Dark Dowry

ORNAMENT OF EVIL

The black pearl necklace – young, beautiful, enigmatic India Stuart-Brice gazed at it with mingled awe and foreboding. This fabulous treasure was her sole legacy from the aristocratic father whose death had shattered her sheltered life in British Calcutta- and sent her halfway round the globe to relatives she did not know and a fate shrouded in fearful mystery.

Desperately India clung to her precious pearls – even when she discovered their price in peril. Their uncanny beauty was no blessing but a curse that poisoned love and threatened life itself… as East meets West in a climax of horror…

THE BLACK PEARL SERIES

Is the masterpiece of supreme gothic story teller Willo Davis Roberts. You’ll want to read each complete novel of this enthralling epic of romance and suspense, all in Popular Library editions.

Written by Willo Davies Roberts. Published by Popular Library, a unit of CBS Publications. May 1978.

Descended from aristocracy but exiled from England under mysterious circumstances, widower Judson Stuart-Brice is enjoying a cloistered existence, safe in the enclave of his Calcutta mansion and far from the biting gossip of London’s High Society.

All this changes after his brutal murder, when he is shot down in an alley in what first appears to be a motiveless crime.

Now it’s up to India, as the eldest daughter, to do right by her family. Named after the country she grew up in, we meet India as she is sailing to Monterey with her three younger siblings in tow. Orphaned and penniless, they are off to the Golden State in order to throw themselves at the mercy of some distant relatives.  For their father has left them nothing – nothing that is except for Black Pearl necklace hidden under the folds of India’s skirts.

Ahh, them pearls, them pearls…the rarest of them all and a dark dowry indeed; perfectly matched, each a deep iridescent grey, they were once the property of a heartbroken maharajah, who disposed of them when his sweetheart died before she ever had the chance to wear them.

And, before his untimely death, India’s father has handed them down to his daughter, with the sage advice that she should use them as a means to maximise her chances in attracting a suitable husband. He doesn’t disclose exactly how they came into his possession but he does live long enough to reassure her their unhappy past in no way makes them unlucky or cursed.

Well, that was his opinion. India soon begins to suspect otherwise and it’s not long before all manner of accidents, intrigues and incidents start to plague her – stolen luggage, bolting stallions, deadly spiders hiding out in her underwear drawer –her new  life in California is turning out very precarious indeed. Someone is after her precious pearls, and worse, the finger of suspicion is pointing directly towards her handsome new beau, Nathan Peltier.

With a bodice-busting total of eight novels to its name, Willo Davis Roberts’ Black Pearl Series seems like the perfect gothic saga to lose myself in during these long, long rainy days of spring and I’ve been looking forward to making a start on this for a while now.

 As an introduction to this ‘enthralling epic of romance and suspense’ Dark Dowry was an enjoyable enough read, though a little on the light side. There was plenty of romance, a little bit of suspense but, disappointingly, no ghosts or ghouls lurking in the shadows of its pages, despite all the promising talk hinting at demonic deeds, embraces of evil, and honeymoons in hell.

Hopefully this will change as the saga continues and I plan to revisit The Black Pearl Series soon. In the meantime, here’s a taster of instalment number two – The Cade Curse.

THRESHOLD OF TERROR

The fabulous black pearl necklace was blood-warm around beautiful Carolyn Stuart-Brice’s throat, but icy fear filled her heart as she stood before the altar with the man she knew only as Jack Cade. This handsome, iron-willed stranger had swept her off her feet, brushed aside her protests, and compelled her to say yes to his startling marriage proposal.

The cover art to this one is by Hector Garrido. The original artwork, as well as some more of his covers, can be seen on a wonderful flickr gallery devoted to his art: HERE.

Shadow Of A Past Love

COME BACK TO TERROR!

Kerry Reneau was happy in San Francisco, and confident that the bitter past was safely locked in the dark corners of her memory. She kept herself busy, too busy to think of other people… of one person. It had been years since she had seen that one man.

…And then Aunt Agatha reappeared suddenly after two years – reappeared dead! And like it or not, Kerry found herself thrust back into those other times and other places that she so much wanted to forget. But unpleasant as the homecoming seemed, she knew that it would soon be done with… and then dark horror brought the shadow of death over good memories and bad, and Kerry found herself fighting for her very life against the ghosts of the past!

Written by Willo Davis Roberts. Lancer Books 1970.

Kerry runs a bookshop on the edge of a college campus in San Francisco, so we know she’s smart. And we know she’s pretty because at least half the customers come in just to look at her – skulking around  the bookcases, buying  the occasional 50 cent paperback while working up the courage to ask her out.

But Kerry is not interested in college boys. She’s 26 years old and is carrying a torch for John, her childhood crush who’s a bestselling writer currently travelling in Peru researching his new book.

Or so she thinks. Closing up the shop one day she answers a phone call that drastically alters the course of her life. It is from Coyle, one of her cousins, summoning her back to her home town of Eureka. A woman has been killed in a hit and run accident in nearby Willow Creek. The wristwatch she was wearing has been traced by police to  Kerry’s Aunt Agatha – who disappeared from her home over two years ago and has been presumed dead ever since.

Though Kerry has many fond memories of the summers spent with Aunt Agatha and her cousins, she isn’t particularly interested in attending the funeral until she learns John will be there.

So she returns to Aunt Agatha’s. But it seems her love for John will forever remain unrequited as he continues to treat her as his ‘little cousin’ – refusing to recognise how grown up she has become. And Kerry is convinced John’s new secretary and constant companion, Lois Elliot, is in love with him too.

For Kerry, the whole trip is a bust so she decides to make a quick exit.  Paying her last respects at the funeral she notices Aunt Agatha has a mole on her face she has never noticed before. Hmm, that’s a bit strange. And then, when the contents of the Will are finally revealed,  Kerry finds out she has inherited slightly more than her Auntie’s good looks.

Surrounded by resentful relatives and the new owner of a creaky old mansion, Kerry is finding it difficult to sleep at nights. But making herself a relaxing cup of cocoa in the middle of the night turns out to be far more eventful than she could possibly imagine…

A couple of hundred pages of Lancer Easy Eye large type meant Shadow of a Past Love only took a couple of days to read which was probably just as well as it’s kind of obvious where this one is going. This is one of those ‘hazardous inheritance’ type gothics where the heroine more often than not ends up both rich and married to the man of her dreams. Some girls have all the luck.

Despite all that was happening to her, Kerry only had eyes for John and I would describe  Shadow as more of a romance than a gothic, though there were some nice spooky touches along the way – a body bricked up in the basement is always a good thing, but disappointingly no vengeful ghosts or tell-tale mutterings leading us to the killer, just a bit luck and an underfed Siamese cat. Three out of four stars.

As well as writing gothics, Willo Davis Roberts, who worked in hospitals and GP surgeries herself, wrote a number of Nurse Romances.

Nurse Romances were very big in the 50’s before their popularity was eclipsed by Gothics. My mum read loads of them and she was an actual nurse so they must have something going for them.

And in the spirit of Valentine’s day I have one lovely Ace Nurse Romance by Willo Davis Roberts to give away free to anyone with UK postal address.  Nurse at Mystery Villa is part of the Ace Nurse Romance Series. First published in 1967 this is the Ace 1973 second printing. Just email me via the contacts page and she’s all yours.