Marie Elaine Edward | Paperback Library | 1966 | 160 pages
Trapped in an isolated estate with a new family she cannot fully trust, a newly engaged young secretary must alone unravel the mystery surrounding the enigmatic Lenore, saving her own life and her future happiness.
Legal secretary Judith Walker travels with her fiancé, attorney Stephen Herrington, to his family estate in the bayous of Louisiana to meet his family and have their wedding ceremony. Only having know Stephen, her employer, a month before their sudden engagement, Judith becomes uneasy at the prospect of visiting Deep Shadows, the estate that Stephen left ten years previously to practice law, and meeting the estranged family members living there. Her unease grows on the long drive through the lonely swampland to reach the great plantation house, and with the dawning realization that she knows very little about Stephen and his background.
Mrs. Harrington, Stephen’s mother and current Mistress of Deep Shadows, greets her cordially, along with Stephen’s siblings, Roy and Jessica, but Judith cannot help but feel and undercurrent of bitterness and resentment. Roy was forced to abandon his musical career to run the estate after Stephen left, and the unmarried Jessica considers herself to be a spinster, even at her young age. Climbing the stairs in the mansion’s entry, with generations of family portraits looking down upon her, Judith senses a palpable sense of danger.
“Why did you come here, Judith Walker? Stephen had no business bringing you her. Why didn’t you stay far, far away from Deep Shadows?”
Also living on the grounds is Birch Willet, the ruggedly handsome estate overseer, who has a not-so-secret affection for Jessica. Stepping outside her bedroom on her first night in Deep Shadows, Judith encounters Grandfather Herrington, purported to be senile and living alone on the fourth floor along with his nurse-attendant. However, he seems lucid enough to Judith, to whom he cryptically speaks from the stairway landing.
”Lenore, is that you? You’ve come back again, haven’t you, Lenore?”
While in town with Judith making arrangements for the wedding, Stephen receives an urgent call from his law firm, requiring him to leave at once to attend to business matters at home. Judith reluctantly decides to stay behind to impress her new family with her resolve and determination, qualities she feels need to be displayed by the new Mistress of Deep Shadows. But Judith’s premonitions of danger prove to be prescient when, returning alone from the airport, an attempt is made on her life. A mysterious black sedan follows her, and tries multiple times to run her off the swamp road and into the deep, still black water on either side.
Lenore’s Louisiana bayou plantation setting is irresistible, trapping Judith in its hothouse atmosphere of fear and suspicion. The small details—Jessica’s passive-aggressive wedding preparations, Roy’s angry musical outbursts at the piano, and Stephen’s forlorn contemplation of the funeral parlour across the street from their luncheon spot—add to the ambiguous feeling of unease and paranoia, with every meaningful glance between family members a possible sub-current of dangerous communication behind Judith’s back. If the overall mood outweighs the ultimate reveal, both are offset by the true emerging meta-terror: Stephen remains a virtual stranger to Judith, with his past behavior unable to be as easily swept aside as indicated by the pat conclusion.