The Girl From Yesterday
Sarah Hughart | Avon Books | 1970 | 190 pages
During an impulsive visit to a psychic in New York City’s Upper West Side, young actress Gillian North learns that she has lived six previous lives—and the first five lives all ended with her murder! The sixth and latest incarnation, precisely detailed by the psychic, was in the person of Caresse LeClair, daughter of notorious nineteenth-century New Orleans voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. Although Caresse’s ultimate fate remains a mystery, her unexplained disappearance suggests a sixth case of foul play.
As her Broadway show nears the end of its run, Gillian’s performances are plagued by an increasing lack of focus. Becoming distracted to the point of forgetting her lines, she suffers from a recurring drumming sound in her head. Convinced the pounding is the insistent call of voodoo drums calling her forth to discover the secret fate of her last reincarnated life, Gillian packs a few old suitcases and travels to New Orleans.
Upon her arrival, Gillian rents a room in a former carriage house that was once occupied by Caresse LeClair. With the help of her new neighbor, Ashley Talbot, a history teacher and local historian, she learns more about her former self. Although raised by Hobert Breaux, a prominent plantation owner, Caresse was of a mixed-race heritage and occupied a low position in the social stratum, elevated only by her association with the Breaux family. According to local tradition, she was involved in a love triangle with Hobert’s two sons, Beau and Lance, which eventually ended with her murder at the hands of the jealous Beau.
On her first night in the old carriage house room that belonged to Caresse, Gillian is attacked and nearly strangled by a scarred, phantom attacker. Convinced that discovering Caresse’s fate will prevent the fatal history from repeating itself, Gillian sets out to investigate. She meets Andre Breaux and his aunt Claudine, the last living members of the crumbling Breaux family dynasty. Andre is immediately charmed by Gillian, and invites her stay at the family’s plantation house, the grounds of which reputedly hold Caresse’s remains, vowing to assist her in her quest to uncover the family’s dark history.
After the initial attack on Gillian, not much else happens until the voodoo ceremony reveals all at the conclusion. The southern Louisiana setting provides a modicum of atmosphere, filled with ritual and superstition, with voodoo practitioners casting spells and (all too briefly) creating zombies. The “pretties” that aunt Claudine keeps in the attic also provide a brief, but creepily gothic distraction.
The Girl From Yesterday derives nearly all of its suspense from a game of (reincarnated) musical chairs, dancing its characters around before ultimately allowing them to settle into their assigned roles. Virtually everyone Gillian meets has a counterpart in her past life as Caresse, and the central tension in the story revolves around who will be revealed as the reincarnation of the killer.
Fortunately for Gillian, identifying the attacker becomes less problematic due to the convenient, distinguishing burn that scars his face.