Strange Paradise

Jean Paul Desmond makes a pact with the Devil in an attempt to bring his dead wife back to life.

JEAN PAUL DESMOND is handsome and vigorous. he is one of the world’s richest men and he is desperate. His beloved wife Erica is dead, but he will not let her rest.

JACQUES ELOI DES MONDES could be Jean Paul’s twin. Except Jacques is 250 years old, and dead. Or is he?

Jean Paul and Jacques enter into a pact that unleashes a tide of evil from beyond the grave which threatens to enslave Jean Paul – and all the people around him!

Written by Dorothy Daniels. First Paperback Library Edition December 1969.

Somewhere on a remote island in the Caribbean, accessible only  through a treacherous channel of water, stands Maljardin – a foreboding castle and home to the Des Mondes family for over four hundred years. It is here where we are introduced to the latest in the De Mondes line, Jean Paul Desmond; a modern day Jekyll and Hyde possessed by far more than the desire to bring his dead wife back to life.

Joining Jean Paul are guests Keith Lambert MD, a cardiac surgeon and Diana Thatcher, a secretary from New York. Amidst the ever so romantic backdrop of animal sacrifice and hypnotic drumming,  Keith and Diane meet at a Voodoo ceremony and instantly fall in love.  And just as quickly they are planning to leave the island to ride off  into a beautiful sunset together as soon as they can. There is only one hitch. Diana has to visit Maljardin to collect some papers for her boss in New York. Keith decides to  brave the turbulent waters with her and very soon the young couple find themselves  guests of Jean Paul Desmond and his rather sinister castle.

However getting out of the castle proves rather more difficult than getting in. It appears forces are at work conspiring to keep the not so willing guests trapped. Jean Paul has the body of his beloved dead wife Erica cryogenically preserved in the basement  and the skills of Dr Lambert may be able to assist him in bringing her back. More worryingly, judging by the bodies of young ladies that are being washed up ashore minus their major organs,  Diana herself may required for a fate far, far worse.

Will they or won’t they escape in time? And will Jean Paul himself see reason and fight the evil that is enslaving him? Is there anyone in the castle skilled in magic strong enough to defeat the devilishly deviant Jacques Eloi Des Mondes – a two hundred and fifty year old entity who can possess his ancestor at will? All is soon revealed in this surreal page turning novel that is crammed with all sorts of gothicky goodness.

This is the first in a series of paperbacks based on the television gothic suspense drama, Strange Paradise. I have two other paperbacks in this series – Island of Evil (published April 1970) and Raxl, Voodoo Priestess (published August 1970). Both titles are written by Dorothy Daniels and both centre on the ongoing saga of Jean Paul’s obsessive love for his beautiful dead bride as he struggles between good and evil and the satanic pact made with his long dead ancestor, Jacques Eloi Des Mondes.

For more information on this Canadian soap opera with a difference, check out: http://www.strangeparadise.net/index.html Paperback Library are the publishers behind the books that accompany the Dark Shadows series and though I am a huge Dark Shadows fan, I’ve never had the pleasure of watching any of Strange Paradise. But if these books are anything to go by this is not to be missed viewing! Four out of five stars.


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The Golden Fig

thegoldenfigWhen Paul Stembridge came looking for his missing brother Geoffrey, Susan Lord could not know he had brought a family curse with him. Susan fell in love with Paul, married him, and in her happiness, all thoughts of Geoffrey were forgotten.

But soon a subtle change came over Paul. gradually Susan realised that he wanted her for one purpose only – to help him break the curse.

What had become of the missing Geoffrey? If the curse had taken him, then Susan, too, was in danger. Captive of a family plagued by violence, Susan faced a legacy of evil that spanned more than a century.

She had to learn the secret of the Stembridge curse – or die a victim of it.

Written by Nancy Taylor Smith. First Ace printing August 1974.

Set in the early 1900’s, this is an exotic excursion into the world of old-time tropical plantations and dark family secrets, with a smattering of voodoo adding intrigue to the mix.

Susan Lord works in the Ossadaga Public Library, lives in the local boarding house and feels life is passing her by. A self proclaimed old maid at 25 (weren’t those the days!) you can imagine her excitement when the mysterious, tall, dark and handsome Paul Stembridge comes into town. A whirlwind romance follows and soon enough Susan is  married and whisked off to Stembridge’s grand West Indian stately mansion.

Well, marriage is not all it’s cracked up to be for Susan, with Mr Right very quickly turning into Mr Completely Appalling as he becomes increasingly moody, abusive and controlling toward his figarunspouse. Then there’s the hostile family and the West Indian ghost’s or duppies to put up with, as well as the resident family witch leaving voodoo dolls in her underwear drawer.

Like all great gothic heroines, Susan takes whatever’s thrown at her, even her husband’s punches, and carries on trying to maintain some semblance of normality, while all is heaving and seething around her.

Gradually more and more clues lead her to the truth behind her brother in law’s  disappearance and,  as befitting such a glamorous location, things come to a stormy, windswept climax during a thundery hurricane – when Susan finds true love in the arms of her rescuer and the mystery behind the Stembridge family curse is finally revealed.

 For connoisseurs of the creepy, this book has a little something for everyone. There’s black magic, white magic, haunted houses, madness and hidden treasure. There’s even the grisly remains of a body hidden right under everyone’s noses – I won’t say where but the clue is in the title. Three 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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