Lady Sativa

lady_sativa

Lady Sativa
Frank Lauria | Ballantine Books | 1973 | 234 pages

Dr. Owen Orient returns in the third installment of the psychic detective series.

With funds for his telepathic research dwindling, Dr. Orient enlists the aid of his plump psychic friend Sybelle, a colleague in his experiments and a member of the Society for Extranormal Exploration (SEE). At SEE’s upcoming annual conference in Stockholm, board president Carl Bestman will award a sizeable grant to the best-qualified candidate in the field of paranormal science, and Sybelle offers to nominate Orient for the award. After a rigorous series of Yin & Yang breathing exercises, Orient prepares his materials for presentation, and together with Sybelle, travels to Sweden.

A shock awaits them at the Bestman estate; Carl Bestman has apparently committed suicide with a hunting rifle. His brother, Anthony, a loutish big-game hunter with little regard for the psychic arts, greets Orient and the other guests arriving for the conference with scorn. Although Carl’s widow Hannah is distraught and suspects foul play in the death of her husband, the meeting of SEE continues as planned. Orient’s competition for the grant award is Lily Sativa, a golden-skinned beauty with amber eyes and the gift of premonition. Sativa travels with her sponsor, the elegant Count Germaine, and headstrong British chess champion Maxwell Anderson—who develops and instant antagonism towards Orient and his telepathic methods.

But further tragedy ensures for the assembled guests of SEE. Nels Neilson, Carl Bestman’s attorney, is found savagely killed, torn to pieces outside on the grounds of the estate. Hannah Bestman becomes the chief suspect, since she was the last to be seen with Neilson—they were looking for Carl’s suspiciously missing treatise on Lycanthropic Schizophrenia. Although the police have the house in lockdown, Hannah slips a note under Orient’s door, requesting that he meet her later that night in the churchyard.

At their nocturnal rendezvous, Hannah makes an attempt to warn Orient, but an unknown assailant attacks him, leaving a vicious scratch—or perhaps bite—wound on his arm. The police, trailing Orient’s movements, shoot and kill Hannah, who they suspect of attempting another murder. Orient returns home to New York, where the golden moon seems to bring out unexpected violent urges, and other members of SEE meet gruesome deaths.

Lady Sativa introduces a few modest twists on werewolf mythology, with a stricken Orient ingesting a concoction of curative ingredients (mold of wheat and yeast, mandrake, wolfbane and poppy pitch) to hold off his impending symptoms. The transformation itself manifests primarily in the personality of the afflicted, although hair does grows on palms, and his face distorts enough for fellow subway passengers to move a few seats away. Although psychic adventures take a backseat to lycanthropy in this outing, the final reveal of the true culprit takes the story firmly back into Orient’s telepathic realm, as Orient and his team battle the werewolf’s astral projection.

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