The Witching Hour
Florence Stevenson | Award Books | 1971 | 155 pages
At the latest performance by opera star Gilda Gianiani, whose fifty-year career and seemingly ageless voice has astounded critics, young psychic Kitty Telefair is approached by an anxious man. Ted Rutledge, having seen Kitty’s guest appearances on her fiancé’s midnight television show, The Witching Hour, wants to employ her telepathic powers to investigate the mysterious influence Madame Gianini holds over his girlfriend, Peggy Ozanne.
Peggy has been accepted into the “Gianini Method”, a year long, one-on-one intensive study program with Madame Gianini at her rural estate. During that that time, Peggy will be unable to communicate with anyone in the outside world, presumably freed from distraction to develop her latent operatic skills. However, Ted has already noticed disturbing personality changes in Peggy as the date of the study program draws near, and suspects that Madame Gianini is exerting some sort of strange, possibly supernatural, spell on her.
At a cocktail party hosted by Madame Gianini, the singer’s long-time vocal coach lets slip to Kitty that an earlier protégé, Melody Blair, disappeared without a trace following her year-long study with the opera star. After their conversation, Kitty experiences a cold, ghostly sensation, and surmises that Melody’s spirit is attempting to contact her. Later, when the vocal coach is found brutally murdered, Kitty realizes the extent of the danger facing Peggy.
Kitty is an engaging heroine, cheerfully investigating the strange events revolving around Madame Gianini and her circle. Her perky demeanor never slips into the trap of precious obnoxiousness, even when she and her boyfriend “Colly” pause for a chaste romantic interlude (represented by the imagination-taxing placeholder “* * *” in the text). She also finds emotional—and telepathic—support from her eccentric family of “hereditary occultists”, including her aunts Astarte (clairvoyant concert pianist) and Drusilla (culinary expert and trance medium), and her mysteriously powerful father Rupert. Her cheeky good humor is only briefly compromised after an attempt on her life, when her psychic defenses are breached during an astral projection. Although her spirit guide helps Kitty reach the rather expected conclusion, the details revealed about the “Method” unexpectedly evoke the grim horrors of the all-too-real material world.