The Vampire Curse
Daoma Winston | Paperback Library | 1971 | 142 pages
Returning home from boarding school, Teena Halliday is surprised to learn that her still-vivacious mother is remarrying, selling their Italian villa to travel on an extended honeymoon in South America. Teena is sent to stay with her distant aunt, June Rentlow, in her isolated New England seaside estate. Although long-estranged from her father, Ben Halliday, Teena receives a cable from him upon departing for the airport, informing her that he will meet her when her plane lands in Boston.
However, the only person waiting at the airport is Rory Calvert, a ruggedly handsome green-eyed man who introduces himself as a neighbor of Aunt June. While driving Teena to the estate, Rory offers her a cryptic warning, “Things aren’t always what they seem, you know. Be careful in Rentlow Retreat. Remember that I’m your friend.”
Arriving at the estate, Teena meets her Aunt June, a gaunt and graying woman with only a shadow of her sister’s beauty, and her Uncle Charles, a portly man displaying little interest in Teena. Also living in the estate are her cousins Jeremy and Estrella. Teena is impressed by Jeremy’s darkly magnetic attractiveness, but finds Estralla coldly beautiful. The Rentlows are all dressed in funeral garb, having that day buried a houseguest who died in a tragic accident. None of the family confesses to any knowledge of the whereabouts of Teena’s father.
Teena soon learns that other tragic deaths have plagued Rentlow Retreat. Six months previously, Rory’s sister Sarah, who was engaged to Jeremy at the time, died from a mysterious blood disease. Ten years previously, the housekeeper’s younger sister May Argon plunged to her death from Retreat Point, a dramatic outcropping of rocks above the violent surf, between Rentlow Retreat and the neighboring Calvert estate. Coincidentally, both tragic victims of premature death were also models for Jeremy, an amateur artist whose marble sculptures line the grounds of the estate. Now, Jeremy is determined to have Teena sit for him, adding her marble portrait to his collection.
As her modeling sessions begin, Teena experiences weakness and memory lapses, and she discovers strange marks on her neck. To her great surprise, Jeremy announces their engagement plans at dinner one night, but she somehow lacks the ability to challenge his pronouncement. Teena must summon all of her strength to resist Jeremy’s dark charms and uncover the deadly secret behind all the deaths, before Rentlow Retreat claims another life.
The Vampire Curse gives much away with its title, a reference as overt as the town librarian darting her eyes from Teena to the bookshelf labeled “Vampires – Werewolves – Succubi.” Nudge, nudge. The emphasis on the sculptures, and their relationship to their models’ misfortunes, gives rise to some doubt that perhaps another supernatural force is at work, but ultimately the story offers few surprises. The treatment of vampirism as a family curse to be hidden and protected, even if at a great personal threat to family members, provides an interesting counterpoint to more conventional vampire tropes. The final twist comes as a disappointment, however, with the expected reveal sidelined by a more mundane family inheritance drama.