Harvest of Terror
Adela Dale | Signet Books | 1969 | 125 pages
After helping Dr. Craig Addison save young patient Denise Westlake from a deadly heart infection, private-duty nurse Terry Reed is assigned to her case, and charged with supervising her recovery. Denise is the daughter of advertising mogul Walter Westlake, and plans on recuperating at the family estate on Majorca with her Uncle Durward and Aunt Ilse. Although the Castillo de los Tres Gatos has a sordid history, including a murdered ancestor who was bricked up in the castle walls with her cats, Dr. Addison feels it will be the perfect setting for his patient’s restful path back to full health—and something of a reward for the young nurse with whom he shared a chaste kiss.
However, the Castle of the Three Cats doesn’t turn out to be the sunny Mediterranean vacation setting Terry was expecting. Denise’s uncle Durward is a withdrawn scholar writing an esoteric book, “Aspects of Herbology and Mycology in Relation to Medieval Witchcraft Practices in Central and Southern Europe”. His neglected wife Ilse yearns for a life among the society class on the island, but is frustrated by her husband’s anti-social tendencies. The couple have two seemingly permanent houseguests: Anita Alma, a faded beauty and bitter hanger-on who is desperately searching for a wealthy husband, and the sharp-tongued Steve Galvez, a dapper party-boy living on his rich aunt’s allowance. Investigating a strange scratching noise at her door one night, Terry discovers another hidden resident of the castle, Ilse’s deformed brother Rudi, who is prone to violent outbursts.
In an attempt to escape the backbiting atmosphere among the castle’s occupants, Terry accompanies Denise to an annual fiesta held in honor of the island’s patron saint. Unexpectedly, Denise has an apparent relapse of her heart affliction and is examined by the local doctor, who appears somewhat puzzled by her condition. Steve approaches Terry, intimating that he knows the cause of Denise’s illness, and warns Terry to keep a watchful eye on the preparations of all her meals. Later, when Steve falls victim to a similarly mysterious illness, Terry fears that Denise’s life is truly in danger.
Although the central mystery of Harvest of Terror is predictably shallow, the grotesque residents at the Castillo de los Tres Gatos create enough of a fungal hothouse, appropriate to Durward’s mycology text, to propel interest in Terry’s efforts to save Denise. The arrival of Terry’s love-interest, Dr. Addison, somewhat diminishes her role as the strong central heroine, and reduces the sense of her own personal peril in the already brisk 125-page story. The final “gotcha” moment plays out like the standard mystery denouement, with Terry and Dr. Addison together playing the detective’s role, gathering the suspects together to reveal the culprit.
SPOILER ALERT—Don’t become too attached to the cute Siamese kitten.