Christine Randell | Paperback Library | 1968 | 160 pages
After the death of her mother, Lorna Gwynn receives a letter from the father she never knew, informing her of his deepening ill health and requesting her to come visit him in Ireland. She gives up her new job in London as an Air Hostess and travels to Maulicrane Farm, her father’s home in the remote countryside outside of Dublin. In an eerie fulfillment of an earlier nightmare, Lorna is greeted at the narrow lane to the farm’s entrance by a funeral procession of four men carrying a coffin.
To her relief, the funeral is not for her ailing father Aidan, but for his cattle supervisor and longtime best friend, Cormac. Lorna finds her father devastated with grief, blaming himself for Cormac’s death. Aidan suspected Cormac of skimming money from the farm’s accounts, and harshly dismissed him; shortly thereafter the farm hand was discovered dead from a heart attack. Aidan believes Cormac placed a curse upon the house, and that his spirit will not rest until his death is avenged.
While she was alive, Lorna’s mother rarely spoke of Aidan, but she described Maulicrane Farm as having a “scent of evil”. Lorna also senses an underlying malice to the damp and decay, reinforced by her antagonistic relationships with all the house’s occupants. Miss Goggarty, the housekeeper, intimidates Lorna’s father—and controls the dispersal of his medications—with a power seemingly beyond her position in the house (with Treasure, her vicious attack dog, always by her side). Fergus, the farm hand, makes a blustery pass at Lorna, and quickly angers at her rejection. Household servant Bessy is so blindly enamored with Fergus that she scorns Lorna as an imagined rival.
Lorna returns from a night out with a requisite love interest—a young doctor from England named Chris Forbes—to discover Ellie the cook in hysterics. Ellie claims to have seen the spirit of Cormac, dressed in his funeral shroud, walking the halls of the house. But the living residents may want revenge as much as the spirits, as Lorna learns that Miss Goggarty also blames Aidan for the death of Cormac—who was her not-so-secret lover at Maulicrane. Would Miss Goggarty dispense with Aidan in the same manner as she strangles chickens on the farm, with a tight smile of pleasure on her face? And there’s also the matter of Aidan’s “pot of gold”, his sizeable cash savings reputedly hidden somewhere on the grounds of the estate.
Black Candle blends a modest ghost story with a family inheritance thriller, a sort of pre-murder mystery since the victim is still alive. Lorna’s “six sense” is teased with the premonition of her mother’s death and of the precognition of her father’s funeral, but never developed beyond the general “sensing” of evil at Maulicrane Farm. To its credit, the narrative avoids the obvious twist ending, replacing it with an unexpected resolution that allows for a brief meditation on the nature of family.