Shadow of Evil

Shadow of Evil close up

DRIVEN BY AN UNEARTHLY TERROR, PORTIA MUST PROTECT THE MAN SHE LOVES.

The beautiful widow Portia is an investigator into the occult.

She is aided by her fiancé, Owen Edwardes. Suddenly their future is threatened by the diabolical, lovely neighbour, Princess Tchernova – who pursues Owen like a beast of prey. She wants to see him dead. Portia uses every weapon at her disposal – including her love and her mastery of the occult – to keep Owen out of her rival’s clutches.

The duel between Portia and the princess will haunt the memories of addicts of the Gothic novel for many long, dark nights.

Shadow ov EvilOriginal title – Invaders from the Dark. Copyright 1960 by Greye La Spina. Copyright 1925 by the Popular Fiction Publishing Company, for Weird Tales, where an earlier version of this novel appeared in the issues for April, May and June 1925.

This Paperback Library edition is published by arrangement with Arkham House. First Printing September 1966.

Barely a year into her marriage to occult philanthropist Howard Differdale, Portia finds herself widowed when he is struck down dead in the midst of a particularly treacherous ritual. Undaunted by this cruel twist of fate, she makes the brave decision to carry on her husband’s work. But it’s a lonely existence, made all the more difficult by the ill-will and malicious rumour-mongering of her neighbours.

To combat her isolation and curtail the town’s gossips, Portia invites her Aunt Sophie to come live with her and it’s through Sophie’s eyes, presented in the form of a manuscript recovered by Greye La Spina herself, that the story unfolds.

Sophie is initially concerned for her niece but her fears are allayed somewhat by Portia’s new found maturity and unceasing resolve to continue with her late husband’s work.  Even better, there is an handsome young man on the horizon  – the eligible Owen Edwardes – whose interest in Portia appears to be reciprocated, and hopeless romantic Aunt Sophie is determined to bring them together.

But there’s a rival for Owen’s affections – the mysterious, the sensuous, the carnivorous Princess Irma Andreyevna Tchernova. Swathed in furs, her eyes glowing garnet in the gloom, she has a manner that many find alluring, coupled with a sleight of hand as fast as she is fair – linger just a little too long in her presence and you may find yourself the unwary recipient of a strange looking flower pinned to your buttonhole – a foul smelling, fleshy bloom that serves a deadly purpose.

No man can escape her fast-fingered charms and it’s Owen in particular she has set her glittery-eyed sights on. Though many find her pointy-toothed smile irresistible, it only serves to sap the sunlight from Aunt Sophie’s day and her heart sinks each time she sees the hapless Owen falling ever deeper under the princess’s spell.

Sophie isn’t the only one who is heartsick as Portia has long held suspicions of her own. To those with the occult know-how, the signs are obvious; Princess Tchernova keeps wolves for pets and eats nothing but meat; her fingers are unnaturally long, her eyebrows unnaturally low. Moreover, those hideous Orchids she keeps throwing around have a use far more sinister than the townsfolk could ever imagine.

2010 Ramble House reprint

2010 Ramble House reprint

One stormy night Portia confides in her Aunt, simultaneously revealing her suspicions while educating Sophie into the reality of the loup-garou or werewolf. Using her extensive occult library and powers of persuasion she convinces her Aunt that, not only do these monstrous beings exist but that the Princess herself is a shape-changing werewolf, intent on turning Owen into her life-long mate.

Using powers of astral projection along with some good old-fashioned peeping through other people’s windows, Portia and Sophie’s worse fears are confirmed when they witness the princess performing a strange ritual of her own – plying Owen with a liquor extracted from some lycanthropous stream that brings with it the curse of becoming werewolf.

Uh-oh. Time is running out for our intrepid duo if they are to save Owen from the clutches of Princess Tchernova. Preparing for his rescue, disaster strikes in the form of an enormous explosion that rocks through the town, destroying the princess’s mansion. Sophie and Portia watch helplessly from their window as the mansion burns to the ground, dismayed in the knowledge that Owen could not possibly survive such a catastrophe.

The shock has barely worn off when there’s a knock on the door. Portia answers it to find the princess’s mute servant standing on the threshold, accompanied by a large grey wolf….

Shadow of Evil backcover

Shadow of Evil is a fabulous read where romance, intrigue and supernatural thrills ‘n’ spills all combine to create a story as weird as it is wonderful. And as far as anti-heroines go, the Princess Irma Andreyevna Tchernova is a villainess as exotically gothic as her name implies.

Greye La Spina has written a few werewolf stories and it is obvious she has a more than passing interest in her subject matter – I particularly enjoyed Portia’s account detailing lycanthropy in terms of the use and abuse of faith and how those sworn to evil are just as capable of performing miracles as those sworn to good – an explanation which made perfectly spooky sense while I was reading it late at night over a glass of wine or two!

Born in 1880 in Wakefield Massachusetts, Greye La Spina lived a life as unconventional as her gothic heroines. More about her and her contribution to early pulp horror can be found over at The Innsmouth Free Press HERE. There is also an informative thread on her works over at the ever-fabulous Vault of Evil. 

Four out of five stars, with extra gothic points for use of the word decoction

Shadow of Evil

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A Gathering of Evil

a gathering of evil“Was a noose tightening around a horrified Deborah Foster?

It was the night of evil ritual. The worshippers of the devil danced around the ruined abbey, now transformed into a temple of terror. Deborah had come there hoping to unmask her sister’s killer.

Suddenly against her will, Deborah felt herself succumbing to the unholy spell woven by the frenzied witches. Relentlessly they began to encircle her. Panic gripped her for she knew they had chosen her as their next victim.”

Written by Marilyn Ross and first published in 1966 by Paperback Library Gothic.

Marilyn Ross was one of the pseudonyms used by Canadian author William Edward Daniel Ross who is well known for his popular novels based on the Dark Shadows television series.

gatheringevilA Gathering of Evil is set in 1872 and tells the tale of a young woman called Deborah struggling to find out the circumstances of her late sister’s death. Against all advice she travels to the estate of her sister’s widower where she finds herself pitted aganst all manner of evil things, including phantoms, werewolves, hunchbacked gypsies and transmigrating souls – and she even manages to attend the odd satanic mass or two. Nothing is as it seems in this haunted mansion of dark cellars and secret passageways as friends become enemies and enemies turn out to be – well not quite as nasty as they first appeared.

This is a nice supernatural thriller choc full of gothic goings on, but the ending comes on a little sudden and I didn’t feel all the earlier spookiness was adequately accounted for. The heroine, Deborah, was actually very brave and dealt with whatever was thrown at her quite well (better than I would anyway) – though I had to question why she kept turning up at those Black Masses when she was so obviously repulsed by those pesky Satanists – that was just asking for trouble. Extra points awarded for the fantastically named leading man – Roderick Vroom. Four out of five stars.

My Love-Haunted Heart

longlivingshadow

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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