The Priestess

thepriestess

The Priestess

Frank Lauria | Bantam Books | 1978 | 246 pages

Orient was sitting by the window, chin cupped in his hands, trying to synchronize his consciousness with the dim pulses of energy emanating from a plastic bottle cap.”

After an attempt on his life by a secret agency operating covertly within the CIA, Dr. Owen Orient sets aside his telekinetic research—and daily program of yoga and self-hypnosis—to flee from New York City to Miami. Taking a delivery position at a local mom-and-pop pharmacy under the name of David Clay, Orient settles into a mundane routine far removed from his previous life. However, when his new employer, Sam Fein, falls victim to a murderous voodoo cult, Orient becomes determined to finally stop running and stand up against evil.

Following a trail of clues back through a small-time beauty salon, Orient eventually identifies the criminal ringleader as Mojo Pay, a former NFL star and charismatic brujo, sorcerer priest of an organized crime syndicate practicing voodoo. Leveraging his own telepathic skills to win in Mojo’s casino, he captures Mojo’s attention and infiltrates his organization. Searching for any sign of weakness that could be exploited to topple the criminal empire, Orient finds his resolve weakening under the seductive charms of Mojo’s wife, and bruja, Cara O’Riley.

Orient always seems to fall for women in peril, making it his personal mission to save them, while brushing aside the ramifications of a shadowy network of psychic adepts—one of whom he encounters working as a restroom attendant in a Miami Beach hotel—controlling world events. Ultimately, The Priestess is an enjoyable mishmash of pseudoscience and mystic babble, propelling its protagonist through a landscape peppered with voodoo mumbo jumbo, lascivious zombies, sparkly piles of cocaine, and a sexual stamina battle-of-the-wills contest with a voodoo-practicing drug lord.

And for a true, era-appropriate exploitation coda, why not wrap up the overarching story with a Bermuda Triangle flavored deus ex machina?

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Lady Sativa

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Lady Sativa
Frank Lauria | Ballantine Books | 1973 | 234 pages

Dr. Owen Orient returns in the third installment of the psychic detective series.

With funds for his telepathic research dwindling, Dr. Orient enlists the aid of his plump psychic friend Sybelle, a colleague in his experiments and a member of the Society for Extranormal Exploration (SEE). At SEE’s upcoming annual conference in Stockholm, board president Carl Bestman will award a sizeable grant to the best-qualified candidate in the field of paranormal science, and Sybelle offers to nominate Orient for the award. After a rigorous series of Yin & Yang breathing exercises, Orient prepares his materials for presentation, and together with Sybelle, travels to Sweden.

A shock awaits them at the Bestman estate; Carl Bestman has apparently committed suicide with a hunting rifle. His brother, Anthony, a loutish big-game hunter with little regard for the psychic arts, greets Orient and the other guests arriving for the conference with scorn. Although Carl’s widow Hannah is distraught and suspects foul play in the death of her husband, the meeting of SEE continues as planned. Orient’s competition for the grant award is Lily Sativa, a golden-skinned beauty with amber eyes and the gift of premonition. Sativa travels with her sponsor, the elegant Count Germaine, and headstrong British chess champion Maxwell Anderson—who develops and instant antagonism towards Orient and his telepathic methods.

But further tragedy ensures for the assembled guests of SEE. Nels Neilson, Carl Bestman’s attorney, is found savagely killed, torn to pieces outside on the grounds of the estate. Hannah Bestman becomes the chief suspect, since she was the last to be seen with Neilson—they were looking for Carl’s suspiciously missing treatise on Lycanthropic Schizophrenia. Although the police have the house in lockdown, Hannah slips a note under Orient’s door, requesting that he meet her later that night in the churchyard.

At their nocturnal rendezvous, Hannah makes an attempt to warn Orient, but an unknown assailant attacks him, leaving a vicious scratch—or perhaps bite—wound on his arm. The police, trailing Orient’s movements, shoot and kill Hannah, who they suspect of attempting another murder. Orient returns home to New York, where the golden moon seems to bring out unexpected violent urges, and other members of SEE meet gruesome deaths.

Lady Sativa introduces a few modest twists on werewolf mythology, with a stricken Orient ingesting a concoction of curative ingredients (mold of wheat and yeast, mandrake, wolfbane and poppy pitch) to hold off his impending symptoms. The transformation itself manifests primarily in the personality of the afflicted, although hair does grows on palms, and his face distorts enough for fellow subway passengers to move a few seats away. Although psychic adventures take a backseat to lycanthropy in this outing, the final reveal of the true culprit takes the story firmly back into Orient’s telepathic realm, as Orient and his team battle the werewolf’s astral projection.

Raga Six

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Raga Six
Frank Lauria | Bantam Books | 1972 | 277 pages

After saving the Vice President’s daughter from occult forces in the first book of the series (Doctor Orient), paranormal investigator Dr. Owen Orient returns in Raga Six. Exhausted and feeling out of touch with the people he intended to help with his psychic research, Dr. Orient sells his mansion on Riverside Drive and gives up all his worldly possessions to follow the simpler life path his mind intuitively reveals. Encountering a telepathic potential in cowboy garb named Joker, Orient returns with him to his Lower-East Side squat, where he meets fellow wanderers Sun Girl and her young son Julian. Orient quickly settles into a new life with this countercultural family, meditating and honing his psychic skills—and assisting Joker in his low-level gambling business—until a request from Sun Girl pulls him back into the occult sphere.

Sun Girl’s friend Betsy has fallen under the spell of a strange commune, and she recruits Orient to investigate. He discovers that Gregory and Isis, the two young mediums who founded “The Circle”, are not just flirting with the trappings of occultism, but are actually possessed by the demon Astaroth. They intend to follow the left-hand path to unlock the demon’s power by ultimately sacrificing one of their order, lost girls like Betsy who have run away or dropped out of society. With the help of a sympathetic clairvoyant, Orient lures Gregory and Isis into a trap, and performs an exorcism to drive the demon out.

Astaroth is purged and Orient returns to his meditations. Against his better judgment, he breaks from his routine book-making chores to deliver a mysterious special package for Joker. Pola Gleason, the recipient of the black bag Orient drops off, dies from an uncontrollably pleasurable orgasm. Joker immediately disappears, advising Orient to leave the country by leaving him a ticket for a berth on a ship sailing to Morocco. On board, Orient encounters another telepathic potential, Pia, with whom he shares an instant psychic attraction. Pia and her friend Janice are being treated for a rare anemia by Dr. Alistar Six, an intimidating heavy-set man with a strange bearing. Accompanying Dr. Six on the voyage is his wife Raga, a magnetically attractive beauty with smooth, marble-like skin and unusual silver hair.

The base of his brain stimulated by telepathic messages of desire, Orient slips into a ménage-a-trois with Pia and Raga, but it is Raga who ultimately consumes his thoughts. After Janice’s unexpected death, Pia flees the ship with Presto Wallace, a photographer she met on board, pursued by Dr. Six, who seems to have developed a strong attraction to his patient. Orient and Raga disembark in Tangiers, where Raga expresses her fears and pleads with him to help her leave her husband. Pia and Dr. Six eventually return, and Orient discovers Presto hovering near death in an inexplicable coma-like state. A telepathic fogs surrounds Presto, and Orient senses the hand of a malignant paranormal force at work; a force similar to the one responsible for the deaths of Janice on board the ship, and Pola back in New York. Fearing that Raga and Pia are in grave danger, Orient is determined to track down and eradicate the source of the evil threatening them all.

Similar to Dr. Orient searching for new direction in his life, Raga Six meanders in a convoluted telepathic stew of characters and situations, waiting over one hundred pages before even introducing its title character. However disjointed, many of the moments along the way are compelling, such as the unexpected guilt and remorse Orient experiences at a character’s death—even a villainous one—in the physical world, particularly since he routinely engages in telepathic life and death struggles in the spiritual plane. Even an expected betrayal results in a poignant loss for Orient. The final reveal hinges on a what-important-thing-did-I-see-but-can’t-remember moment, teasing a clue that could potentially emerge on a telepathically exposed roll of film. When all the various strands are finally pulled together, a simple say-the-secret-all-powerful-magic-word conclusion undercuts the confrontation between Orient and his supernatural nemesis.

Doctor Orient

doctororient

Doctor Orient: A Mind Adventure into the Occult
Frank Lauria | Bantam Books | 1970 | 214 pages

Master of telepathy Doctor Orient responds to a psychic emergency call from Hap Prentice, a promising former student now reduced to performing cheap carnival tricks to survive. During their performance, Hap’s assistant Malta slipped into a deep trance from which she could not recover. Projecting his own consciousness into Malta’s, Orient discovers a powerful negative vortex possessing her mind, suggesting a sinister influence with implications beyond Malta’s life.

Doctor Orient and his team of former telepathic acolytes–a washed-up baseball player, a bearded dentist with unrivaled chess acumen, and a B-movie actor—join forces with an occult-minded priest to release Malta and defeat the infernal powers responsible. A cryptic utterance during a séance leads the group to Susej, leader of the Clear One cult. By exploiting the potential of mass-media—insidious pop music recorded by his disciples at his discotheque, and faith-healing performances on television talk-shows—Susej plans to unleash the power of Ose, demon of insanity, gaining control of unsuspecting minds on a global level.

Outside of a few preliminary strikes into the psychic space of his adversary, Doctor Orient takes a rather passive approach to his task. He meditates, practices breathing techniques, performs yoga and teaches the value of a well-executed move during games of chess. Although Orient defers to a greater karmic code of magic that restricts his use of excessive negative energy, readers may grow impatient with the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and implore him to fight back (telepathically explode some heads, perhaps?) before waiting for the counter-moves to reveal themselves. A hinted relationship between Orient and Malta, in a previous life, is also never fully explored.