Fear No Evil
Alice Brennan | Prestige Books | 1970 | 256 pages
Young English teacher Margaret Blyeth, blaming herself for the suicide of a prospective suitor whom she rejected, retreats to a resort on the shores of Upper Michigan’s Lake Superior. But Kaley House is no longer the cheerful manor by the lake she remembers from her childhood visits; the neglected grounds, overrun with weeds and debris, hide the now-decrepit main house. Seemingly to discourage her stay, a fallen tree blocks the remote lane to the resort from the main highway, and only a disused shortcut allows Margaret to continue ahead.
Tragedy also marks the lives of the few remaining staff members Margaret meets at Kaley House. Clemmy Hart, the proprietress of the resort, recently lost her husband in a fatal car accident. Clemmy’s mother, Petrolia (Mom Pet), was struck by a drunk driver three years before, and is now confined to a wheelchair. Mom Pet possesses a psychic gift, and was taught to read the future by her gypsy grandmother. Clemmy’s husband failed to heed the ominous warnings Mom Pet saw in the cards before his own violent death.
Also staying at Kaley house are three vacationing secretaries from Detroit. Mom Pet reads their future as a kind of parlour entertainment, predicting their upcoming potential loves. But for Margaret, Mom Pet sees an evil omen attached to a “dark young man”, leading to grief and perhaps, to death. When pressed for more details, Mom Pet only repeats in a kind of cryptic mantra, “The blind don’t see, the deaf don’t hear, the crippled don’t walk.”
Mom Pet’s warning is soon validated when shots are fired over Margaret’s head as she walks on the beach. She quickly dismisses the event as an accident, convincing herself that no one at the lake would want to harm her. But Margaret’s vacation isn’t all about recuperation; Carson Danville, her late suitor, killed himself less than twenty miles from Kaley House, and to clear her conscience in his suicide, she intends to investigate the circumstances of his death. She meets two local lake residents, David Miles and his controlling sister Verna, but they are seemingly unable to provide any information. Although initially attracted to David, Margaret is troubled when he unexpectedly reveals a short-tempered dark side, and his relationship with his sister may not be what it appears.
Margaret also becomes enamored with a new resident at the lakeshore: Julian Marsh, a Chicago lawyer summering at a cabin in the woods. He bears a striking resemblance to the “dark young man” that Mom Pet warned Margaret about during her reading. His cabin was the site of a grisly homicide the year before; the drunk driver that paralyzed Mom Pet, along with his entire family, was murdered there and the killer was never caught. The theme of rejected love continues with the arrival of Kelsey Hirsh, fashion model and Julian’s former girlfriend, who cannot accept his refusal and plans on winning back his attentions.
Fear No Evil swings the suspicion back and forth between Margaret’s two love interests, David and Julian*, as she moves ever closer to the reveal about Carson’s “suicide”. Mom Pet initially seems to be a controlling villain, but as the full roster of characters and their histories are revealed, she becomes something of a warning signal instead, repeating her admonitions from under the blanket in her wheelchair while evil actions spin all around her and her guests. The narrative ultimately contains many murderous loose ends to wrap up, but follows the basic recipe:
1. Clemmy worries while serving endless rounds of coffee
2. Mom Pet makes ominous pronouncements
3. More explicit attempts are made on Margaret’s life
*Possible Freudian Alert: both characters are introduced after they fire projectiles (or are suspected of firing) at Margaret—both, instead shooting over her head