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.


A Touch of the Witch

She was Melanie Clauseven, of Port Kulshan, Washington, who lived and worked in New York City – OR WAS SHE?

That question was to terrify the beautiful young Melanie, who, called mysteriously to her ancestral home, found it inhabited by a strange old man, a sprite like teenager – and an incredible secret.

What torturing bond held Whip Benedict fast to the elfin Ursula? Was he mad or was she actually a Clauseven  – like Melanie – but from another time and a different order of being?

But mostly, what did Benedict want from Melanie? Then she found out – there was an unknown power deep within her, and it turned an adventurous lark into a living nightmare…………

Written by June Wetherell. Published by Lancer Books 1969.

Melanie Clauseven and her handsome beau, Ward Dana,  have left the hustle of New York behind them for a trip to spooky ol’ New England.  Why? Because Melanie has received a letter. A letter from a stranger telling her she may be heir to a large  manor house situated in the backwoods of Massachusetts and offering her the chance to lay claim to this fortuitous slice of real estate.

However, imagine her disappointment when she eventually arrives at the location of her ancestral home in the hills only to find a rather eerie little shack perched precariously on the edge of  a fast flowing river. To add to the not so great welcome, the host, Mr W (please call me Whip – everyone else does) Benedict is nowhere to be found – instead our intrepid travellers are greeted by a rather strange elfin woman with a necklace of claws, who calls herself Ursula and speaks as if she lives in a time warp.

Mr Benedict eventually arrives and attempts to put his guests at ease,  filling them in on bits of family history and explaining the shack is only an add on to the main house – which lies hidden by the hill and is accessed via a rickety corridor of bits of timber cobbled together by himself (an idea I loved but found difficult to visualise at times).

But right from the start, Melanie is suspicious of his motives and her unease grows with every passing moment she is forced to stay in this creepy house. Things are not made any easier when she is awakened in the middle of the night by a black magic coven, known as the Omegates, hosting an orgy in the abandoned basement right under her bedroom.

The plot gets thicker than custard as Melanie is forced to confront her family’s murky past and the possibility that she too might be a witch. Things build to a violent climax when Melanie’s only ally, her boyfriend Ward, is knocked out by poison and she is left alone to fight against the forces that have led her to this house and into the clutches of the maniacal witchfinder Whipple Benedict.

Overall, I enjoyed this book for all its New England witchiness and sympathetic approach to our heroine’s heritage. There’s plenty to keep you occupied plot wise and lots of nods and winks toward the supernatural side of things. The characters were all fairly well written and the ending – involving a  suspenseful life and death treasure hunt for a mysterious Peruvian talisman – kept me wanting to keep turning the pages. I would have liked to have learnt a little more about those naughty Omegates though. Three out of five stars.