Alberta Simpson Carter | Popular Library | 1975 | 256 pages
Following a whirlwind courtship, young New York editor Haila Gorham marries David Roche, a charmingly self-assured, blue-eyed man she met at a party on Riverside Drive. David insists upon taking Haila to meet his family at Wildemont, their estate on remote Rock Island, a popular tourist destination in the summer months, but now a deserted group of boarded up houses and deserted storefronts. During the trip, Haila is unable to shake a persistent feeling of dread, and senses an undiscovered cruelty hiding beneath David’s perfectly sunny disposition.
To her barely-concealed horror, Haila discovers that Wildemont Estate is an architectural monstrosity, a jumbled abomination whose malevolence has seeped into the lives of its residents. David’s parents are cold and distant from their children, lost in an alcoholic fog, semi-oblivious to the verbal assaults from their daughter Gillian, who simmers with repressed anger. David’s brother Jack, although polite and well mannered, projects a dark magnetism that Haila finds disturbing, but also strangely attractive. Jack’s wife Lenore is a voluptuous beauty, whose movie-star glamour seems impossibly outsized for such a small resort town and its handful of year-round residents.
Haila is shocked when David coyly reveals that they will be leaving New York to reside with his family at Wildemont. But that shock is eclipsed by a story playing on the local news. Anton Freund, a local resident—and former friend of Gillian—convicted of murder in the bludgeoning deaths of several women, has escaped from custody and is thought to have returned home to Rock Island. The police’s theory is seemingly confirmed when a local girl is found murdered outside the bar where she worked, her head crushed in by a rock.
Fool’s Proof succeeds in generating suspense from its simple formula: trap a young heroine on a remote island estate with a husband she barely knows, mix with a family she fears cannot be trusted, then add an escaped murderer. Given its dark history, the accumulation of past (and present) tragic events at Wildemont advance an interesting theory of the power of architecture to influence and even drive human actions, without resorting to a literal haunting.
Although the identity of the “fool” and the nature of the “proof” in Fool’s Proof are enigmatic, the sudden romantic resolution at the finale suggests a clear life lesson—don’t let a pile of fresh corpses stand in the way of finding true love.