The Secret of Lucifer’s Island
Miriam Lynch | Paperback Library | 1967 | 160 pages
Young Connie Morgan is dragged off to Wildwinds, a mansion on remote Lucifer’s Island, by her Aunt Melissa with promises of a pleasant seaside vacation. Instead of charming poolside soirees and relaxing walks on the beach, she finds a sinister estate hulking over neglected grounds, housing an overtly hostile group of residents. Melissa’s actress friend Jeannette Masterelli, niece of the master of Wildwinds, closes the door in their faces upon arrival, telling them they are not welcome, but Melissa pushes her aside with Connie in tow.
Philippe Loussiver, owner of the island, shows little resemblance to the stylish gentleman and charismatic host that Aunt Melissa described from her visit to Wildwinds three years previously. Since the death of his much younger bride in a tragic boating accident, Philippe has deteriorated into a fragile mental state, showing only brief signs of lucidity and requiring nearly constant bed rest. The family members surrounding Philippe—Jeannette, her oily husband Ivan, her sister Pauline, and Pauline’s coarse husband Adolph—all seem to be circling the mentally feeble old man, positioning themselves for favor (and a considerable inheritance). Robert Damien, a quick-tempered young cousin, seems to be the most antagonistic towards Connie.
But there is another, more mysterious, resident at Wildwinds. Connie briefly encounters a pale figure with black hair and a white flowing gown on the stairwell, before the specter quickly disappears into the darkness of an upper floor. Later that night, Connie wakes to hands circling around her neck, attempting to choke her to death in her sleep. After the unknown attacker flees, Connie reports the incident to her aunt, only to be shocked at how quickly her report is dismissed. She realizes that her aunt, behind the caked-on make-up, is not much more than a cipher to her, and wonders at the true motivation behind their visit to Lucifer’s Island.
Looking out at the beach from her window, Connie sees Philippe pursuing the same ghostly figure she saw in the stairwell. She ventures outside to prevent him from falling into the surf, and finds him alone, crying the name of his deceased wife. Returning him to his room, Connie notices that the picture of Ottalie at his bedside bears a striking resemblance to the woman in the white flowing gown, and fears that his life is in as much jeopardy as her own. Unable to leave until the next boat arrives with supplies, Connie has no choice but to investigate the strange happenings on the island, and to discover the persons responsible for her attack and for those tormenting Philippe—whether they belong to the corporeal or spiritual realm.
Connie is an engaging heroine trapped in a house of malice, not knowing if even her aunt is trustworthy. The house full of greedy relatives provides a constant threat, with the possibility of a supernatural visitor adding to the menacing atmosphere. Naturally, the most disagreeable early character emerges as the most sympathetic, and becomes Connie’s perfunctory love interest. Although contrived, the séance finale (accompanied with the bombastic storm and conveniently-timed lightning strike) teases out the final, not-so-mysterious reveal to the happenings at Wildwinds.