Stranger in the House

The Sedgwick mansion was hidden in the shadows by ancient elms and maples. And long ago its inhabitants had retreated into secret lives of their own.

But Letty Gaynor was unaware of the family’s mysterious past. And so, innocently, she agreed to visit the dark, foreboding house and to play the part of Chris Sedgwick’s fiancée. But when she began to suspect too much about the living and learned too much about the dead, her role took on new and terrifying dimensions.

Written by Serena Mayfield. Pocket Book edition published December 1972. Cover art Gene Szafran.

Letty Gaynor ‘star of tomorrow’ is a struggling actress living in midtown Manhattan whose life changes dramatically when she is asked a favour by handsome television agent, Chris Sedgwick. He wants her to accompany him on a visit to his family mansion and pretend to be his fiancée. All this in order to appease his rich, dying grandmother, who apparently worries too much about his philandering ways.

Against her better instincts Letty agrees and soon finds herself a houseguest amongst the usual cast of eccentric ne’er-do-well relatives – best of the bunch for me being ‘perky’ Uncle Harry, a pernicious gossip who knows all the Sedgwick’s dirty secrets and has a fondness for long walks in the family cemetery.

It is during one of these walks that Letty discovers there is more to this family – and the marriage-shy agent – than meets the eye, but of course by then, as far as her own life is concerned, it may already be too late…

Stranger in the House is a short, fun, engagingly written gothic. The cover art is by Gene Szafran (11 April 1941 – 8 January 2011), a well known American artist and sculptor who created a lot of striking science fiction covers in the 60’s and 70’s. I’m not sure if he illustrated many gothics but I’d like to see more; I love his bold colour sense and those spooky-effect tombstones.

I do have one slight quibble about this cover – although the heroine in the foreground looks suitably glamorous, I am not so sure about her pursuer. Is he meant to be scary? Or just scared? Bewitched, bothered or bewildered? Maybe all three. Looks to me as if he has just stumbled into the graveyard by accident and is asking for directions to the nearest exit. My other half says he is most likely practising his Morcambe & Wise dance moves. Hmmm. Gothic or gormless? You decide.

Thinking about it, I guess most of the male cover stars on this blog are a little less than magnificent in the scary or sexy stakes and it’s no wonder they’ve been eclipsed by those bare-chested Fabioesque hunks beloved by today’s romance readers. Three out of four stars.

A Stranger in my Grave

What happened to Daisy Harker on Decemeber 2,1955? That was the date she had seen on the tombstone and yet she was still alive. The name on the grave was hers but whose was the body? Regardless of the lives that would be shattered by the truth, her implacable search for a single day in her past leads back through a maelstrom of hatred and remorse to the single catastrophic fact that underlies a lifetime of deception.

Written by Margaret Millar. First published 1960 by Victor Gollancz. Hodder paperback edition 1967.

Cover design Tom Simmonds. Photography Thomas Simmons.

My beloved Daisy: It has been so many years since I have last seen you…

We meet Daisy Harker one bright sunny morning in February as she sits down to breakfast with her husband Jim. At first glance they seem the perfect couple – young, affluent and good looking, enjoying bacon and eggs in their nice house, situated in a nice part of town. But something is wrong. Behind her brittle smiles and perfunctorily answers to her husband’s questions, Daisy’s peace of mind is becoming increasingly disturbed – she is suffering from panic attacks leaving her feeling out of control and helpless, triggered by a vivid dream in which she visited her own grave, the date on the tombstone marking her death as December 2nd 1955.

This letter may never reach you, Daisy. If it doesn’t, I will know why.

The good news is Daisy is still alive and, since it is now 1959, this dream cannot be a presentiment of her death. Even so, she intuitively knows someone or something close to her died that day and this is what holds the key to her increasing anxiety and unhappiness with her life. So, with the help of sceptical bail bondsman / private detective Pinata, she sets out on a journey to rediscover exactly what happened that fateful day in December over four years ago.

Memories are crowding in on me so hard and fast that I can hardly breathe.

I can’t say too much as I don’t want to spoil a cracking story beautifully written by an author with an amazing talent for bringing to life the little things – those seemingly offhand gestures and turns of speech that give away a character’s innermost thoughts and motivations. Suffice to say, this was a compelling mystery right from the start which I was very quickly drawn into.

Shame? – It’s my daily bread. No wonder the flesh is falling off my bones.

Another great thing about the structure of this novel – each chapter is headed by a couple of lines of prose which we gradually learn are extracts from a letter written, but never delivered to, Daisy herself. Who wrote it and why isn’t revealed until the final pages when she at last reads the entire letter- with the reader learning the whole truth behind her disturbing dream at the same time she does.

It’s powerful stuff and though some of the themes in this novel struck me as a little out-moded, the impact and skill of Margaret Millar’s storytelling more than makes up for this. I also love the eerie cover art; not sure if it’s a co-incidence or a typo but the names of the designer and photographer are strikingly similar, which made me wonder if this isn’t in fact the same person?

Anyway, a better review of this novel, along with some great cover scans, can be found over at the Pretty Sinister Books blog HERE.

Gothic Romance Lending Library

She came to a place of mist and menace – where even kisses tasted of terror… Haunted by a love that could not die but now could kill… Mystery lured her to the old castle, Death would show her the way out…

Foreboding mansions, misty moonlight and the moaning wind… There’s not much better than a night in with your favourite gothic romance is there? Well, imagine having a whole library full of them at your fingertips, delivered right to your door, without any of the hassle of having to find that precious extra shelf space!

Sounds like one of my favourite fantasies, but for those of you living in the good ol’ U.S.of A, this dream is a reality. Kristi Lyn Glass, founder of The Gothic Journal, has sent me some great news regarding the Gothic Romance Lending Library – it has now been re-housed and is looking bigger and better than ever.

Gothic Heaven!

Started in August 1996, the Gothic Romance Lending Library (GRLL) is a not for profit service that now contains over 3,400 volumes. That’s right, 3,400 gothics! I’m lucky (or insane) enough to own a few hundred of these books and the thought of owning a whole library full of them sounds like heaven. Even better, you can order up to eight books at one time and can keep them for approximately three months.

Kristi Lyn Glass is the founder of the Gothic Journal, which she started in 1991. The magazine’s purpose was to connect readers with gothic romance novels and their authors and publishers during a period in which publishers were disguising these books as titles in a variety of other genres.

Throughout the 90’s the Gothic Journal was the news and review magazine for readers, writers, and publishers of romantic suspense, romantic mystery, and gothic, supernatural, and woman-in-jeopardy romance novels. Though the final issue was published October / November 1998 the journal has an online presence, with a recently updated website, and continues to remain a great resource for anyone interested in gothic romance. Back issues of the Journal can also be ordered from here.

So for more information, just follow the links below:

Gothic Romance Lending Library

Gothic Journal Newsletter

Kristi is looking for others who share her passion to sign up as ambassadors and spread the word about the library, journal and all things gloriously gothic romantic. Just visit the link above and add your name to the list! And THANK YOU Kristi for all your suspenseful endeavours in keeping the Gothic Romance genre flag flying! Fans like me really appreciate it!

Do Evil in Return

“Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.”  

W.H. Auden

A dark chain of evil inexorably strangles the lives of those involved: the spirited heroine, Charlotte Keating, a woman doctor; Violet O’Gorman, the innocent victim: Lewis Ballard, who loved himself more than he loved the women in his life; Gwen Ballard, who still lived in the memory of the days when she was belle of the town… the sinister theme is subtly contrived and cleverly executed… a psychological thriller, highly recommended.” The Globe and Mail.

Originally published in hard cover by Random House. Copyright Margaret Millar 1950. Lancer Books 1966.

Another lucky charity shop find. I love this cover; it’s classy (my photo doesn’t do it justice so you’ll have to take my word for it, but her matching coral lipstick and nail polish combo is gorgeous) and it’s spooky too. Look at that sinister silhouette of someone or something lurking in the darkened window behind her – no wonder she’s running away before giving herself time to put her coat on properly!

Margaret Millar (February 5, 1915 – March 26, 1994) was an American-Canadian mystery and suspense writer. She has been credited with being a screenwriter for Warner Brothers Hollywood and was a recipient of the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1956. I think her writing is wonderful; I’m reading another one of her books at the moment and hope to review it soon.

As for Do Evil, a cursory flick through the internet reveals this has been reprinted a number of times. Here’s the back blurb from 1974 Avon Books:

“Girls like Violet often came into Dr. Charlotte Keating’s office. Violet wore a wedding ring, but then, they all did. They bought them at the dime store just before the appointment. And Charlotte’s response was the same each time: firm but sympathetic refusal. But there was something different about Violet…”

And an alternative Dell cover (with Map back) can be viewed on Swallace99’s Flickr page here – http://www.flickr.com/photos/56781833@N06/6371129973/

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.

Widow in White

The Defenceless Target Of A Mysterious Intruder

It began on a rainy Saturday afternoon as Margo was entertaining her new neighbours at a small housewarming party. A car ran into one of the trees on her property, and an injured man was soon installed in her guestroom.

But the smashup, Margo soon learned, was no accident. The handsome, ruthless stranger was after something in the house, and nothing – not even Margo herself – was going to stand in his way of getting it.

Copyright 1973 by Morris Hershman. First Avon printing, January 1973. Cover art Walter Popp. (Thanks Ruben!)

The goddess of all gifts second-hand has been very good to me recently, with at least one lovely gothic a day picked up at the local charity shops this week. Monday’s acquisition was the very fair of face Widow in White and oh, how I love this cover!

One thing I’ve noticed about my Avon gothics though – the cover art is usually stunning but the covers are particularly vulnerable to wear and tear. Quite often the artwork is almost completely scuffed off. This one is in very good condition for an Avon gothic – well, for one found on this side of the Atlantic anyway.

Here’s a taster from the inside cover:

Morris Hershman (born 1926) wrote under several pseudonyms, including Sara Roffman, Janet Templeton, Lionel Webb and Jessica Wilcox. And it’s his Evelyn Bond persona that looks to be the most prolific, with at least twenty gothics published in the 60’s and 70’s.

Here’s a short biog on the author, taken from the Browne Popular Culture Library page:

Morris Hershman was born on January 31, 1926. He attended New York University. On September 6, 1969, he married Florence Verbell, a writer and editor, though they are now divorced.

Hershman writes under the pseudonyms: Evelyn Bond, Arnold English, Sara Roffman, Janet Templeton, Sam Victor, Lionel Webb, and Jess Wilcox. He also writes under various other private pseudonyms. A member of the Mystery Writers of America, Morris Hershman resides in New York City.

And some more information, with scans of all his lovely gothics, can be found over at Fantastic Fiction HERE.

Escape the Night

With the success of a New York job behind her and a gay lift in her heart, Serena March returned to Monterey to visit her sister. It was to be a short visit, and one full of fun; but, as things turned out, the bottom fell out of her world. The gay and carefree California group of friends she remembered so well, the sharp, dramatic countryside, even her own lovely sister were not and could not be as she remembered them. Something horrible had touched each one; something unclean was suddenly smeared across her brilliant happiness… something as evil as suspicion and as terrible as murder.

Written by Mignon G Eberhart. Bantam Edition Published August 1946. Second printing December 1946. Third printing.

Mignon Good Eberhart (1899-1996) has over sixty novels to her credit; she was awarded the Mystery Writers of America Award in 1971 and at least six of her books have been made into movies. Escape the Night was first published in hardback in 1944 and I started reading it today. It is more of a crime novel than a supernatural thriller but I think this could easily have passed as a gothic in the 60’s – particularly with the original Random House artwork, which features a rather spooky-looking bat on its cover. (And who knows, perhaps there is a Queen Size Gothic or Lancer Easy-Eye version of Escape the Night out there somewhere…)

Drawing from inside the front cover.

Drawing from inside the front cover.

I’ve been meaning to read this book the moment I was given it as a present a few weeks back, having instantly fallen in love with its creepy surrealist cover. Thankfully, a long train journey today has given me the perfect excuse to start.

Here is how it opens:

She knew that something was happening in the house.

The knowledge of it obtruded itself steadily between her and the book in her hands so she read the same lines over and over, not taking in their sense. She was listening so hard that it was as if her eyes and hands and every pore in her body had suddenly developed audient power; but there was nothing to hear. The house was quiet.

Hmmm, I love this beginning and, though I’m not generally into crime as a genre, I’m liking what I’ve read of Escape the Night so far. Mignon Eberhart’s writing is stripped down and punchy, but poetic too, with just enough descriptive prose to keep me happy. Interestingly she has been credited with contributing to the development of the Romantic Suspense genre and more about this, along with some extracts of her writing, can be enjoyed over at The Girl Detective HERE.

… Oooh, I’ve just been informed this is My Love Haunted Heart’s 100th post! Hooray! Now, where’s my prize? 😉

Diary of Evil

The Beginning of Terror…

Pauline Shepherd, offered a job as secretary to wealthy old John Buchanan, finds herself jumping at the chance. For here, finally, is her escape from hectic city life to his isolated mansion on exotic Adrianna Island. In transcribing the journals and diaries he kept, written by Mr. Buchanan’s illustrious ancestors, she soon discovers that the books contain a grave and incriminating secret. Pitted with an anonymous and deadly enemy in a race against time, Pauline must unravel the mystery and learn why the women of Adrianna have fallen prey to violent and untimely death – or she herself must die!

Written by Violet Hawthorne. Published by Manor Books 1977. Cover art Harry Barton.

So, what is procrastination?

Procrastination is sitting down at my desk just days away from a tax return deadline, logging on to my computer, then asking myself ‘hmmm, do the wormy kind of bookworms really exist then? If so, what do they look like? Let me just check this out here for a minute..’

I was asking myself this question because Diary of Evil – a relatively recent acquisition to the Love-Haunted library – has some suspicious, albeit rather beautiful, vermiform patterning embellishing its pages.

Well, a few hours later and I know exactly what bookworms are – my shameless dilly-dallying paying off with the discovery of a rather nice post at a bookshop’s page called Books Tell You Why. Full of facts on ye olde books and on how to look after them properly, there are some great photos of worm-ridden tomes and I loved the post on why that smell of old paper is just so delicious. (Not my copy of Diary of Evil unfortunately – this poor thing just smells rank). The books featured here look a lot more valuable then my tatty paperbacks but I’m guessing hungry beetles aren’t too concerned about such things.

So I’m unlikely to be reading Diary of Evil anytime soon, since I’m worried about dozing off with it on my lap, only to be woken by the sound of larvae munching their way through my ears and into my brain, but, musty smells and flyblown pages aside, this cover by Harry Barton is gorgeous. The reproduction on this Manor edition isn’t too great, though looking closely at some of the detailing, I bet the original artwork is stunning.

And if you’re looking for an excuse to do something other than what you’re meant to be doing, you can have a look at Books Tell You Why – HERE. 

Image of Evil

The face of the Louisiana plantation of Southern Moon gleamed invitingly in the summer sun when Susan arrived for her visit. The ravishing, aristocratic plantation mistress, Corinna Hamilton, her elegant suitor, Cedric Raimond, her handsome, dashing son, Paul, her breathtaking daughter, Lacy – all welcomed Susan as one of their own.

But once within the old mansion, Susan soon discovered the dark side of Southern Moon. Too late the lovely young girl knew she was lost and alone in a nighttime world of sinister secrets and fearful danger, where she was being helplessly turned into a slave of love and a prisoner of evil…

Image of Evil by Rosemary A. Crawford. First Dell printing November 1971 & Candlelight Intrigue Dell printing October 1979.

The weather is hot, hot, hot – and it’s raining (again!) – so what better time to immerse myself in a sweat-drippin’ gothic set in the swampy morass of Louisiana.

Susan is twenty three and works as a junior designer in New York. One day she receives a letter from a strange woman, Corinna Hamilton, claiming to be her mother’s long lost sister. Corinna is inviting Susan to come visit the Hamilton plantation so she can become reacquainted with her southern cousins.

Susan is suspicious – as far as she is aware her mother was an only child with no surviving family. If Corinna Hamilton really is her Aunt, then why did her mother lie to her? And for so long? This really is a secret too tempting to resist, so Susan takes an early holiday to travel down to Louisiana to find out the truth for herself.

When she arrives at Southern Moon, Susan finds herself underwhelmed by all her new relatives and their showy pretence at hospitality. Worst of all is Susan’s cousin Paul – by about page sixty he decides he wants to marry her. And he won’t take no for an answer. In fact, to her horror, the whole family won’t take no for an answer – marrying your cousin is quite acceptable in certain circles and, as her Aunt sagely advises: “It saves a great deal of controversy when it comes to divide the spoils – all in the family you know.”

And as if that wasn’t enough to ruin her holiday, Susan also has Billy Ben to contend with. He’s the tobacco chewing deputy sheriff who drawls a lot and has an awkward habit of popping up out of nowhere, languidly leaning on door frames while leering suspiciously at our heroine.He seems to know more than he is letting on, but what?

Dell first printing 1971

Meanwhile Paul conveniently crashes his car and ends up in a coma, leaving Susan free from his unwanted advances and giving her the perfect opportunity to make her excuses and leave. Against her better instincts, Susan decides to stay but, as she uncovers more of the secrets behind her mother’s estrangement from the Hamilton clan, she (eventually) realises her own life is in danger. Escape seems impossible – the horses have all been sold off and her car impounded. Trapped in an isolated mansion, surrounded by lecherous law enforcement officers and treacherous swampland, only the handsome Dr Clay Foster can save her now….

I found Image of Evil a bit like the weather – muggy and dull and heavy going at times, the story bogged down in lengthy genealogical revelations, with not enough actually happening in the here and now. Worse still, the ‘terrible evil’ at the root of this family rift turned out to be nothing more that a stolen stamp collection. Dear God, stamps! With not even a whiff of a ghost to spice up the equation.

On the plus side, I did like the location and all the lush descriptions of swampland and thunderstorms. The car crash towards the end was suitably dramatic and perked me up a little but overall I found this one difficult to finish. Two out of five stars.

I have two copies of this book. The cover on the earlier edition below works better, I think – the artwork more detailed and vivid (though you’d never guess from the condition of my copy). The cover above is a later Dell reprint under their Candlelight Intrigue series – I must admit, the juxtaposition of the tradtional Mills & Boony type design with the creepy gothic artwork is well… intriguing. I’d like to see more of these!

The Dark Shore

Did the ghost of evil still hover over Clougy House?

Soon after Sarah Hamilton stepped into her new home as the bride of charming, enigmatic Jon Towers, a cold shock of instinct warned her to run for her life – too many ‘accidents’ were beginning to plague her.

Clougy had seen violence when Sophia, Jon’s first wife, mysteriously fell to her death from a cliff. Now someone was trying to kill Sarah, to keep a ghastly secret.

Was it Jon’s beautiful, tormented cousin, Marijohn who had sought refuge in a convent after Sophia died? Or his son Justin who was out on the cliff the night his mother fell? Or his old friend Max, who seemed to be confusing the two Mrs Towers?

Or was it Jon himself, panicking because Sarah was getting too close to what really happened that terrible night…?

THE DARK SHORE is filled with the ingredients that made a bestseller out of Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Written by Susan Howatch. Copyright 1965 Ace Books.

A story with echoes of Rebecca, based on the love triangle between a rich, successful man with a past, his newly wed, innocent bride and the spectre of his first, much sexier wife – who may or may not have been murdered by him.

Jon Towers, a Canadian property millionaire, has returned to Britain to patch things up with his son Justin. Recently married to Sarah, he has not set foot in the UK since the untimely death of his first wife Sophia, who fell (or rather was pushed) over a cliff at their Cornwall Home, Clougy, some ten years ago.

Told from multiple viewpoints, the first part of Dark Shore brings together the same six characters who were present at Clougy that fateful weekend Sophia died. Each has a secret and a reason for wanting her dead. One by one they are reunited at the same isolated farmhouse where Sophia was killed – much to the increasing alarm of Jon’s new wife Sarah. She is already feeling trapped under the shadow cast by the violent death of her husband’s first wife and the more she learns about what happened to Sophia, the more she fears she could be heading for the same fate. But why would anyone want to kill her?

For a short book, Dark Shore packs in a fair amount of gothic suspense, with hidden motives, dark secrets and all sorts of skeletons falling out all kinds of closets (though not literally unfortunately). I particularly liked the mysterious relationship between Jon and his ‘cousin’  – the beautiful telepath Marijohn.

Susan Howatch has enjoyed considerable success with her gothics. She began writing from an early age and submitting work for publication as a teenager. The Dark Shore is her first novel, published when she was in her mid- twenties. I have quite a few of her books and I think her writing works best in the longer novels, where she has room to explore the development of her characters and the impact of their actions on those around them. The Dark Shore is a cracking first novel but, like many gothics written during this period, the ‘shocking’ secret when revealed isn’t all that scandalous to the modern reader, so the drama built up in the first part of the book fizzles out with a bit of whimper towards the end.

On the plus side, Susan Howatch isn’t afraid to explore the darker side of her character’s natures and she achieves a high degree of depth and complexity within this concise and well-paced murder mystery. Three out of five stars.

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