Dreadful Hollow

Dreadful Hollow
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.

Shadow of Evil

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.

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.

Wax

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Wax
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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Lenore

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Lenore
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.