The Devil’s Daughter
Daoma Winston | Lancer Books | 1971 | 221 pages
After receiving an alarming letter from a close friend of her late mother, Sharon Benedict leaves her job and boyfriend in Washington D.C. to travel back to her childhood home of Dead Dolly Creek, New Mexico. She discovers her “Honorary Aunt” May Dailey living in fear behind locked and chained doors, hiding behind her two aggressive guard dogs. Dora Agar and Sarah Brinny, the last of May’s friends in town, both recently died after exhibiting peculiar behavior and withdrawing into their homes. Although officially categorized as natural deaths, May suspects they were killed by some supernatural force, and that she is next the next target.
Sharon organizes a party with some of her old friends still living in Dead Dolly Creek in an attempt to revive her aunt’s spirits. Girlfriends Beth Varner and Hetty Heglin both arrive, along with Sharon’s adolescent crush, Cal Teller. But Cal brings an uninvited guest, Evangeline Desseret, a new resident and exotic beauty whose raven black hair and rose petal cheekbones seem to have captivated everyone in town. Evangeline claims to be a seer, and quickly agrees to read the fortunes of the gathered party guests.
The tea leaves, of course, foretell ominous events—when do they ever suggest a prosperous and happy life? Sharon will be under a “dark cloud” as long as she stays in Dead Dolly Creek, and Beth should expect “trouble coming”. But Evangeline’s reading for May is most specific, predicting fire, an animal with sharp claws, a “Devil Woman” and death.
During the night, May has strange dreams of someone entering her bedroom, and her fireplace, extinguished when she retired for the night, is burning brightly. The morning after the party, Beth’s mother is found dead. Now convinced that her aunt’s life is truly in danger, Sharon is determined to uncover the true force behind Evangeline’s visions.
The Devil’s Daughter succeeds primarily in establishing an atmosphere of palpable dread for its protagonist, even while the narrative doesn’t rise beyond genre conventions. A lingering sense of malice is mostly sustained throughout, as Sharon finds strange marks on the door, hears scratching sounds in the night, and wonders what is lurking outside to make the dogs go silent. Only a brief visit from a talking cat, a return visitor from Sharon’s childhood (reading more Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch than Behemoth from The Master and Margarita), dampens the mood.
The mundane horror arrives later, with a letter from Sharon’s boyfriend informing her of his sudden marriage to her roommate.