The Daughters of Astaroth
Sandra Shulman | Paperback Library | 1968 | 159 pages
After a series of mysterious suicides among beautiful young women, the police call on the services of special investigator Niall Tregellis. The bodies of all the victims have disappeared, with identical ivory figures left behind in their places. Tregellis, a professor of anthropology and expert in the occult, suspects black magic, much to the consternation of the police. Discovering that all twelve dead girls attended the prestigious Abbey of Light finishing school, Tregellis goes undercover as a guest lecturer to investigate the source of the sinister power behind the deaths.
Dr. Ambrose Anstruther, white-haired High Master of the Abbey of Light, commands his staff with the regal disposition of a high church official. The faculty includes the Teutonic Count Werner Von Kreuze, the provocatively dressed Rosalie de Savanard, and the icily detached Constance Howard. Upon arriving at the school, Tregellis witnesses a confrontation between Anstruther and the struggling playwright Quin Markham, boyfriend of one of the victims, who also seems to have deduced a link between the strange deaths and the Abbey. Another outsider is present at the school in addition to Tregallis and Markham: Miranda Callum, an innocent young girl attempting to escape from her controlling uncle by accepting a job as Anstruther’s personal secretary.
Tregellis quickly concludes that all is not as it appears at the Abbey of Light. The local townspeople tell stories of unwed local girls giving birth to babies, only to disappear with suspicious amounts of money. The scattered remains of disemboweled sheep litter the countryside. Miranda is attacked on the grounds one night by a shape-shifting figure, only to be rescued by Tregellis. Later, the Abbey bells ring a summons to a group of spectral figures that seem to drift about in some strange ritual in the burned-out ruins of the medieval convent. On a visit to the High Master, Tregellis notices a familiar ivory statuette in Anstruther’s office.
Actually, The Daughters of Astaroth offers little suspense; the apocalyptic plot is revealed early, and the entire story simply stalls until a final confrontation plays out between Anstruther and Tregellis. The ultimate victory feels like a cheat, since it is obtained through one “magic word” (akin to yelling “Shazam!” and then standing back to watch the destruction) that is never previously established. Other opportunities seem wasted; the students at the Abbey exist only as a background, since we are never introduced to them as individual characters. Most egregiously, the—ahem—Nazi werewolf is dispatched as quickly as it is introduced.