Mansion of Evil
Caroline Farr | Signet Books | 1966 | 222 pages
Young private practice nurse Diane Montrose accepts a live-in caretaker position at Ravensnest, a rambling family estate on an isolated stretch of the Maine coast. Her charges are Robyn Warburton, a sickly child plagued by chronic illnesses following the mysterious drowning death of her mother, and Robyn’s grandmother, Martha, the cantankerous matriarch whose crippling arthritis confines her to a wheelchair. Robyn’s father, David, previously absent much of the time with the operation of the family business, seems genuinely concerned with his daughter’s care—and very interested in her new nurse.
However, Diane’s first order of business at Ravensnest does not pertain to the well-being of her clients. Mr. Prince, the Warburton family attorney who arranged the job for Diane, ushers her into the study to witness the signing of Martha’s new secret will. Following the conclusion of the legal matter, Diane finds herself being relentlessly questioned by Martha’s youngest son, Kerr, and step-brother, Clive, about what she read on the document, although the attorney carefully placed cover sheets over the passages of text to prevent her from discovering the identity of the new beneficiaries.
During her stay at Ravensnest, Diane becomes morbidly fascinated with the mansion’s secret room, a rough-hewn space cut out of the solid rock below the waterline. Used by the Warburton’s pirate ancestors, victims from scuttled ships were placed into the chamber at low tide, and drowned by the rising water. The bodies were subsequently flushed out to sea, where they were ultimately discovered as accidental drowning victims.
Diane wakes one night to the sound of violent spray on her window, as pressurized water forced out of the narrow shaft to the secret room vents against the side of the building. This nocturnal emission serves as a vivid reminder to the presence of the deadly negative space, while establishing the implication that someone or something is trapped within its confines.
Otherwise, strange bumps-in-the-night and prowlers precede the eventual murder and kidnapping in a rather prosaic inheritance mystery. Only the completely expected and virtually predestined confinement in the subterranean kill room adds a flash of claustrophobic terror to the proceedings, while the obligatory romance is undercut by the fundamental creepiness of an attraction based on the resemblance to a drowned spouse.
The Brooding House
Alice Brennan | Prestige Books | 1965 | 254 pages
Young, red-haired nurse Larcy Ryan accepts a position as live-in caretaker for David Magnam, a terminal patient living in a rambling house on the shores of Lake Huron. Larcy finds David to be a disagreeable man, always mocking and insulting, referring to her as “Miss Bedpan”. He also exists in a constant state of paranoia regarding the possible malevolent actions of his own family. Sharing the estate is David’s daughter Bena, whose navy husband is out to sea, and her niece, Lyn, whose mother died in a mental institution. Lyn, a badly behaved adolescent, does justify David’s paranoia by confiding with Larcy about Bena,
“She needs his money, and she isn’t going to get it until dear David is dead.”
From that foundation, The Brooding House builds itself into an inheritance melodrama, with Larcy fearing that a plot is afoot to kill David for his money. She overhears incriminating snatches of conversations between Bena and a strange man on the beach, and spots her meeting with another suspicious character in the town diner. When the body of Bena’s former brother-in-law turns up at the beach, Larcy becomes convinced that evil machinations are actually underway.
Strange coming-and-goings from David’s room, incriminating newspaper clippings, and the aloof housekeeper’s use of poison, ostensibly for rat traps outside the kitchen, all add to the general atmosphere of menace at the lake house. When Larcy witnesses a strange scene at the pier one night, her own safety becomes directly involved in the events.
As much a nascent romance as a thriller, Larcy finds time to reflect on the nature of love throughout all the mysterious unfolding of events. Although suspicious of Bena’s actions, Larcy admires the relationship between her and her husband, Johnson, whose portrait commands attention in the house while its subject is out to sea. Larcy envies the apparent “fireworks” between the couple, evident in Bena’s emotional longing, but absent with her own prospective fiancée, Pete Crimmins.
Pete, the boy-next-door type, comes off as something of a heel later in the story, when Larcy turns to him for help. However, for all his alleged romantic charms, Johnson doesn’t rate much better. Bena, assessing her own slenderness, remarks,
“Johnson abhors fat women. It’s a phobia with him. He actually gets nauseous.”
House on the Rocks
Theresa Charles | Paperback Library | 1966 | 176 pages
Recovering in a private hospital following an accident that left her father, David, dead, Adele Phelim suffers a series of nightmares that makes her doubt the official version of the fatal incident. Convinced that David’s drowning death was not accidental, Adele struggles to remember the possible presence of a third person at the rocky cliffside beneath the family estate, before her own memory fails. Having received a near-fatal blow to the head from the rocks at the shore, or from the hands of a murderer, Adele fears returning to the House on the Rocks.
Her fears seem to be justified when she receives a poisoned box of chocolates at the hospital, but no one, including her personal physician, Dr. Rodney Tayne, seems to think of calling the police. In a strikingly unprofessional move, Dr. Tayne confesses his romantic interest for Adele. Nothing says love more than seeming to confess, While you have been incapacitated in your hospital bed, I have been standing over you—longing.
Accompanied home by a young nurse, Adele finds a climate steeped in suspicion. Her stepmother, Deidre, stands to inherit half the estate, but has positioned herself in strong opposition to Blair Kennard, her late-husband’s partner, on how to continue with the family’s struggling flower business. Blair, a chemist who developed the formula for the company’s fertilizer products, had confronted David over tampering with his mixture in order to cut costs and gain profits. Deirdre’s cousin, Gaston Loire, worked as a photographer on a series of advertising campaigns for the company, and was Adele’s former suitor before David stopped the relationship—claiming that Gaston was nothing more than a gold-digging, romantic opportunist.
Aside from an attempt to break into Adele’s room, not much happens in the House on the Rocks, as new revelations—Deidre’s surprise pregnancy, Blair’s secret manslaughter charge, accusations of David’s philandering past—drive Adele’s suspicions toward one resident or another. The atmosphere is modestly menacing, but Adele is not much of a detective, searching for as many romantic leads among the suspects as deadly ones.
Eventually, a culprit reveals himself, an obvious love-interest emerges, and a creepy doctor is left to prey upon his emotionally underdeveloped nurse.
Ghostly Haunts, Issue #21
Charlton Comics | November 1971
Hep-cat horror hostess Winnie, the sexy bespectacled witch, introduces another trio of terrifying tales in her own groovy style, “Do you cats see what I see?”
The Scariest Picture of Them All:
Past-his-prime special effects master Roy Quenton develops a brand new method for getting his nightmares on film—projecting mental images into existence, then recording them. His current picture’s leading lady discovers firsthand the dangers inside of Roy’s head, but his Psycho-house digs, vulture in the foyer, and butler named Cadaver should have served as a warning.
Old Soldiers Never Die:
An old patient of curvy nurse Miss Oliver telepathically projects himself from his nursing home bed into the rice paddies of Vietnam to save her fiancé from certain death at the hands of the Viet Cong. Straight from an armchair general’s fantasy, he’s a fearless buffed-out hero in his own mind.
The Man Who Refused to Die
Through sheer stubborn willpower, Joshua Richards refuses to acknowledge the possibility of his own death, and attains a certain level of immortality. Those around him, from fellow pilots in the skies of Vietnam, to climbing buddies on the slopes of a Himalayan peak, to organized crime thugs, aren’t so lucky—he even causes the death of the Abominable Snowman.
House of Hate
Dorothy Fletcher | Lancer Books | 1967 | 223 pages
A young nurse is pulled into a family drama that may conceal an undercurrent of deadly malice, in a story that takes far too long in establishing the danger lurking in her midst.
Twenty-six year old year nurse Norma Theale accepts a position as live-in companion to Madame Victoire Thibault, a cultured but aristocratic matriarch living in her family’s Gilded Age mansion on Central Park. Heavily made-up and perfumed, the elderly patient’s needs are primarily social rather than medical (the biggest requirement seems to be sessions of reading aloud), helping her to compensate for the family rift between her and her son. Norma finds herself drawn to the eccentric and withdrawn Nicolas Thibault, a musical genius at the violin, but derided by his mother for not having an acceptable profession.
Henri Longeray, married to Victoire’s coldly distant daughter Michelle, occupies the position of de-facto head of the family, since he manages the Thibault’s successful art gallery operation, originally started in Paris a generation ago. Simone, Victoire’s orphaned grandniece, also lives in the estate, and due to the proximity in age with her mother’s new nurse, becomes Norma’s close friend and confidante. As Norma’s feelings for Nicolas deepen, she is shocked at his uncharacteristically violent reaction when an art theft at the gallery turns the family’s suspicions towards him.
Learning that Madame Thibault holds a tight grasp on the finances of all the family members, leaving them completely dependent upon her goodwill, Norma begins to fear that someone in the mansion may not be completely invested in Victoire’s continued good health. Entering Madame’s room late one evening, Norma startles an intruder looming over Victoire’s bed, scaring him off before she is able to get a close look at his face—but she fears she recognizes Nicolas’ lanky profile. Later, after coming across a trunk full of old family photos, Norma finds pictures of Victoire scribbled over with Nicolas’ childhood scrawl, “Je te détèste, ma mère.” She is forced to consider how deep the hatred runs in the man she now professes to love.
Far more weighted toward romance than gothic mystery, House of Hate shades Nicolas with growing layers of suspicion until Norma finally interrupts an attempted murder, revealing the true secrets at Thibault mansion. Occasional incidents—an overheard financial argument or a sudden turn in Madame Thibault’s condition–fail to fully paint a picture of malicious intention operating under the surface of family relations. The epilogue does deliver an unexpected retribution—or more correctly, lack of retribution—for the criminal, and an acrophobic character’s fate is served up as a strange, postscript punch line.
Jane Toombs | Avon Books | 1973 | 158 pages
Mixing witchcraft, medical mystery and nurse romance, Tule Witch immerses it young R.N. protagonist in a fog of deadly suspicion, which when cleared, reveals one of the doctors in her life to be her true love, and the other possibly a killer.
Bebe Thomasen, a young registered nurse working the nightshift at a small central Valley hospital, “senses” something outside in the fog beyond the emergency room doors. She discovers a bleeding and battered man on the ground, who whispers “witch doctor” before slipping into unconsciousness. After the death of her mother when she was eleven, Bebe’s father abandoned her to be raised by her grandmother, a woman steeped in the practice of witchcraft. Since her early childhood, Bebe has experienced similar episodes of prescience, receiving strong feelings that are sometimes forceful, but often ambiguous.
The mysterious man dies as a result of his injuries, leaving Bebe to explain to the local police the reason she left her post to look around outside the hospital grounds. Bebe develops some suspicions regarding two doctors, and rivals for her affections, Dr. Jed Edgington and Dr. Harold Davies. Jed, a powerfully attractive African-American with a bouffant hairstyle, and Harold, his more passive but compassionate green-eyed colleague, were both scheduled to be away in San Francisco at a medical conference, yet both were somehow present at the time the patient was admitted. The mystery deepens when the man’s body disappears from the morgue, although the attendant on duty failed to see anyone either enter or leave the facility.
Bebe also harbors a deep family secret, a developmentally disabled child now institutionalized in the state hospital. Bebe’s grandmother arranged for an occult ritual coupling under the moonlight on her isolated cabin’s grounds with Gill Saginaw, a wild, red-haired warlock hand-chosen by Grandma Thomasen to conceive a child for Bebe, and to produce an heir to the family’s cabalistic tradition. Bebe later delivered a son, a misshapen deformity with a gargoyle face and a pointed head, but who triggers psychic visions in his mother. Before (apparently) dying in a second attempt at conceiving a child, Gill curses Bebe, invoking a death spell on her if she ever is with another man.
With the persistent valley fog setting the stage, Tule Witch establishes an intriguing atmosphere of mystery, with the missing dead man driving open the deep secrets in Bebe’s occult family history. Bebe’s multi-racial background triggers a slight, but ugly touch of bigotry in the familiar love-triangle set-up that fails to be fully explored, and Jed’s family only serves to provide misdirection towards other possible sources of occult influence. The introduction of the possible viral outbreak drives the focus away from the supernatural, and the inevitable showdown with Bebe’s baby-daddy fails to establish his character as anything other than an arbitrary bogeyman.
Angel Among Witches
Adela Gale | Prestige Books | 1969 | 175 pages
A tormented musical genius, a young nurse and her vulnerable, wheelchair-bound charge, and an isolated Austrian castle with a dark history of witchcraft make for an engaging, if not genre-defying, gothic mystery.
Seeking a chance to leave New York for a fairytale European adventure, Joyce Miller accepts a position as private duty nurse for Myra Daniels, a successful gothic mystery writer. Myra’s husband is August Froelich, a failed master of classical piano, now struggling to put his career back together following a nervous breakdown. Myra was paralyzed in a skiing accident at her husband’s ancestral castle home in Austria, where the couple plans on returning, with Joyce caring for Myra’s modest needs as she rests after completing her latest novel.
Froelichsburg, Joyce discovers, is not the romantic castle of her dreams, but rather a cold imposing structure isolated from the surrounding town. August suffers from violent outbreaks, driven by a jealousy of his wife’s success when his own talent seems to be bankrupt. August’s mother, Althe, is an aristocratic relic from another age, barely suppressing her contempt for her American daughter-in-law (and accompanying medical underling), even though she depends upon Myra’s money to keep the castle running. Her servant Berta is a tiny-eyed battleship of a woman, always pausing in doorways to overhear private conversations.
Accompanying Joyce to Froelichsburg is Willis Compton, Myra’s unctuous personal secretary, who seems to have an intense hatred for August. Joyce initially suspects that Willis harbors a secret affection for Myra, but discovers that he openly loathes the pulpy material she produces, considering himself to be a writer of great taste and refinement. The tension at Froelichsburg is further exacerbated by the arrival of Myra’s ex-husband and his new young trophy wife. Barney Daniels is a Hollywood producer seeking to finalize the film rights to one of Myra’s books, a fact that only further drives August’s jealousy and resentment.
Only Jim Durban, Myra’s American doctor visiting from Vienna, offers Joyce any source of comfort, but it is short-lived. Against Jim’s advice, Myra immediately launches into writing her next book, focusing her research on the dark history of Froelichburg. Several hundred years previously, the castle was the center of witch-hunting hysteria, with hundreds of innocents being tortured within its walls, accused of practicing the black arts. Joyce fears that Myra is developing an unhealthy obsession with the grim details regarding the instruments of torture—and both Althe and August seem to know more of the family history than they admit.
Probably as appealing as one of Myra’s pulpy mysteries, Angel Among Witches establishes its cast of characters and their underlying hostilities before releasing their pent-up tensions in a violent murder, with all the guests trapped in the castle during a violent snowstorm. Exhibiting the clichéd traits of other genre fiction nurses, Joyce stereotypically dispenses aspirins and falls for the handsome doctor, although the resolution does offer an explanation for her superfluous role. When she stumbles upon the clue explaining why all the occupants of the castle are in grave danger, she races to expose the murderer before the grim history of Froelichsburg repeats itself. Appropriately enough, all is revealed in the castle’s dungeon, when Joyce happens upon its entrance—if only she had thought sooner to press “D” on the elevator panel.
The Lucifer Mask
Kathleen Rich | Tower Books | 1967 | 155 pages
After the death of her father—the head of the Coralee Wear fashion company—young nurse Juliette Knight sails to Madeira upon the invitation of her father’s former business executive, Charles Trent, for a restful retreat at his family estate. Upon arrival, she finds that the mild and supportive Charles she remembers from New York has become more aggressive and easy to anger. He seems particularly upset that Juliette has brought along her aunt Dotts as a traveling companion. Meeting Charles’ mother (“You must call me Mother Trent, dear.”), a grotesquely corpulent shut-in who was blinded by a medical condition, does little to lessen her anxiety.
Juliette fears that someone has been watching her since she sailed from New York—someone that means her harm. On a brief stopover in Lisbon, she discovers a knife protruding from the back of her seat after a theatre performance. Her first night in Madeira, she blacks out after drinking a glass of warm milk, leading her to believe that she was poisoned. She wakes to the care of Sebastian Malroux, a ruggedly handsome doctor that she remembers as a passenger from her cruise ship. But has she seen him somewhere before?
Her suspicions towards everyone aroused, Juliette nonetheless becomes enmeshed in a romantic intrigue. Charles unexpectedly pressures her into marrying him, although his mother barely conceals her contempt towards her prospective daughter-in-law. After an initial romantic encounter, Sebastian distances himself from Juliette, seemingly holding back a terrible secret. As more incidents against her life occur, Juliette wonders who she can really trust. And then there is the matter of the mysterious woman living in the abandoned room on the unused third floor of Trent House, unacknowledged by all the other residents.
The Lucifer Mask immerses its young heroine in a modestly effective environment of paranoia, as she struggles to discover the person responsible for the increasingly bold attempts on her life. Against this backdrop of growing fear, Juliette evades the amorous pursuit of Charles and is frustrated that Sebastian suddenly resists her affections. Due to the archaic views of her father regarding the role of women in the workplace, Juliette briefly reflects on the limited opportunities available for her in the family business (“Some men don’t like working for a skirt”), but then restricts herself to an arbitrary romantic choice between the soft, round-chinned Charles and the rough-and-tumble Sebastian. The glass ceiling at Coralee Wear figures directly into the final plot twist, a reveal that comes with little surprise.
Although her stalker leaves behind enough evidence to send Juliette to the police, she would rather find someone to trust and share her confidence than simply seeking physical protection. Her patronizing, would-be beau Sebastian would have made her father proud with his summation, “You ought to be spanked for this, a big girl like you not taking better care.”
Private Duty for Nurse Peggy
Madeleine Sault | Pyramid Books | 1965 | 157 pages
“You can come out now, little mountain flower, and bloom in your own right.”
Peggy Merritt—the little mountain flower—leaves her position as an operating room nurse In Chicago, returning to her small hometown In Colorado to care for the aging grandmother of her recently deceased childhood friend. Even from the confines of her wheelchair, the once beautiful high-society matriarch, Mrs. Leila Reinley, retains enough of her former mental acuity following a series of strokes to orchestrate a romantic match for Peggy. Mrs. Reinley suspects that Peggy has never moved past her childhood crush on Charles Whittaker, who is now Mrs. Reinley’s doctor (and widower of her late granddaughter), and hopes to bring her into the extended family through marriage.
However, Charles is engaged to Nadia, a stunning European beauty with a regal manner, and together they slip effortlessly through the local high society scene of luncheons and cocktail parties. Charles initiates a plan with the local gentry to open a for-profit clinic for wealthy patients. Peggy is an outsider to this fairytale world, raised in modest quarters by her mother in Downriver, a depressed and squalid part of town far from the stately mansion in which she works. Charles does seem to harbor feelings for Peggy, and soon takes her into his embrace.
“As she always dreamed, his lips were full and devastating on hers, capturing her mouth completely, irretrievably—and sending warm shocks of delicious feeling from her head to her toes and back again.”
Although Charles explains that his pending marriage was arranged solely to keep Nadia in the country legally, Peggy still senses a reluctance coming from him. Strangely unsatisfied at vanquishing her intimidating rival and securing the man of her dreams, she instead finds herself thinking about another man, Leila’s grandson Hank. The brash and impertinent Dr. Henry “Hank” Reinley provides a striking counterpart to Dr. Charles Whittaker. Hank founded a local public health clinic, and tirelessly provides medical care to the impoverished citizens of the town. Peggy wonders if Hank, the once obnoxious stand-in for an older brother who irritatingly calls her “Piggy”, could be her true love.
“There was a strange, abstracted look on his face as he slowly bent his head once more, bringing his mouth close to her. “No,” she said. But she didn’t try to stop him. And he didn’t stop. Their lips met. And clung.”
Private Duty for Nurse Peggy teases out a few possible mysteries while Peggy agonizes over which doctor to love, but never commits to pursuing them as storylines. Both Charles and Hank have designs on properties owned by Mrs. Reinley for their opposing visions of medical clinics for the town. A dramatic turn in her health suggests a suspicious origin, with the possibility of an impending inheritance drama, but that potential never develops. And although the cover blurb suggests that the Reinley estate is a “dark old house…haunted by the memory of Mrs. Reinley’s lovely granddaughter,” [what was her name again, oh yes…] Sandra’s spirit does not play a role at all.
Peggy dreams of being with Charles, helps to deliver a baby in Downriver, swoons over kissing Hank, diagnoses a more severe case of botulism among a widespread outbreak of food-poisoning at a church picnic, then continues to waffle over the right man for her affection, both of whom use her for their own ends. Anticipating Peggy’s ultimate choice provides the only real tension to propel the story along. Perhaps Peggy should have considered getting together with Nadia, moving back to Chicago together, and living on the sale of her extravagant engagement ring.