Angel Among Witches
Adela Gale | Prestige Books | 1969 | 175 pages
A tormented musical genius, a young nurse and her vulnerable, wheelchair-bound charge, and an isolated Austrian castle with a dark history of witchcraft make for an engaging, if not genre-defying, gothic mystery.
Seeking a chance to leave New York for a fairytale European adventure, Joyce Miller accepts a position as private duty nurse for Myra Daniels, a successful gothic mystery writer. Myra’s husband is August Froelich, a failed master of classical piano, now struggling to put his career back together following a nervous breakdown. Myra was paralyzed in a skiing accident at her husband’s ancestral castle home in Austria, where the couple plans on returning, with Joyce caring for Myra’s modest needs as she rests after completing her latest novel.
Froelichsburg, Joyce discovers, is not the romantic castle of her dreams, but rather a cold imposing structure isolated from the surrounding town. August suffers from violent outbreaks, driven by a jealousy of his wife’s success when his own talent seems to be bankrupt. August’s mother, Althe, is an aristocratic relic from another age, barely suppressing her contempt for her American daughter-in-law (and accompanying medical underling), even though she depends upon Myra’s money to keep the castle running. Her servant Berta is a tiny-eyed battleship of a woman, always pausing in doorways to overhear private conversations.
Accompanying Joyce to Froelichsburg is Willis Compton, Myra’s unctuous personal secretary, who seems to have an intense hatred for August. Joyce initially suspects that Willis harbors a secret affection for Myra, but discovers that he openly loathes the pulpy material she produces, considering himself to be a writer of great taste and refinement. The tension at Froelichsburg is further exacerbated by the arrival of Myra’s ex-husband and his new young trophy wife. Barney Daniels is a Hollywood producer seeking to finalize the film rights to one of Myra’s books, a fact that only further drives August’s jealousy and resentment.
Only Jim Durban, Myra’s American doctor visiting from Vienna, offers Joyce any source of comfort, but it is short-lived. Against Jim’s advice, Myra immediately launches into writing her next book, focusing her research on the dark history of Froelichburg. Several hundred years previously, the castle was the center of witch-hunting hysteria, with hundreds of innocents being tortured within its walls, accused of practicing the black arts. Joyce fears that Myra is developing an unhealthy obsession with the grim details regarding the instruments of torture—and both Althe and August seem to know more of the family history than they admit.
Probably as appealing as one of Myra’s pulpy mysteries, Angel Among Witches establishes its cast of characters and their underlying hostilities before releasing their pent-up tensions in a violent murder, with all the guests trapped in the castle during a violent snowstorm. Exhibiting the clichéd traits of other genre fiction nurses, Joyce stereotypically dispenses aspirins and falls for the handsome doctor, although the resolution does offer an explanation for her superfluous role. When she stumbles upon the clue explaining why all the occupants of the castle are in grave danger, she races to expose the murderer before the grim history of Froelichsburg repeats itself. Appropriately enough, all is revealed in the castle’s dungeon, when Joyce happens upon its entrance—if only she had thought sooner to press “D” on the elevator panel.