The Dead Riders

The Dead Riders
Elliot O’Donnell | Paperback Library | 1967 | 224 pages

“PREFATORY NOTE: According to reports that appeared in the Press from time to time prior to the Second World War, efforts were being made to resuscitate Black Magic, with all its attendant evils, in various Continental countries, and in England. The War would seem to have had a curbing effect, but, unhappily, there are grounds for believing those efforts are being renewed with undiminished vigor. – The Author”

Globetrotting fortune hunter Burke Blake runs afoul of an ancient mystery cult in this throwback men’s adventure novel. Although originally written in the early fifties, the tone more closely resembles the thirties pulp adventures of Doc Savage, or the even earlier villainous escapades of Fu Manchu.

Blake signs on with a small expedition to the Gobi desert led by archaeological dilettante, Herbert Newsam, but his true motivation is to discover the fabled lost treasure of Genghis Khan. More modern notions of cultural relativism would certainly differentiate between “adventurer” and “plunderer. Some half-baked murder, political intrigue, and romantic liaison subplots stew around the much-delayed launch of the exploration party from Hong Kong. Echoing some of the oriental stereotypes of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series, the women Blake encounters are beautiful seductresses (with delicate hands), while the men are merely inscrutable.

Once underway, the expedition quickly falls apart along the desolate trails of the Gobi Desert. Odd narrative pacing problems abound, with Blake falling in with another small band of adventurers before being taken captive by a band of occultists. The Lovonans, followers of the wizard Shadna Rana, are the hereditary guardians of Ghenghis Khan’s treasure. Insisting that Burke and his fellow prisoners accept allegiance to their god, Dakoalach. The Lovonans attempt various tactics of seduction and torture to bend the will of their captives. After a daring escape—and nearly half-way into the novel—Blake is back in London and introduced to a whole new cast of characters.

An accidental meeting in the street with old school chum, Garnet Deane, leads Blake into a paid position as an investigator of the occult. Deane, now a stuffy member of Parliament, is convinced that the practice of Black Magic is resurgent in contemporary England, and he hires Burke to sniff it out. The occasional odd footnote in the text seems to imply a dubious true-life connection to allegedly increasing events of occult ritual. Although the long-reaching tendrils of the Lovonan cult abound in London, Blake spends less time investigating and more time becoming infatuated with Garnet’s three sisters.

Bouncing around various night spots and the Green Eagle Club, Blake’s romantic eye wanders in its consideration of the Deane sisters: the beautiful but coolly aloof eldest, Jean, the vivacious redheaded charmer, Lana, and the youthful good girl, Pat. They are all eventually revealed to be somehow involved in the machinations of the Lovonan cult, leaving Blake to sort out the messy details—and perhaps more importantly, whom to marry.

Ultimately, Blake seems more a smitten schoolboy than an effective investigator, leaving other parties to eventually confront the villain and save the day for England. Even after breaking into a “mystery mansion” and dressing up as a wax mannequin to observe an occult ritual, Blake discovers that another wax mannequin is also an investigator in disguise!

The Dead Riders do make an appearance [full disclosure: two appearances], but this whole disjointed serial affair could have been alternately titled, “The Supper Club Girls.”

Fingers of Fear

Fingers of Fear
John U. Nicolson | Paperback Library | 1966 | 224 pages

Werewolf or vampire? Perhaps the distinction is ultimately meaningless for members of the Ormes family, who may suffer from an incurable blood lust when the moon is full.

Under the auspices of organizing an inherited library for his old college chum (Ormand Ormes), a down-on-his-luck writer (Seldon Seaverns) quickly becomes enmeshed in a whirlpool of supernatural horrors. Seaverns is visited by a phantom presence on his first night at the Ormes estate, waking in the morning with a violent bruise on his neck.

And it seemed to have been drawn there by the sucking action of a woman’s young and evil mouth!”

Although tantalized by Ormand’s sister, Gray, an enigmatic beauty exhibiting wild mood swings, Seldon nonetheless suspects that she is responsible for his nocturnal intrusion. But there are other potential suspects housed under the roof the family estate: Ormand’s aunt Barbara, a recluse haunted by some undefined emotional trauma, and Agnes Ormes, Ormand’s disaffected wife, a self-indulgent woman longing for a less-isolated life.

A series of violent murders jolts the household, potentially exposing a secret family history of lycanthropy. The throats of the victims show evidence of being ripped out with human teeth, with great accompanying blood loss. This naturalistic—and ambiguously supernatural—approach foreshadows similar genre treatment in later vampire stories, such as George Romero’s Martin.

However, Fingers of Fear does not simply limit its horrors to lycanthropy and vampirism. Ghostly apparitions, secret family murders, inheritance intrigue and unfolding plans of criminal extortion all trail in the wake of the werewolf/vampire attacks. Already set in an old, dark house riddled with secret passages, these additional elements teeter the story on the verge of campiness.

Originally written in the thirties and steeped in the failure of depression economics, Fingers of Fear is repackaged in this sixties edition under the Paperback Library Gothic banner, replete with the “woman-running-in-fear-from-the-castle” cover art [along with an incorrect character name]. However melodramatic, with its male point of view and oddly supernatural flourishes, it still emerges as a much weirder concoction than the comparable gothic romances of the era.



Ethel Lina White | Paperback Library | 1967 | 223 pages

Freshly graduated from journalism school, Sonia Thompson accepts a position at the Riverpool Chronicle, a small-town paper with a few reporters and an advice column that, to her great disappointment, becomes her primary assignment. Although a rash of petty thefts and purse snatchings are the biggest news in town, Sonia is more fascinated by the local Waxwork Gallery, and its chequered history of unusual deaths. The museum features well-worn wax representations of historical figures, plus a macabre Chamber of Horrors displaying a rogue’s gallery of infamous poisoners.

It seems to Sonia that everyone in town has a doppelgänger in the museum gallery, including prominent citizen, Alderman Cuttle, whose boisterous manner and intimidating physical build resemble that of Henry VIII. A retinue of female hangers-on trails behind in Cuttle’s wake, including his employee, Miss Yates, and doctor’s assistant, Nurse Davis. Sonia begins to fear for Cuttle’s neglected wife, whose poor health—coupled with Cuttle’s unusual interest in various poisons–leads Sonia to suspect foul play.

Sonia frequently returns to the wax gallery, where seemingly all the threads from local criminal activities or adulterous assignations converge. The atmosphere of danger intensifies when Sir Julian Gough, goaded into a reckless dare by his lover’s husband, mysteriously dies during a challenge to stay overnight in the gallery. As more deaths follow, Sonia discovers the existence of a secret drug ring operating underground, and becomes convinced that she knows the identity of the kingpin responsible for it all.

Hubert Lobb, lead reporter at the newspaper, offers a contrary proposition to Sonia–that a woman could be their culprit–with his assessment of feminine qualities, “A woman has tact, finesse, and no moral sense or conscience.”

Ultimately, Sonia’s investigation drives her to her own overnight vigil in the murderous museum. However, the crimes and adulteries of Riverpool are as much at the center of the mysterious happenings as the wax gallery itself, with any traditional house of wax horrors mostly left aside.

Wax features as many purse or dress thefts as actual frights, with the only hint at supernatural terror occurring when Sonia briefly envisions a wax figure—Mary, Queen of Scots, somehow escaped from the museum—in the place of a missing woman. Otherwise, the sense of mystery surrounding the waxworks feels as dusty and anachronistic as that faded relic from a bygone age.

House on the Rocks


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.

Whisper of Darkness


Whisper of Darkness
Margaret Lynn | Paperback Library | 1966 | 187 pages

I see signs that our Landon’s patience is wearing very thin. Personally, if I were in his shoes I should have taken retaliatory steps before this. A dozen of the best delivered with a stern hand on your bottom is the best disciplinary corrective I can think of, my girl, and I have strong suspicions that our Landon’s mind is working on the same lines.”

Bending to the demands of her cantankerous old grandfather—a dying patriarch making a final effort to secure his considerable estate and legacy—young naïf Judith Craig accepts an arranged marriage with her cousin Landon. Although the old man dies soon after the hastily performed nuptials, final stipulations in his will prevent Judith from gaining the freedom she desires. Judith and her new husband are required to remain living together as man and wife in the Craigmore estate for a period of ten years, or forfeit all their inheritance.

Complicating the arrangement is the arrival of Judith’s other cousin, Jeff, the object of a burning childhood crush since their brief summer meeting years ago. Previously, Jeff declined the same offer put to Landon, but ultimately ended up receiving a third of the estate anyway. Further, if Judith and Landon fail to meet their terms of the will, the entire bulk of their inheritance will instead be awarded to Jeff.

Desperate to leave Craigmore but unable to see a way out of her situation, Judith is nonetheless surprised when a series of malicious attacks begin against Landon. Suspicion naturally falls on her, reinforcing her general perception as little more than a petulant child. She gradually discovers that others may be motivated to break her marriage and gain a portion of the estate, including her grandfather’s illegitimate daughter, her former beau, and members of the neglected household staff.

Even given her status as a sheltered child under the iron grasp of her domineering grandfather, Judith suffers from such a crippling passivity that fully sympathizing with her proves difficult. Stammering and continually breaking into bouts of crying, she allows herself to be dominated not only by her new husband, but by her doctor, her lawyer, and her servants. Agonizingly slow in piecing together the true source of the malignancy at Craigmore, sheer impatience with Judith’s latent role as a sniffling and stuttering heroine makes rebuking the prescription of a dozen stern slaps to the bottom a hard proposition.

Night of the Moonrose


Night of the Moonrose
Miriam Lynch | Paperback Library | 1966 | 158 pages

On the night of the moonrose, Beth Sherwood was to be married—and murdered.

Although the back cover blurb gives everything away, Night of the Moonrose delivers enough expected genre thrills to justify following its heroine through to her appointed sacrificial vows. She arrives in a threatening new house [check], and is greeted with hostility from a host of suspicious relatives [check]. An early attempt is made on her life [check]. She discovers her remarkable resemblance to a woman who died two hundred years previously [check], and stumbles upon a library full of books on witchcraft and the occult [check]. A love interest is introduced who may or may not be trustworthy [check], as a countdown winds towards the anniversary of a dark historical event filled with ominous portent [check].

After her mother remarries, Beth Sherwood takes a position as live-in caretaker to Honora Buxton, a distant relative on her late father’s side of the family. However, she finds the reception at Devil’s Walk as suffocating as the overpowering aroma of the wildly abundant moonroses growing all over the grounds the estate. Carl and Ruth, the deaf-mute servants, are simply distant, but the cook Jesse exhibits overt hostility. Honora’s sister Lily is a doll-like beauty, but displays unusual ferocity towards Beth, particularly in the presence of her beau, Will Mansfield. Nathan Buxton, the master of the estate, exudes a powerful magnetism, but also seems to possess a dark side— melodramatically reflected in the swirling, malevolent music he produces late each night on the house’s grand old organ.

Beth is further unsettled when she discovers her uncanny resemblance to a family portrait of Elizabeth Buxton, Nathan’s ancestor who was hanged for being a witch in 1692. Stumbling upon what she concludes to be a secret ceremony in the cellar beneath the kitchen, she begins to understand the cause of the oppressive atmosphere at Devil’s Walk. As the anniversary of Elizabeth’s execution draws near, Beth fears that her own fate is inexorably linked to that of the accused witch, and that she also is destined to die on the night the moonroses bloom.

While certainly failing to add anything new to the Gothic suspense canon, Night of the Moonrose nonetheless revels in the familiar pleasures of a plucky young heroine poaching the fiancé of a rival while trapped in a house of ritualistic cultists.

The Vampire Curse


The Vampire Curse
Daoma Winston | Paperback Library | 1971 | 142 pages

Returning home from boarding school, Teena Halliday is surprised to learn that her still-vivacious mother is remarrying, selling their Italian villa to travel on an extended honeymoon in South America. Teena is sent to stay with her distant aunt, June Rentlow, in her isolated New England seaside estate. Although long-estranged from her father, Ben Halliday, Teena receives a cable from him upon departing for the airport, informing her that he will meet her when her plane lands in Boston.

However, the only person waiting at the airport is Rory Calvert, a ruggedly handsome green-eyed man who introduces himself as a neighbor of Aunt June. While driving Teena to the estate, Rory offers her a cryptic warning, “Things aren’t always what they seem, you know. Be careful in Rentlow Retreat. Remember that I’m your friend.”

Arriving at the estate, Teena meets her Aunt June, a gaunt and graying woman with only a shadow of her sister’s beauty, and her Uncle Charles, a portly man displaying little interest in Teena. Also living in the estate are her cousins Jeremy and Estrella. Teena is impressed by Jeremy’s darkly magnetic attractiveness, but finds Estralla coldly beautiful. The Rentlows are all dressed in funeral garb, having that day buried a houseguest who died in a tragic accident. None of the family confesses to any knowledge of the whereabouts of Teena’s father.

Teena soon learns that other tragic deaths have plagued Rentlow Retreat. Six months previously, Rory’s sister Sarah, who was engaged to Jeremy at the time, died from a mysterious blood disease. Ten years previously, the housekeeper’s younger sister May Argon plunged to her death from Retreat Point, a dramatic outcropping of rocks above the violent surf, between Rentlow Retreat and the neighboring Calvert estate. Coincidentally, both tragic victims of premature death were also models for Jeremy, an amateur artist whose marble sculptures line the grounds of the estate. Now, Jeremy is determined to have Teena sit for him, adding her marble portrait to his collection.

As her modeling sessions begin, Teena experiences weakness and memory lapses, and she discovers strange marks on her neck. To her great surprise, Jeremy announces their engagement plans at dinner one night, but she somehow lacks the ability to challenge his pronouncement. Teena must summon all of her strength to resist Jeremy’s dark charms and uncover the deadly secret behind all the deaths, before Rentlow Retreat claims another life.

The Vampire Curse gives much away with its title, a reference as overt as the town librarian darting her eyes from Teena to the bookshelf labeled “Vampires – Werewolves – Succubi.” Nudge, nudge. The emphasis on the sculptures, and their relationship to their models’ misfortunes, gives rise to some doubt that perhaps another supernatural force is at work, but ultimately the story offers few surprises. The treatment of vampirism as a family curse to be hidden and protected, even if at a great personal threat to family members, provides an interesting counterpoint to more conventional vampire tropes. The final twist comes as a disappointment, however, with the expected reveal sidelined by a more mundane family inheritance drama.



Marie Elaine Edward | Paperback Library | 1966 | 160 pages

Trapped in an isolated estate with a new family she cannot fully trust, a newly engaged young secretary must alone unravel the mystery surrounding the enigmatic Lenore, saving her own life and her future happiness.

Legal secretary Judith Walker travels with her fiancé, attorney Stephen Herrington, to his family estate in the bayous of Louisiana to meet his family and have their wedding ceremony. Only having know Stephen, her employer, a month before their sudden engagement, Judith becomes uneasy at the prospect of visiting Deep Shadows, the estate that Stephen left ten years previously to practice law, and meeting the estranged family members living there. Her unease grows on the long drive through the lonely swampland to reach the great plantation house, and with the dawning realization that she knows very little about Stephen and his background.

Mrs. Harrington, Stephen’s mother and current Mistress of Deep Shadows, greets her cordially, along with Stephen’s siblings, Roy and Jessica, but Judith cannot help but feel and undercurrent of bitterness and resentment. Roy was forced to abandon his musical career to run the estate after Stephen left, and the unmarried Jessica considers herself to be a spinster, even at her young age. Climbing the stairs in the mansion’s entry, with generations of family portraits looking down upon her, Judith senses a palpable sense of danger.

“Why did you come here, Judith Walker? Stephen had no business bringing you her. Why didn’t you stay far, far away from Deep Shadows?”

Also living on the grounds is Birch Willet, the ruggedly handsome estate overseer, who has a not-so-secret affection for Jessica. Stepping outside her bedroom on her first night in Deep Shadows, Judith encounters Grandfather Herrington, purported to be senile and living alone on the fourth floor along with his nurse-attendant. However, he seems lucid enough to Judith, to whom he cryptically speaks from the stairway landing.

”Lenore, is that you? You’ve come back again, haven’t you, Lenore?”

While in town with Judith making arrangements for the wedding, Stephen receives an urgent call from his law firm, requiring him to leave at once to attend to business matters at home. Judith reluctantly decides to stay behind to impress her new family with her resolve and determination, qualities she feels need to be displayed by the new Mistress of Deep Shadows. But Judith’s premonitions of danger prove to be prescient when, returning alone from the airport, an attempt is made on her life. A mysterious black sedan follows her, and tries multiple times to run her off the swamp road and into the deep, still black water on either side.

Lenore’s Louisiana bayou plantation setting is irresistible, trapping Judith in its hothouse atmosphere of fear and suspicion. The small details—Jessica’s passive-aggressive wedding preparations, Roy’s angry musical outbursts at the piano, and Stephen’s forlorn contemplation of the funeral parlour across the street from their luncheon spot—add to the ambiguous feeling of unease and paranoia, with every meaningful glance between family members a possible sub-current of dangerous communication behind Judith’s back. If the overall mood outweighs the ultimate reveal, both are offset by the true emerging meta-terror: Stephen remains a virtual stranger to Judith, with his past behavior unable to be as easily swept aside as indicated by the pat conclusion.



The Devil’s Mansion


The Devil’s Mansion
Rex Jardin | Paperback Library | 1966 | 160 pages

Janet Lord accepts a position as a live-in companion to Miss Boisevain, a paralyzed recluse living in a rambling Gothic mansion far outside town. Miss Boisevain explains to Janet that the duties will be light, mainly reading to her a few hours a day in the great sitting room she never leaves, but warns that the occupants of the house may seem peculiar. However, besides Miss Boisevain (and the live chameleon she wears around her neck on a chain), the only other residents of the mansion are Nita, a mute housekeeper, and Rajah, an intimating Great Dane with blazing red eyes. And why have all the mirrors in the house, and from her own compact, been removed?

Janet’s arrival briefly crosses the path of Blair Rodman, a cross-country motorist whose car broke down in a storm on the muddy road outside the Boisevain estate. Miss Boisevain and Nita were openly hostile when he knocked at their door requesting assistance, and Rajah’s fierce response chased him away from the house altogether. Later, when Blair and Janet shared a ride together with the town mechanic (for Blair to retrieve his car and for Janet to start her first day at work), Blair becomes concerned about the safety of the attractive young woman he has just met.

Blair’s fears are not unfounded. During her first night with her new employer, Janet discovers that she is being held prisoner on the grounds of the estate. Rajah, seemingly commanded by an unseen master, follows her every movement, and prohibits her from leaving with the threat from his snapping jaws. As the days pass, Janet realizes that Nita and Miss Boisevain also live in fear, and may actually be fellow victims of the true —although yet unrevealed—master of the house. Without friends or family, Janet cannot help but dream that somehow Blair Rodman, a man she just met, is still in town, waiting for an opportunity to rescue her from her unexpected prison, and the mysterious intensions of her captors.

The Devil’s Mansion succeeds in establishing a grotesque environment of fear, trapping its heroine and teasing the greater motivations of its unseen antagonist. It ultimately fails in the conclusion, with the perspective shifting to Blair Rodman as he tries to rescue Janet after she leaves the mansion, still held captive by some demonic will. The riff on Hansel and Gretel—with Janet dropping individual diamonds from a necklace out the car window over hundreds of miles of highway, with the hope of her trail of shiny objects being followed—is groan-inducing. The final showdown proves to be a sudden anti-climax, with the infernal powers of the villain strangely absent in the face of Blair’s challenge.

The Druid Stone


The Druid Stone
Simon Majors | Paperback Library | 1967 | 157 Pages

Ugony MacArt and his sister Moira, students of the arcane Black Arts, have set up house in a small New England village to pursue their occult research. They recruit Brian Creoghan, a man Ugony met briefly in Hong Kong some years before, to assist them in their experiments. Brian is a great world adventurer with the following list of (rattled off, and completely unconvincing) accomplishments:

-danced the Gran’ Zombie on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain
-fought leopard men in Nigeria
-listened to the talking head of a dead brujo in Ecuador
-watched a man afflicted with the evil eye bring disaster to an Italian village
-attended a black mass in a French monastery
-leaped around a stone circle in a ritual with a coven of witches in England
-found a bed of black pearls with hoomanamana priests in Hawaii

More importantly, Brian possesses an innate ability for astral projection, which the MacArts wish to exploit through the use of their artifact, the Druid Stone. When used by a person gifted with sympathetic occult powers, this unassuming sandstone boulder triggers the machinery of the universe to change gears, transporting the user to another plane of existence.

The literal machinery of the universe:

The great machine on the rim of the universe hummed in a steady pulsing. The temporary generator fed power back and forth along the unguessable billions of relay units that were its integral parts. There was no suspicion that its capacity was being stretched beyond safe limits. But deep inside its titanic motor, a governor had burned out during the in-load of power and had not yet been detected.

Ugony theorizes that most of the world’s folklore, from the Greeks to the Garden of Eden to Gilgamesh, stems from encounters through this inter-dimensional portal, a gateway he is unable to activate himself. However, Brian needs little convincing to join the experiment (already having danced around a stone circle with a dead brujo in a witches coven of leopard men, or something like that). After placing his hands on the stone, he passes out in a wash of blue light, but his consciousness re-awakens inside the body of Kalgorrn—a warrior in the land of Dis. He meets a witch named Red Fann, who informs him of their current plight in this new world of not-Earth:

“Thasaikor—or his sorcerors—will soon enough discover that the spell of Afgorkon has been broken,” she told him. “He will send his servants to search for us. So we must ride to Wynthane wood for the sword Shadowmaker, that was forged by the dwarf Grom from the sky-metal that fell in Dis long ago.”

The fantasy passages suffer from the acute suspicion that the names, places, and people cited are all, in fact, made up.

The Druid Stone switches back-and-forth between Earth and Dis, as Brian/Kalgorrn struggles to shut the link between the dimensions and ultimately save Earth from an extra-dimensional invasion. Rather than being the wellspring of great human myth, Dis exhibits all the base fantasy tropes of a cheap sword-and-sorcery tale. Meanwhile on Earth, the townspeople blame the death of a child on the spooky goings-on at the MacArts house, and plan for a fiery retribution. All will converge on a fateful All Hallows Eve—because, Halloween.

Eventually, as the machinery of the universe creaks under the strain of the inter-dimensional transport afforded by the Druid Stone (the titular device), the staggering amount of hokum transmitted through the pages of The Druid Stone (the book) overloads the carrying capacity of the reader.