Caroline Farr | Signet Books | 1967 | 127 pages
Samantha Crawford, a young writer for Secrets magazine, gets her big break when she draws an assignment to interview former stage legend Peter Castellano. A Valentino-like figure from the theatre world, Castellano ended his career after the mysterious death of his wife and retreated to Witch’s Hammer, a Kremlin-like reproduction of his family’s Russian castle built on the rugged coast of Maine. Arriving at the estate, Samantha is greeted by Peter’s daughter Cheryl, who exhibits strangely possessive qualities towards her still-dashing father.
Samantha finds that Witch’s Hammer operates by Old World traditions, with second-generation Russian servants living separately from the local townspeople. Along with the household staff, the estate is home to the darkly magnetic Sascha, reputedly a former student of the mad Russian monk, Rasputin. Although Peter is reserved when discussing his family history, Samantha discovers that his late-wife Theresa committed suicide after attempting to kill Peter’s secretary during a fit of jealous rage. Theresa’s efforts to modernize the way of life on the estate drew much resistance from the servants, clinging to their social traditions from pre-revolutionary Russia.
Although retired from acting, Peter seems to be playing the part of retired actor and host, concealing his true personality from Samantha, who nonetheless recognizes his still-considerable charms. As Samantha spends more time interviewing him, Cheryl begins to respond more like a romantic rival than a daughter. Samantha becomes increasingly curious about Theresa’s death, and delves deeper into the details surrounding the fateful leap from the ocean-side cliffs—but Samantha’s questions may ultimately place her own life in danger.
At only 127 pages, little happens beyond establishing the atmosphere at Witch’s Hammer, with the motivations of its residents casting light on the greater mystery of Theresa’s death. No sooner than Samantha grasps the underlying truth, an attempt is mode on her life, leading to the ultimate showdown. Rather than acting alone (or under the protection of a love interest), Samantha unexpectedly serves as a catalyst for a group of village women, together taking up makeshift arms and confronting their common enemy in a Witch’s Hammer version of civil disobedience.
Unlike Rasputin, the villain doesn’t require poisoning, stabbing, shooting and drowning to eventually succumb, but the story would have benefited from a few extra roadblocks to increase tension before ultimately delivering Samantha safely into the waiting arms of her future husband.