The Possession of Elizabeth Calder
Melissa Napier | Pocket Books | 1973 | 174 pages
After her fiancé runs off with her best friend, fashion photographer Elizabeth Calder travels cross-country to recuperate with her aunt and uncle in the solitude of their remote Randall’s Island home. Uncle Frank is a ranger in the Park Service, stationed in a rambling old mansion with a veranda overlooking the sea. On the ferry ride from the mainland, Elizabeth experiences a strange familiarity with her new surroundings, echoed by surreptitious looks of recognition from the old seaman piloting the ship.
On her first night, Elizabeth hears sobbing coming from somewhere inside her room, and then glimpses a ghostly figure repeating a strange series of movements. A profound feeling of sadness overcomes her, compelling her to the window, out onto the ledge and over—falling, she awakens on the floor of her room. Relating her experience to her aunt and uncle the next morning over breakfast, she discovers that fifty years earlier, a young girl named Elizabeth Conway jumped to her death from the same window to the stone patio below. The disappearance of this earlier Elizabeth’s lover, who jilted her for another woman, fueled town gossip back in the day about possible foul play.
On a walk into the village, Elizabeth is accosted by a group of townspeople led by Emma Acker, a seventy-year old woman who accuses her of being the reincarnation of Elizabeth Conway. With a cry of “You killed the man I loved,” the old woman quickly incites the crowd to a nervous fury. The mob drags her to the water’s edge, attempting to hold her head under in the surf. Only the appearance of Ron Holden, Uncle Frank’s second-in-command, saves her from drowning. Feeling that the spirit of Elizabeth Conway is indeed working through her, Elizabeth decides to stay on Randall’s Island and uncover the true nature of the events surrounding the fifty-year old suicide.
For all her determination to stay, Elizabeth is a passive protagonist, since she simply channels the spirit of her namesake whenever she needs to decide on a course of action. [If that cackling hag grabs your wrist one more time and harangues you with her talk of “You’re Elizabeth Conway and I’m going to kill you,” SMACK HER DOWN. Do you even need the help of a possessing spirit to beat up an old lady?]
The scenes featuring Elizabeth exploring the cellar and following mysterious persons around the mansion grounds are entertaining enough, but the narrative stalls when it diverts from the focus on ghostly revenge. The covert, but decidedly non-supernatural, activities on the island would be of little interest to the vengeful spirit, even if involving the target of her wrath; the main tension being whether or not Elizabeth’s potential love interest is involved, and he’s such an obvious jerk that the resolution comes as little surprise.