Priestess of the Damned
Virginia Coffman | Lancer Books | 1970 | 222 pages
A time capsule of the occult-drenched California of the early seventies (perhaps existing only in the geography of the imagination), Book Two of the Lucifer Cove gothic occult series, features a sympathetic satanic priestess as protagonist. That alone makes the book hard to imagine existing at any other time—particularly after the “satanic panic” of the eighties, which seemingly sought to unearth a conspiracy of devil-worshippers behind every conceivable societal ill.
Nadine Janos, High Priestess of the Devil’s Coven, holds periodic rituals in the Grecian-like temple above Lucifer Cove, an exclusive spa and resort on the remote coast south of San Francisco. A returning character from the first book in the series, The Devil’s Mistress, she is revealed to be something of an outsider in this outing, trying to maintain an aloof status as conduit to Satan among the residents of the small seaside community. Not truly a believer in the package of goods she peddles to her favor-seeking flock, Nadine employs a series of visual tricks and acid-laced ritual drinks to inspire a sense of awe in her powers—and solicit greater donations.
Along with her Irish handyman (and sometime romantic interest) assistant, Sean O’Flannery, Nadine caters to lumpy businessman Buddy Hemplemeier’s wish for stock market success, Edna Schallert’s lonely middle-aged plea for attention, and Sergei Illich’s need to be desirable to his young lover’s eyes with staged spectacles. However, alone one night at the temple, she feels a strange presence and witnesses an otherworldly manifestation, making her wonder about the authenticity of her powers.
Nadine, for the head of a coven of Satan worshippers, seems strangely out of step with the rampant hedonism at Lucifer Cove, where drugs and sex define the treatment as much as time spent in the spa or hot springs. She makes a point in not partaking in the frequent opportunities for personal pleasures, which includes ignoring (except for the aspirin) the engraved silver box filled with a variety of designer drugs issued to the residents. Lost in the labyrinthine corridors during a visit to the spa, she actually turns and runs away from the lascivious advances of two of the resort’s masseuses.
An underlying fear for her independence as High Priestess marks Nadine’s wariness surrounding the intentions of the mysterious resort owner, Marc Meridon, who approaches her with a favor regarding his mistress, Christine Deeth. Nadine also suspects a vague threat in the form of Dr. Erich Haupt, the German doctor (and Hitler look alike) from the spa’s clinic, who doubles as master of ceremonies for many of the resort’s Bacchanalian celebrations.
Although Nadine experiences some unexplained phenomenon in her temple, watches the club’s greasy gigolo die in mysterious circumstances, and discovers some evidence pointing to a celebrity body-snatching ring, Priestess of the Damned succeeds mainly as a character study. The threads of an overarching story are as elusive as the club’s resident cat, Kinkajou, and mainly serve to further the lingering question for future installments, “Who exactly is Marc Meridon and what really is going on at Lucifer Cove?”