The Devil’s Mansion
Rex Jardin | Paperback Library | 1966 | 160 pages
Janet Lord accepts a position as a live-in companion to Miss Boisevain, a paralyzed recluse living in a rambling Gothic mansion far outside town. Miss Boisevain explains to Janet that the duties will be light, mainly reading to her a few hours a day in the great sitting room she never leaves, but warns that the occupants of the house may seem peculiar. However, besides Miss Boisevain (and the live chameleon she wears around her neck on a chain), the only other residents of the mansion are Nita, a mute housekeeper, and Rajah, an intimating Great Dane with blazing red eyes. And why have all the mirrors in the house, and from her own compact, been removed?
Janet’s arrival briefly crosses the path of Blair Rodman, a cross-country motorist whose car broke down in a storm on the muddy road outside the Boisevain estate. Miss Boisevain and Nita were openly hostile when he knocked at their door requesting assistance, and Rajah’s fierce response chased him away from the house altogether. Later, when Blair and Janet shared a ride together with the town mechanic (for Blair to retrieve his car and for Janet to start her first day at work), Blair becomes concerned about the safety of the attractive young woman he has just met.
Blair’s fears are not unfounded. During her first night with her new employer, Janet discovers that she is being held prisoner on the grounds of the estate. Rajah, seemingly commanded by an unseen master, follows her every movement, and prohibits her from leaving with the threat from his snapping jaws. As the days pass, Janet realizes that Nita and Miss Boisevain also live in fear, and may actually be fellow victims of the true —although yet unrevealed—master of the house. Without friends or family, Janet cannot help but dream that somehow Blair Rodman, a man she just met, is still in town, waiting for an opportunity to rescue her from her unexpected prison, and the mysterious intensions of her captors.
The Devil’s Mansion succeeds in establishing a grotesque environment of fear, trapping its heroine and teasing the greater motivations of its unseen antagonist. It ultimately fails in the conclusion, with the perspective shifting to Blair Rodman as he tries to rescue Janet after she leaves the mansion, still held captive by some demonic will. The riff on Hansel and Gretel—with Janet dropping individual diamonds from a necklace out the car window over hundreds of miles of highway, with the hope of her trail of shiny objects being followed—is groan-inducing. The final showdown proves to be a sudden anti-climax, with the infernal powers of the villain strangely absent in the face of Blair’s challenge.