, entwined in each other’s bones.

 

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!

House of Tombs

THE SARCOPHAGUS

…held the key to her passion – archaeology. She had come to this house of tombs on the windswept Maine island to learn from the greatest scholar of them all, Professor Scot Wiegand.

DAYS PASSED. WEEKS.

First she discovered the secret passageway in her room. Then the golden leaf which nearly caused an ‘accident.’ Then the buried cigarette case engraved with the initials L.M. Its owner had also an accident, a fatal accident.

Denise Stanton was beginning to think the Weigand family was not what it seemed.

AND THEN SHE FOUND THE MUMMY…

 A gothic novel by Caroline Farr. Copyright 1966 by Horwitz Publications Inc. First printing December 1966. 

Bizarre ritual murder, a love-starved madman and two beautiful women? Sounds an explosive combination and I was looking forward to getting stuck into this one over the holidays. 

Set in 1966 on an isolated island off the stormy coast of Maine, House of Tombs follows Denise Stanton, a young secretary starting her new job as a live-in assistant for the famous archaeologist, Professor Scot Weigand. Her destination is Werewold House, home to the professor and his extensive collection of encrumbled artifacts.

On the ferry over, Denise learns a bit more about her employer – that he has spent the last year under psychiatric care, having had a breakdown over the mysterious death of his one-time friend Meredith, a man rumoured by locals to have been having an affair with the professor’s (much) younger wife Karen and who met his untimely end when he fell off the cliffs near Werewold.

Denise is naturally uneasy by these stories, and soon finds she has even more to worry about once she arrives at the house. The professor seems a nice enough man, but his wife Karen and son John are giving her the heebeegeebees. Then there are the strange scratching noises emanating from behind the sliding panel in her room, as well as the torn up note, hinting at insanity and murder.

Amidst a backdrop of Sumerian myths, ancient Egyptian burial rites and dusty, sarcophagi-strewn museum rooms, House of Tombs is an enjoyable enough read if a little confusing at times. (The back story about Denise being related to the Weigand family disappears almost as soon as it’s mentioned, making me wonder whether the author just forgot about this part of the plot, with the nutty professor himself becoming a complete nonentity after chapter 2).

Plot holes and vanishing characters aside, there were enough gothic trappings in House of Tombs to keep things interesting and the burial rite towards the end of the book, in which our heroine finds herself the unwitting handmaiden to ‘evil queen’ Karen in Werewold’s very own death pit, provides a suitably suspenseful climax to the adventure. 

As for who wrote this book, well, if lines like – “A love of surfing and the sea has given me a better-than-average figure, with long slim legs and good breasts,”  hadn’t already given away the author as a man, Romancewiki confirmed this in their entry on Caroline Farr by stating:

“Caroline Farr is the pseudonym of Richard Wilkes-Hunter (1906 – 1991), a prolific Australian writer. Under this name, he wrote a number of Gothic romance novels. He used over a dozen pseudonyms and wrote war stories, romances, spy novels, westerns and pornography. Sometimes this name is incorrectly attributed to Allan Geoffrey Yates.”

However, Fantastic Fiction lists Caroline Farr as a pseudonym used by at least two other writers – Carter Brown and Lee Pattinson, as well as Richard Wilkes-Hunter, so I’m not 100% sure who the credit should go to.  Whoever it was, I’m guessing this was a book written to order rather than a labour of love.

Overall then, I’d say this is a slightly better than average gothic-by-numbers but not one worth being buried alive for. 3 out of 5 stars.