Dragonmede

THRESHOLD OF FEAR…

For Eustacia Rochdale it is like a dream come true when she becomes the wife of Julian Kershaw, heir to Dragonmede. For her gay, reckless mother Luella, it is the achievement of a lifelong ambition.

The marriage is tempestuous and stormy but worse is to come. At Dragonmede Eustacia learns of a sinister legend, threatening her life and that of her unborn child. And she learns that her marriage was arranged – with her husband an unwilling partner…

Written by Rona Randall. First published 1974 by William Collins Sons & Co. First issue in Fontana Books 1975.

I’ve read  and enjoyed a few Rona Randall gothics, so was very pleased to come across this Fontana edition of Dragonmede at a local jumble sale.

Dragonmede follows the fortunes of Eustacia Rochdale, a young Victorian woman who falls in love with Julian Kershaw, suave Sussex aristocrat and regular visitor to the illegal gambling den run by Eustacia’s mother, Luella.  Despite his gambling addiction, Julien appears to be everything a woman would want in a man – handsome, passionate and rich, rich, rich and Eustacia is overjoyed when her feelings for him appear to be reciprocated.

Luella Rochdale notices the mutual attraction between the two and is eager to marry her daughter into a good family. However, Luella has a reputation for being a bit of a tart and her gambling  house, though tolerated, is frowned upon by the neighbours. Though she has done everything possible to raise her daughter as a lady, educating her in the best schools and sheltering her from the caprices of her more amorous clientele, she realises Eustacia may be considered a less than desirable catch for such a gentleman and so uses all her wiles to ensure her daughter is safely wedded and bedded into the respectable Kershaw clan.

1979 Ballantine Edition

Eustacia is ecstatic when Julian proposes, but, this being a Rona Randall gothic, marriage to the man of your dreams is when your problems really begin. Arriving at Dragonmede, Eustacia is made to feel less then welcome by the usual gaggle of gothic misfits living there, while her husband’s behaviour towards her very quickly becomes increasingly cruel and controlling.

Worse still, her husband is not the only sadistic psychopath living at Dragonmede and when he is found hanging from the rafters, Eustacia  becomes  the prime suspect and in mortal danger herself…

Dragonmede has all the necessary ingredients for a good gothic – an old gloomy house, an isolated imperilled heroine, ancient curses, handsome men, sadistic men, mad artistic  creepy-paintings-in-the-attic men, secret love affairs, inexplicable accidents and a grisly murder.

Though the plot seemed to meander a bit for me toward the end, I liked the cast of unconventional characters – particularly Luella, the scheming cardsharp who stopped at nothing to better her daughter’s position. Four out of five stars.


Wuthering Heights

“My great thought in living is Heathcliff. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be… My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks… Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure…  but as my own being.”

WUTHERING HEIGHTS is a classic work of artistry and genius. Today, one hundred and thirty years after it was published, it is still a totally absorbing and utterly compelling novel of a grim passion, of a glorious love.

Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff must take their places amongst the great lovers of the world. Their complete obsession, and possession of each other, symbolises the oldest, the grandest, and the most romantic theme in literature…

Written by Emily Bronte, first published 1847.

Two more editions of my all-time favourite gothic Wuthering Heights.

The one above is the English Corgi edition published in 1978. This one to the right is the earlier American version published by Bantam books in April 1974.

Apart from the cover art, both are similar versions, containing the same excerpts from the author’s diary, letters, poetry and early writings, with an afterword, biographical sketch and notes on the text by Baruch Hochman.

The cover art for the above seems to be painted by Robert McGinnis – I found a link  featuring  some of his artwork for Wuthering Heights – it is very similar to this except there is no cottage in the background and the foreground is much more desolate. But the woman in the picture looks identical.  I can’t  make up my mind! Some links to the original cover art are HERE and HERE.

White Violets

 

THE SCENT OF DEATH WAS IN THE AIR AT GLOOMY, MENACING NORTHCOURT – THE FRAGRANCE WAS WHITE VIOLETS!

When young Helen Stone became secretary to the mistress of Northcourt, she quickly learned that her predecessor had died under the most mysterious of circumstances.

The inhabitants of the huge, forbidding mansion were a strange, hostile lot, desperately trying to keep under cover a dread secret about Northcourt’s shadowy past. The only one she was drawn to was Bob Coles a handsome though bitter man.

One day Helen found herself high above the sea, in a tunnel filled with fog and the haunting scent of white violets. She stumbled against Bob Coles and her own nightmare at Northcourt began….

Written by Edward Crandall. Originally published 1953. Fourth paperback printing May 1969.

The blurb on the cover tells it all really – the young Ms Stone is employed as a secretary for Mrs Porter and finds herself trapped in a huge gloomy mansion, peopled by a variety of odd characters who are all bitter and twisted and after their share of the Old Dear’s inheritance.

Piece by piece Helen learns the story behind the death of her unfortunate predecessor and tensions build to bursting as our hapless heroine stumbles upon mutilated photographs, mysterious hats and strangers lurking in her bedroom.

I was attracted to this book by the underground tunnels, as I live in a seaside town rumoured to be riddled with the same  such smuggler’s hidey holes. I also thought the writing was very good, with some great descriptions of windswept cliffs and doom ridden rooms.

My only criticism would be I thought the action was a little too slow, nothing much seemed to be happening for the first part of the book apart from detailed conversations involving the history of the characters and their relationships to each other and I would have preferred a little more spooky and a little less background.

Nevertheless, once things get going,  the writing is very effective with some genuinely scary scenes. There is plenty to please in the romance department too – with a more than eligible love interest provided by the sexy but grouchy gardener Bob. Four out of five stars.

I also like the distinctive cover; there is a signature along the right side of the dress but I can’t quite make out the name. The closest I can guess it to be is Jerome Podwil but I can’t be sure.

Jamaica Inn

The cold walls of Jamaica Inn smelt of guilt and deceit. Its dark secrets made the very name a byword for terror among honest Cornish folk. Young Mary Yellan found her uncle the apparent leader of strange men who plied a strange trade. But was there more to learn? She remembered the fear in her aunt’s eyes…..

Out on wild, rough moors there were only two people to befriend her – a mysterious parson and an insolent, likeable rogue who broke the law every day of his life.

Written by Daphne du Maurier. First published in 1936 by Victor Gollancz ltd. This edition published by Pan Books 1976.

Set on the wild, windswept moors of Cornwall in the  early 1800’s, Jamaica Inn is a beautifully written gothic romance cast amidst the murderous backdrop of the nineteenth century criminal underworld.

Following the death of her mother and the gradual ruin of their family farm, our heroine, 23 year old Mary Yellan, decides to sell up and leave town to go live with her mother’s sister Aunt Patience. Mary has had little contact with her Aunt over the years, only remembering her as a pretty, smiling woman who had lost contact with the family when she married ten years ago. Now Patience lives with her husband,  Joss Merlyn, the landlord of  Jamaica Inn on Bodmin moor.

Suspense and foreboding literally drip from the pages as we accompany Mary on her rain lashed journey through a desolate November night to  get to the inn.  Right from the start the omens aren’t good and they certainly do not get better.  Once she arrives  Mary is greeted by a barren, unlit husk of a building out of which looms the powerful and  frightening figure of her uncle, Joss Merlyn.  The inn is as bleak inside as out and Mary is dismayed when she finally meets her Aunt – an unrecognisable shadow of her former self, reduced to a nervous, tattered wreck by her vicious, drunken husband.

Well, as a bleak November night unfurls into a bleak and dreary mid-winter, things get stranger and scarier for Mary. Jamaica Inn never seems to be open to the public and only caters to a select band of vagabonds befriended by the bullying  landlord.  Strange noises and furtive comings and goings in the dead of night hint at a darker purpose to this inn and all is soon revealed to Mary by landlord Joss himself when he slips into a drunken stupor, revealing the shocking truth behind his business.

From the moment she set foot in the inn her heart has been telling her to  flee but, determined to do right by her Aunt, Mary decides to stay, perhaps even to bring justice and an end to the practices of her murderous Uncle. But she has to tread carefully as her own life is in peril and early on our canny heroine knows she should trust no-one – not even her Uncle’s brother Jem, a horse thief who steals her heart and swears he has nothing to do with his brother’s dastardly deeds.  And what about Francis Davey, the soft spoken, albino Vicar of Altarnun, who comes to her rescue more than once when she finds herself stranded on the moors. Perhaps Mary has found an ally in him – or has she?

Like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or Donna Tartt’s The Secret History,  Jamaica Inn is one of my favourite winter reads. This is a tale steeped in mystery and suspense which grips the reader right up to the end. And this book is dark – really if you thought your Christmas was looking grim have pity on poor Mary Yellan. The prose is beautiful,  full of atmosphere and brimming with all things gloriously gothic. We have murder, madness, passion and mayhem;  stark landscapes, stormy seas and blood curdlingly horrifying crimes. It’s no surprise that Daphne du Maurier’s works are still in print to this day (though I think I prefer the cover art on my edition!). This is the perfect book to curl up with on a dark winter’s evening. Five out of five stars.

Strange Paradise

Jean Paul Desmond makes a pact with the Devil in an attempt to bring his dead wife back to life.

JEAN PAUL DESMOND is handsome and vigorous. he is one of the world’s richest men and he is desperate. His beloved wife Erica is dead, but he will not let her rest.

JACQUES ELOI DES MONDES could be Jean Paul’s twin. Except Jacques is 250 years old, and dead. Or is he?

Jean Paul and Jacques enter into a pact that unleashes a tide of evil from beyond the grave which threatens to enslave Jean Paul – and all the people around him!

Written by Dorothy Daniels. First Paperback Library Edition December 1969.

Somewhere on a remote island in the Caribbean, accessible only  through a treacherous channel of water, stands Maljardin – a foreboding castle and home to the Des Mondes family for over four hundred years. It is here where we are introduced to the latest in the De Mondes line, Jean Paul Desmond; a modern day Jekyll and Hyde possessed by far more than the desire to bring his dead wife back to life.

Joining Jean Paul are guests Keith Lambert MD, a cardiac surgeon and Diana Thatcher, a secretary from New York. Amidst the ever so romantic backdrop of animal sacrifice and hypnotic drumming,  Keith and Diane meet at a Voodoo ceremony and instantly fall in love.  And just as quickly they are planning to leave the island to ride off  into a beautiful sunset together as soon as they can. There is only one hitch. Diana has to visit Maljardin to collect some papers for her boss in New York. Keith decides to  brave the turbulent waters with her and very soon the young couple find themselves  guests of Jean Paul Desmond and his rather sinister castle.

However getting out of the castle proves rather more difficult than getting in. It appears forces are at work conspiring to keep the not so willing guests trapped. Jean Paul has the body of his beloved dead wife Erica cryogenically preserved in the basement  and the skills of Dr Lambert may be able to assist him in bringing her back. More worryingly, judging by the bodies of young ladies that are being washed up ashore minus their major organs,  Diana herself may required for a fate far, far worse.

Will they or won’t they escape in time? And will Jean Paul himself see reason and fight the evil that is enslaving him? Is there anyone in the castle skilled in magic strong enough to defeat the devilishly deviant Jacques Eloi Des Mondes – a two hundred and fifty year old entity who can possess his ancestor at will? All is soon revealed in this surreal page turning novel that is crammed with all sorts of gothicky goodness.

This is the first in a series of paperbacks based on the television gothic suspense drama, Strange Paradise. I have two other paperbacks in this series – Island of Evil (published April 1970) and Raxl, Voodoo Priestess (published August 1970). Both titles are written by Dorothy Daniels and both centre on the ongoing saga of Jean Paul’s obsessive love for his beautiful dead bride as he struggles between good and evil and the satanic pact made with his long dead ancestor, Jacques Eloi Des Mondes.

For more information on this Canadian soap opera with a difference, check out: http://www.strangeparadise.net/index.html Paperback Library are the publishers behind the books that accompany the Dark Shadows series and though I am a huge Dark Shadows fan, I’ve never had the pleasure of watching any of Strange Paradise. But if these books are anything to go by this is not to be missed viewing! Four out of five stars.


Fear Among the Shadows

fearamongtheshadows

“Because he saved your life you refuse to believe he could take someone else’s…”

Julie Wescott knew that Greg could not have killed his wife; he was with her the night his wife was murdered. But the dead woman’s brother was convinced that Greg was responsible….. and suddenly Julie realized that she didn’t really know the handsome, charming man she loved at all.

In love with Greg, but drawn to David, Julie knew that one man was telling the truth – and the other was trapping her in a maze of deception and greed where death was the only exit…..

Which one could she trust?

Written by Louise Hoffman, first Ace printing September 1974.

shadowsfearThere are no crumbling castles, no ghosts or evil entities lurking in the shadows and the whole story takes place in sunny 1970’s California. But don’t let that put you off as this is a rather well written murder mystery that keeps it’s secrets right up till the end.

Our heroine, Julie Wescott, gets swept out to sea and nearly drowns, only to be swept off her feet by the tall, bronzed and handsome Greg Drake. Things couldn’t get any more perfect until she discovers he’s married – and then events go from bad to worse when his wife ends up dead. What looks like a tragic shooting following a botched burglary becomes enshrouded in mystery as Greg’s brother in law, David, appears on the scene – convinced Greg is the actual culprit and determined to avenge his sister’s death by proving his guilt.

But Julie cannot believe her beloved Greg could do such a thing and, with an alibi tighter than skin on a drum, neither can we. Or can we? But how could he have done it when he was with Julie the night of the murder?And what about David? Is he all he appears to be anyway?

Needless to say it all works out in the end but, with some interesting plot twists, dark revelations and a complete red herring that had me fooled right up to the end, this is a suspenseful, page-turning murder mystery worthy of an episode of Columbo. Three out of five stars.

Chateau of Secrets

“Heartbeats…. If she ever married she would marry someone like Steve Martin, the young writer she had bumped into at the airport – dark, good-looking, with smiling eyes and a sense of humour. She would have good cause to cherish his name.

Ann Preston arrived at Chateau Duval – a house that had known only tears and heartbreak – a house that had died. Almost immediately she was plunged into a nightmare world of dark secrets.

Pierre Duval, the ex-trapeze artist…Juliette, his wife, who keeps a snake for a pet… Yvette, the beautiful daughter, in love with Steve and determined to get her own way….the pungent smell of lilies of the valley and dead leaves coupled with shrill maniacal laughter….

Who is the mysterious occupant of the Chateau’s ruined left wing?”

Written by Julie Wellsley and published 1972 by Five Star paperback.

chateau of secretsOur heroine, Ann Preston, has accepted a live-in job as a secretary with the sinister Duval family in France and has ended up with a little more than a delusional boss and a pile of paperwork to deal with. Someone or something is trying to kill her and, though a range of suspects present themselves early on, the who’s and why’s kept me guessing till (nearly) the end.

This is a nicely paced novel with an interesting mix of characters – I particularly liked the embittered and twisted old matriarch, Juliette, who spent most her time hobbling away in the shadows, crooning sweet nothings to her beloved pet python. Unfortunately there are no supernatural elements but there are still plenty of gothic touches to add atmosphere – including derangement, disfigurement, a crumbly big house and the odd murder or two. Of course it all ends happy ever after but the romance is kept low key and out of the way of the mystery.

The cover art is atypical to most from this genre, having neither the gloomy, doomy colour scheme nor the scary house in the background, but is beautifully done and alluring nonetheless. If you look closely you can see a backward signature under her right arm which looks like the name ‘Miller’.

Other books written by Julie Wellsley include Climb the Dark Mountan and Tall, Dark Stranger. Three out of five stars.