Shadow of Evil
Greye La Spina | Paperback Library | 1966 | 160 pages
Framing the narrative as a lost manuscript delivered to a supernatural-aware author for publication, Shadow of Evil (originally published in 1925 as Invaders from the Dark) delves into a world of occultism and magic, but its second-hand structural perspective ultimately instills a curious sense of detachment from the series of strange events detailed in the story.
Sophie Delorme recounts how her young niece, Portia, traveled to a small town in upstate New York to accept a position as a live-in assistant to Howard Differdale, a reclusive man who is engaged in some secretive experiments behind the high walls of his estate. Over the course of many letters from Portia, Sophie learns of Portia’s surprising marriage to Howard Differdale, and of his sudden death. Accepting Portia’s invitation to come live with her in the Differdale mansion, Sophie ultimately plays chaperone in an unexpected, and quite unusual, love triangle.
Portia’s marriage was simply a sham to allow her to live and work with Howard Differdale, whose secretive research into the occult and magic Portia has vowed to continue. She longs for romance with Owen Edwardes, a cheerful young real estate broker, but feels too constricted by her status as mourning widow in the small community to act upon her feelings. Complicating matters is the arrival of Irma Andreyevna Tchernova, a strangely magnetic Russian princess who seems determined to capture the romantic attention of her “Ow-een”.
Since we share Aunt Sophie’s perspective in this documented manuscript format, we never come to understand just what weird occult science Portia devotes all her waking hours studying. The remains of some strange cabalistic markings on the ground in the courtyard offer the only first-hand evidence of magic rituals being performed. Even an episode of astral projection plays as an anecdote told to Sophie.
Still, uncanny occurrences are afoot in the small town. Owen is mesmerized by the evil olfactory influences of flowers pinned to his lapel, children are abducted on the street, and policeman are attacked by wild animals.
Beyond some general pontificating on the nature of incarnate good and evil, Portia’s internal process largely remains a mystery, leading to some whiplash-inducing conclusions. The unusual length of a third finger, a large meat order from the town butcher, and an overheard word (“volkodlak”) result in a rapid pronouncement of lycanthropy. Not that Portia is wrong, but lacking her first hand viewpoint makes the story seem to be unfolding at some distance, with Aunt Sophie just having to take her word for everything.
The final confrontation actually occurs at a double remove, with Portia recounting the Princess Tchernova’s mute assistant Agathya’s observation of events while peeking through a window.