Witch

‘That house isn’t healthy for the likes of you. You better get out before it’s too late’

As soon as Ellen March saw the house she wanted to buy it. It was her dream home. Even the rumours that it was haunted didn’t discourage her.

The dream home was to be the setting for a whole new happiness… until the dream turned into a nightmare.

The shadow of a woman in the bedroom… the weird white cat… the vicious gossip… was it her imagination, some hideous joke?

Or had the old witch returned from the dead to take possession of the house and of Ellen herself?

Copyright Barbara Michaels 1973.

First British edition published 1975 by Souvenir Press Ltd. This edition published 1977 by Pan Books Ltd.

Since the death of her sister nearly ten years ago, Ellen and her daughter Penny have been living with Ellen’s widowed brother-in-law Jack and his son Phil. But teenager Penny is now flying the nest and Jack is starting a new job somewhere far, far away so Ellen needs to find a home of her own too.  

Enter real estate agent Rose, who tells Ellen of a property new to the market – a cottage built in 1720, set in thirty acres of woodland right on the edge of the Blue Ridge mountains, currently owned by irascible loner Ed Salling, who recently inherited it from his aunt and who is ready to sell at a reasonable price.

The little house is old, isolated and falling apart but for Ellen it is love at first sight. Ed tries to warn her off, with stories of witches, ghosts and small town skulduggery, but nothing he says can dissuade her. So it’s not long before the title deeds are signed and Ellen moves in with her trusty companion – her beloved, very vocal Siamese cat Ishtar.

For now Ellen is in seventh heaven; the cottage is everything she could have wished for. She has peace and quiet, with a long hot summer of learning guitar and watching the birds to look forward to. But when the sun sets on her first day in her brand new home and the dark of the forest settles around her, well that’s when the fun really begins…

She decided to read until the flames died down. The room couldn’t have been more peaceful. Her reading lamp shed a bright circle of light on the book without disturbing the soft gloom of the far corners, and the purring of Ishtar, curled up on the foot of the bed, blended with the sound of the rain. Involved with the adventures of Becky Sharp, Ellen read on.

Then it happened. She dropped the book with a harsh gasp, her hands flying to her throat. Ishtar groaned irritably and turned over, but did not wake. Gradually the thud of Ellen’s heart quieted but she still sat twisted about, staring into the dim corner by the door…

When she turned out the light, there were shadows to spare. They moved and twisted as the flames created them. Ellen lay awake watching them for some time. But none was even remotely like the sharp-edged shape she had seen. It had resembled the figure of a woman, with long, full skirts and flowing hair…

Harper reprint 2008

I reviewed Barbara Michael’s Greygallows a while back on this blog and out of the two, Witch worked far better for me. Set in the here and now (of the 1970’s) with an older, more engaging heroine, this was a fun book with lots of gothic goings on. In addition to the haunting shadow of a dead witch done wrong, there were ghostly cats, evil dogs, a (little) bit of possession and a neighbourhood full of weird witch burning villagers.

Personally I would have preferred to have heard more from Mary – the gypsy witch haunting the cottage who was found hanged in the upstairs bedroom. In fact, the supernatural elements of this story were terrific but became increasingly overshadowed by other, more mundane storylines as the novel progressed. It was also obvious from the get-go who the bad guy was (those slavering, glittery-eyed hounds and that chronic cat allergy were a bit of a clue) and it was a little difficult to take him seriously as a villain since he spent a large portion of the novel in a fit of red-eyed, wheezing fear of felines. Nevertheless, ailurophobic anti-heroes aside, I had a lot of fun with this book. Four out of five stars.


Advertisements

Romany Curse

Sign of Evil

Adela Barron and her mother traveled to Florida to sell the house Papa Barron had lived in as a boy. The house was swarming with gypsies. When Adela tried to learn their customs, she was sharply reprimanded by her stern Aunt Cecile and by the gypsies themselves, including the handsome Django.

Adela was warned never to go to the gypsy camp, but she did, and twice, attemps were made on her life. When she met Dr. Larry Norton she thought her problems were over. Then her mother disappeared. And Adela was sure the gypsies had kidnapped her.

Written by Suzanne Somers. Published by Modern Promotions 1972.

Suzanne Somers is one of the pseudonyms used by Dorothy Daniels, whose Strange Paradise novels I reviewed earlier this year.

In Romany Curse, Adela accompanies her mother on a trip to her late father’s estate in Florida. Adela loves the house but her mother hates the place and is hoping to sell it off and move on as quickly as possible.

Things do not go to plan – Adela’s mother is kidnapped by the local gypsies  and  Adela finds herself in ever increasing danger from their evil leader Hadari.

It transpires Adela’s father was Hadari’s predecessor, so gypsy law – not to mention squatter’s rights – dictate the house and all of Papa Barron’s money, belongs to them. To seal the deal Adela is forced to marry Hadari.

It all works out happily ever after when Adela and her mother are rescued by the handsome Dr Norton, the disgraced Hadari is forced into exile and the gypsies  elect a new leader – Adela’s new best friend, the charming Django.

Romany Curse is not very good and has very little to do with curses of any kind, let alone Romany ones. There is a bit of a story in there somewhere but stylistically there is nothing remotely gothic about its atmosphere or prose. Also, it is supposed to be set in the early 1800’s but  the dialogue and overall characterisation is too modern to be convincing and actually gets confusing at times.

On the plus side, Romany Curse is only about 100 pages long,  so makes for an easy afternoon’s reading and I do like the artwork. The greenish cast and subject’s wide-eyed expression is somewhat reminiscent of those kitsch, plastic-framed  matglo prints we used to win on the bingo stall at the funfair. Two out of five stars.


Beauty That Must Die

Rosaleen Day could not feel sorry when she learned that Crystal Hugo was dead. The young actress had bewitched Rosaleen’s husband, Rory, and their marriage was in jeopardy. Yet it was a shock to Rosaleen when the police disclosed Crystal hadn’t committed suicide, as they all assumed, but had been murdered.

So many people could benefit from Crystal’s death – so many people wanted her out of the way. She was wrecking Rosaleen’s marriage, harming Rory’s career, and tormenting a rejected lover.

Rosaleen knew that until the cloud of suspicion over them all was erased, she and Rory would never trust one another again – even in death Crystal stood between them. Desperate to discover the murderer before the police did, Rosaleen would prove to be her own worst enemy…

Written by Barbara James, published by Ace Books 1961.

I found this gothic in the lovely Rainbow Books, Brighton, over the weekend. I am intrigued by the cover art, the way the ghostly figure of the woman seems to be metamorphosing into a house herself. When I first picked this up I assumed the effect was due to external damage or damp –  the imprint of another book left on top of this one transposing itself onto the cover perhaps –  but on closer inspection I am not so sure. No matter. Whether by accident or design it is still a great cover, though I am not so sure what it has to do with the story.