Irina Karlova | Paperback Library | 1968 | 221 pages
Young Jillian Dare accepts a position as a companion to the aging Countess Ana Czerner in her hulking Grange manor estate, only to discover herself trapped in a mysterious, secluded world of burgeoning horror. Obvious clues will dampen the mystery, however, as early descriptions of Eastern European heritage, blood-red lips, sharp teeth, and an aversion to garlic all but scream “VAMPIRE!” to Jillian, who seems stubbornly resistant to hearing it.
Chapters periodically alternate between those from Jillian’s perspective and journal entries from Larry Clyde, a young village doctor who becomes enamoured with Jillian and fixated on her continued well-being at Grange manor. “Miss Muffett”, Clyde’s arguably belittling and infuriatingly repeated pet name for Jillian, actually proves well chosen, since Jillian behaves as a total naif throughout the course of many sinister developments. Although she senses a general presence of enveloping danger, she remains nearly oblivious to the threat from the “spider who sat down beside her”.
Dreadful Hollow mostly succeeds in delivering a rich mood of decay and despair, heightened by a grotesque cast of supporting characters. Grange manor is initially populated by a withered household servant and a mentally defective gardener, but they are soon joined by a sinister Romanian doctor along with the voluptuous Vera Czerner, Ana’s young and magnetic niece. Her lips, like those of her aunt, are luxuriously red and reveal the occasional glimpse of stunning white teeth, posing two questions:
Why are they never in the same room together?
How does Jillian not know the answer?
Dr. Clyde makes a nominal effort to uncover whether or not Jillian is simply crazy, traveling to London to question her family in regard to her mental history. His attention is momentarily piqued by Jillian’s younger sister—who appears to have mental issues—until she is revealed to only having been dropped on her head as a child!
When a village boy goes missing and the evidence ultimately points to the occupants of Grange manor, the combined pressure of the village constable and Dr. Clyde finally elevates the long-simmering suspicions about the countess(es) to a boiling point. Interestingly, the resolution to the child’s whereabouts and to Countess Czerner’s strange condition all unfold at a distance, with little explicit first-hand detail. Instead, a general hot-house environment of evil intentions permeates Grange manor, providing enough anticipation to overcome any inherent final lack of surprise.