The Possession of Elizabeth Calder

Spirit of Vengeance

After only a few hours in the old mansion on lonely Randall’s Island, Elizabeth Calder realized that some eerie force was watching over her. Fifty years before, the peace of that house had been shattered by murder and suicide – could it be that a revenge-hungry spirit still walked the halls?

Elizabeth was determined to find the truth – and someone was equally determined to kill her before she did. As danger piled on danger and terror on terror, Elizabeth little suspected that, in her moment of greatest need, help would come from the spirit of a woman who had been dead for fifty years!

A Ravenswood Gothic. Written by Melissa Napier. Published by Pocket Books October 1973.

Elizabeth Calder has been having a tough time of it lately. Her fiancé, Jeffrey, has broken off their engagement and run away with her best friend. To make matters worse, all her other so-called friends find the situation hilariously funny and aren’t sympathetic at all. Poor Elizabeth finds herself traumatised and friendless (perhaps that’s for the best though…) retreating ever deeper into her own imaginary world, wistfully dreaming of far off lands from times past and future…

Luckily, before her self -imposed exile drives her completely bonkers, she receives an invitation from her Aunt and Uncle inviting her over to their place. They are park rangers who live and work on the beautiful but isolated Randall’s Island, just off the Jersey coast and Elizabeth decides some time away in such a wondrous place will be just what she needs to get well again.

However, no sooner does she arrive than her imagination starts playing tricks on her again. Or does it? Locals start looking at her funny, muttering darkly about her resemblance to another Elizabeth – an Elizabeth Conway – who died over fifty years ago. Then, on her first night at the island, our Elizabeth is visited by a host of ghostly apparitions –  some good, some bad – doing the dance of death in the middle of her bedroom.

Confused? I was. But it transpires that Elizabeth Calder is being haunted by an evil force that wants to kill her as well as the spirit of Elizabeth Conway – a girl whose own lover had jilted her too. Over fifty years ago. And when that Elizabeth’s sweetheart disappeared she was falsely accused of his murder. So she killed herself.

Or did she? For there is more going on at Randall Island than mere hauntings. Woken up during a raging thunderstorm in the middle of the night, Elizabeth spots some suspicious looking characters lurking outside of the house. Following them into the cellar she narrowly escapes death by a caved in tunnel before stumbling right into the middle of an illegal smuggling operation, led by evil old crone Emily Baxter, a woman who has more than one reason for wanting to kill our heroine…

Some books read like a perfect summertime romance – there’s no point analysing it too deeply (you won’t find much worth looking for anyway) so best to just pour yourself another drink, relax, lie back and enjoy the ride. The Possession of Elizabeth Calder was like this for me – I had no idea of what was going on (still don’t actually) but our time together was short, sweet and great fun while it lasted. And with a cover this groovytastic, who cares what’s on the inside? Three stars out of five.

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The Ancestor

The Drury House Was Empty, Haunted – and Damned!

But writer Jill Abbott doesn’t mind – at first. The sinister house is the perfect place to do research on her legendary ancestor, Biddy Comfort, who is said to have been a witch.

Jill’s work goes well, especially after she meets and falls in love with Dr. Dick Reeves.

Dramatically, her pleasure ends with the disturbing appearance of her twin sister, Jennifer. They have been estranged for years – ever since the day Jennifer tried to kill her.

Then Jill discovers that her sister is a witch, the reincarnation of Biddy Comfort herself. She is gripped with terror. When Jennifer, in a jeaous rage, decides to use her fatal powers on Dick Reeves, Jill must try to save him- even at the risk of discovering that she too shares her sisters kinship with Satan.

Written by Robin Carol. Paperback Library edition, first printing December 1968. Cover art Jerome Podwil.

The back blurb says it all really. Set amidst the backdrop of a old, haunted mansion, somewhere in the rustic wilderness of Piker’s Bluff, this is the fight between two sisters, one good one bad, for the love, life and soul of one man.

Drury house – built on the edge of a cliff the locals have a strange habit of falling off of – has lain empty for decades but is maintained in reasonable condition by an old family trust fund. Jill Drury is the first sister to return home. She is a writer researching a book about her ancestors.

Not just any old ancestors mind, for Jill is descended from witches – a good witch, Daisy Drury and a bad one, Biddy Comfort. Information on Biddy is relatively easy to find, since the discovery of her journals and an old portrait in the attic, but the life story of Daisy is proving to be a bit more elusive.

Jill isn’t too bothered, she’s loves staying at the old house with her nose buried in mouldy books and family history. She is also enjoying a whirlwind romance with the handsome local doctor, Dick Reeves. Soon they fall madly in love, spending long winter nights curled up by the fireplace, planning their wedding and the rest of their lives together.

Then… just as life couldn’t get any better, it doesn’t. A knock on the door heralds the arrival of Jennifer Drury, Jill’s gorgeous, green-eyed sister who looks uncannily like Biddy. Needless to say she soon proves herself to be just as wicked.

To make matters worse, it transpires that Dr Reeves is the re-incarnation of Biddy Comfort’s very own beloved husband, Amos. Which means Jennifer / Biddy has no intention of allowing Jill to marry him, for she wants the Doctor and Drury house all to herself. To prove her point, Jennifer casts an evil spell, sending Dr Reeves into a feverish fugue that leaves him perilously close to death.

So what can Jill do to save her man? She knows she has the latent ‘witch substance’ in her body inherited from her ancestors, and that this is the only way to fight the vengeful Biddy Comfort, but she also knows that conjuring her latent powers could result in losing her soul…

There is a lot to like about The Ancestors. The back story is quite complicated but nicely told in eerie flashbacks and the author has obviously taken the time to dream up a suitably well drawn, witchy theme, creating a dark gothic mood.

On the down side, the story is narrated by a male character, Dr Dick Reeves, which confused me a little at the start (I’ve not come across many pipe-smoking heroines enjoying a round of golf between appointments) and, since he spends at least a third of the book in a coma,  created problems with the point of view at times.

But the best and most surprising thing about The Ancestor is the ending. By chapter thirteen our villainess has been suitably dispatched and the good Dr Reeves is making a miraculous recovery. I was all geared up for a happy wedding under a glorious sunset when wham! – possession, madness and wild, weird transmogrification ensues. One of the characters ends up locked away in an asylum, while another one’s face starts painfully remoulding itself. I think you can guess where this is heading – seems like you can’t keep a bad witch down after all…

Four out of five stars. (and thanks again Tom!)

To the Dark Tower

WITCH CULT!

Since the dawn of civilisation, the secret cults – hiding in the dark corridors and gray shadows of night – have ruled the world. Studying cave drawings in the south of Spain, Joan Lambert stumbles on evidence linking the secret witch masters of today with the damned of centuries past…and the dark minds of today control powers as great as the ancients.

Discovered by guardians of the dreaded knowledge, Joan flees for her life…but finds herself unable to outrun the nightmare pursuers. Only one place offers the hope of safety…and then she finds that it too is a puppet to the witch cult!

Copyright 1969 by Script Associates Ltd. Published 1969 Lancer Books. Cover art Lou Marchetti.

Joan Lambert is a somewhat uptight archaeologist who has suffered a terrible trauma on a dig in the Pyrenees.

Alone in a cave, she had discovered ancient relics unequivocally proving the existence of a witch cult in Western Europe that antedates the ancient Egyptians by thousands of years. She also unearthed a terrifying, disembodied presence with fiery eyes that almost killed her, and which continues to threaten her with paralysing flashbacks to this day.

Concerned for her welfare, Joan’s true love, fellow archaeologist and museum curator Wilfred Allen, has summoned her to his isolated mansion, Glen Oaks, in order to introduce her to a select group of psychiatrists, psychical researchers and scholars, whose combined knowledge of all things occult, he is convinced, will dispel Joan’s awful visitations once and for all.

There were dreams just as real. Dreams in which flesh bruised flesh , moist lips parted and you felt yourself to be caught up and held in strong, imprisoning arms. To be held captive in so rapturous a way surely had to mean that there were depths beyond depths in the human mind, and that somewhere buried deep in the mind there was a wild, free world where dreams were the only reality.

 Unfortunately for Joan, Glen Oaks turns out not to be the haven of tranquillity she has been hoping for. Bizarre rituals and horrifying murders have been occurring in the woods. On her drive to the house, a monstrous being forces her car off the road, causing Joan to flee into the arms of Sheriff Forsythe. He has been investigating the murder of the local village idiot, Willie, and his suspicions are piqued when he notices the resemblance between Joan and a little wax doll found near Willie’s body. He takes her to Glen Oaks where Wilfred and his guests are waiting anxiously, and Wilfred’s reticence under questioning makes the Sheriff even more suspicious.

That night, Joan falls into an uneasy slumber, only to be woken by the midnight whisperings of a roomful of shadowy figures standing around her bed. One by one they hypnotise her into believing Wilfred is in mortal danger and only she can save him. So Joan has no option but to sleepwalk right out of Glen Oaks and right into the woods where she believes she will find her beloved.

The branches of the towering oaks were destitute of all foliage now, and swayed in the slight breeze, looking as brittle as the bones of waltzing skeletons in a danse macabre, and the moss on their boles had shrivelled and died after turning a lichenous gray.

Instead she finds herself centre stage in a hideous Black Magic ritual where she is to be the main sacrifice. Joan by this time is too far gone to care and as the celebrants prepare her for slaughter, her only chance of escape rests on one man’s shoulders… 

Dark Tower, with all its lush descriptions of midnight woods and nameless terrors, was a great gothic read. The ‘unseen horror’ that had attached itself to Joan in the caves and which continued to menace her was very effectively done and I wish the author had stuck with this rather than distract us with all that witchy jiggery-pokery.

There were also too many long discussions between characters explaining away the plot and adding unnecessary asides – including a slightly surreal and completely irrelevant conversation about the satanic connections of Joan of Arc while our very own Joan was being gagged and bound to a stake. Overall though, there is a lot to like about this book.

So who wrote To the Dark Tower? Fantastic Fiction states Lyda Belknap Long is a pseudonym for Frank Belknap Long – Lyda being the name of his wife. But on the inside cover of my Lancer copy there is a dedication that reads:

Which begs the question, if you were writing under a pseudonym would you add a dedication to yourself? Why?! Or was this book actually written by his wife? The copyright gives no clue since it is by Script Associates Ltd so maybe neither of them wrote it! Anyway, I would recommend the Lyda Belknap Long gothics if you can find them. Four out of five stars.

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The Devil’s Daughter

Dead Dolly Creek would soon be just another western ghost town. Now it was still undergoing the slow and painful process of dying, the mines worked out, the young people gone away in search for a more promising future…but to Sharon Benedict it seemed as though the ghosts had already moved in. She came back to the village high in the mountains of New Mexico, the place where she had spent so many of her summer growing up days with May Daily, her mother’s oldest friend.

Dead Dolly Creek had been a happy place, then ….

But now something was haunting the village, terrorizing the few people still living there… and preparing to murder! Sharon found the old woman hiding behind locked doors, guarded by fierce dogs and nearly insane in her fright…an insanity that soon touched Sharon herself. For with her arrival, it seemed as though the evil in the village was about to be unleashed… for it was waiting for her!

Written by Daoma Winston. Published by Lancer Books 1971.

Sharon appeared to have everything –  an exciting job in Washington DC, a nice apartment and the love of a tall, blonde bloke with a firm chin called John. The she receives a letter from May, an old friend of the family whom Sharon used to vacation with as a child – something was seriously wrong at Dead Dolly Creek.

Personally, I cannot imagine anything ever working out fine in a town with a name like Dead Dolly Creek, but apparently this was once the place of many happy childhood memories for Sharon. When she returns to visit, after receiving the letter, Sharon is appalled by the change in the place. All the elder folk are dying of fright, while the younger ones seem to be under the spell of the mysterious stranger, Evangeline. Soon Sharon’s own life is in danger as she is drawn closer into a web of  intrigue and she is forced to stand up against the evil forces destroying the cursed town.

It has been a while since I’ve read The Devil’s Daughter, but I remember it being quite the page turner. I actually thought the decrepit, dusty ghost town worked really well as an alternative gothic setting to the usual dank and gloomy castle.  There was plenty of supernatural spookiness to keep things interesting too – including shapeshifting witches and mysterious unaccountable deaths. However, cat lovers beware – the cover may hint otherwise, but Dead Dolly Creek is certainly not the  kind of place to be  keeping cute fluffy kittens. Three 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.