Tag Archives: Pocket Books

The Brownstone

brownstone

The Brownstone
Ken Eulo | Pocket Books | 1980 | 332 pages

“What do you want from me?” she screamed. “What!”

Tepid genre thrills, maybe? Faded gothic horrors, copies—one generation removed–of other supernatural apartment terrors, such as Rosemary’s Baby or The Sentinel?

After being evicted from their building, Chandal and Justin Knight move into a too-good-to-be-true apartment in an old brownstone on the Upper West Side. Owned by elderly sisters, Magdalen and Elizabeth, the brownstone provides one last opportunity for Justin to stay in New York and pursue his theatre career. Just below the sisters, the spacious first floor apartment also provides growing room for the newly expectant Chandal.

Justin’s behavior begins to change soon after their arrival. Showing an unusual fascination for the sickly Magdalen, he exhibits violent mood swings. Displaying a new interest in photography, he converts the basement into a darkroom, and disappears for days at a time. Taking a job at the Natural History Museum, Chandal’s contact with her husband diminishes to viewing the red darkroom light above the locked basement door.

Alone for much of the time in the brownstone, Chandal experiences the sensation of being watched. In addition, she begins to see evidence—and ultimately visions—of a young couple in her new nursery. Fearing that the stress of a deteriorating marriage is impacting her sanity, she nonetheless wonders if her specters are actually living people, somehow connected to the sisters upstairs.

Interspersed with short passages of a patient’s file at a mental institution, The Brownstone delivers few surprises. Diverging from her similarity to Rosemary after she loses her baby, Chandal nonetheless continues to play the familiar role of heroine immersed in a threatening environment. The atmosphere of dread and paranoia are lessened from the early pages, however, since an occult ritual informs the reasons behind all the actions. Even an unexpected, late betrayal by a friend, with the resultant potential of a larger conspiracy, becomes a throwaway moment, since any fateful repercussions fail to arise.

The saga of the accursed brownstone continues with The Bloodstone. Hopefully, that book will not reveal Chandal as a blind nun keeping vigil at the attic window.

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House on the Beach

houseonthebeach

House on the Beach
Eleanor Elford Cameron | Pocket Books | 1972 | 191 pages

Bearing no relation to the moonlit castle scene on the cover, House on the Beach instead may be generously classified as a California Gothic, with its young heroine potentially trapped in a dangerous web of murderous intrigue.

Walking back to her aunt Maggie’s home along the beach, young heiress Ivy McCall witnesses a suspicious scene at a neighbor’s beach house. Outlined by the light coming from the patio door, she sees a figure emerge from the house carrying what appears to be a heavy bundle of blankets. Seeming to scan the beachfront for observers, the man surreptitiously takes his misshapen cargo around the side of the house and disappears. Moments later, Ivy sees a white sports car drive off down the oceanfront highway. However, although she failed to see him clearly, she is convinced that the man turned his head in her direction and spotted her watching from behind a pile of driftwood.

Reflecting back upon the scene she just observed, Ivy considers the terrifying possibility that the blankets concealed a body—making the man she saw a possible murderer! As she continues her walk home along the highway, a white sports car suddenly appears from around a curve and accelerates, nearly hitting her and forcing her to jump from the roadside into a ditch full of brambles. The driver pulls her back up to the road to check on her condition, but unsure whether this is the same man from earlier on the beach, Ivy runs away in a panic.

Discussing the incident with Aunt Maggie, Ivy learns that—coincidentally—the beach house belongs to her college roommate Karen Kendall’s boyfriend David Rogers, and his older brother Curt. Karen, David, and Ivy’s beau from school Bill Gruber are coming to town to celebrate their upcoming graduation, and have plans to get together at the very beach house that Ivy fears may have been the scene of a recent murder. As Ivy struggles with what she has witnessed, and the related notion that someone in her close circle of friends may be involved, other events unfold that make her fear that her own life may be in danger.

Although key failures, such as Ivy not immediately reporting to the police when an attempt is made on her life, scuttle the overall suspension of disbelief, ultimately they are of little matter. The plot exists only to place Ivy in a position of romantic peril, with her attraction to Curt growing along with the evidence against him. The biggest question may not be “Who done it?” but whether or not Ivy leaves her marginally dull, Shakespeare-quoting boyfriend for the dangerously magnetic murder suspect.

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Stranger in the House

stranger

Stranger in the House
Serena Mayfield | Pocket Books | 1972 | 158 pages

Letty Gaynor, a young New York actress, accepts an unusual assignment from her television agent, Chris Sedgwick. He wants Letty to travel with him to his family estate, and play the role of his “fiancé” for the benefit of his dying grandmother, who wants to see her playboy grandson settle down and get married. Chris’s motivations are not entirely altruistic, he also wants to ensure Gran leaves the bulk of her estate to him in her will.

Immediately upon arriving at the Long Island family home, Chris leaves for an urgent business trip to the West coast, abandoning Letty to act her part alone. Although Gran takes an instant liking to the young imposter, the other family members are not as universally welcoming to the “naïve New England Schoolteacher” that Chris introduces as his fiancé. The responses range from the indifferent, the barely aware Aunt Rosemary who has been grieving over the recent death her husband Carleton, to the nervously flighty, the hen-like Aunt Sarah with her protruding teeth, to the overtly hostile, Gran’s domineering nurse Karen Olsen. Seeming to mock them all is Gran’s brother Harry, an impish old man who behaves more like a naughty schoolboy than a possible family patriarch. Letty tries to distance herself from the role she is playing when she finds a carefully printed note in her room, folded up in her hairbrush—“You are not wanted here.

But the childish games end suddenly when a member of the family is discovered dead, murdered with a dose of arsenic in a glass of grape juice. Letty, whose tee-totaling schoolteacher routine prompted the housekeeper to order the juice specifically for her, wonders if she was the intended target, and tries to discover who could have developed enough of a hatred for her during her short stay at the Sedgwick estate to attempt her murder. Everything becomes even more complicated for Letty when Chris returns and disavows all knowledge of their duplicity, leaving her exposed as a potential liar, and possible suspect in the eyes of the police.

Letty’s dangerous turn at method acting slightly elevates A Stranger in the House above the standard inheritance thriller, with its young heroine trapped in the role of a rival for a house of potentially plotting, eccentric relatives. Refreshingly, the single sympathetic character in the list of possible suspects turns out NOT to be the secret villain, and instead of developing into a romantic interest for Letty, Chris reveals himself to be a candidate for The World’s Biggest Heel.

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The Possession of Elizabeth Calder

elizabethcalder

The Possession of Elizabeth Calder
Melissa Napier | Pocket Books | 1973 | 174 pages

After her fiancé runs off with her best friend, fashion photographer Elizabeth Calder travels cross-country to recuperate with her aunt and uncle in the solitude of their remote Randall’s Island home. Uncle Frank is a ranger in the Park Service, stationed in a rambling old mansion with a veranda overlooking the sea. On the ferry ride from the mainland, Elizabeth experiences a strange familiarity with her new surroundings, echoed by surreptitious looks of recognition from the old seaman piloting the ship.

On her first night, Elizabeth hears sobbing coming from somewhere inside her room, and then glimpses a ghostly figure repeating a strange series of movements. A profound feeling of sadness overcomes her, compelling her to the window, out onto the ledge and over—falling, she awakens on the floor of her room. Relating her experience to her aunt and uncle the next morning over breakfast, she discovers that fifty years earlier, a young girl named Elizabeth Conway jumped to her death from the same window to the stone patio below. The disappearance of this earlier Elizabeth’s lover, who jilted her for another woman, fueled town gossip back in the day about possible foul play.

On a walk into the village, Elizabeth is accosted by a group of townspeople led by Emma Acker, a seventy-year old woman who accuses her of being the reincarnation of Elizabeth Conway. With a cry of  “You killed the man I loved,” the old woman quickly incites the crowd to a nervous fury. The mob drags her to the water’s edge, attempting to hold her head under in the surf. Only the appearance of Ron Holden, Uncle Frank’s second-in-command, saves her from drowning. Feeling that the spirit of Elizabeth Conway is indeed working through her, Elizabeth decides to stay on Randall’s Island and uncover the true nature of the events surrounding the fifty-year old suicide.

For all her determination to stay, Elizabeth is a passive protagonist, since she simply channels the spirit of her namesake whenever she needs to decide on a course of action. [If that cackling hag grabs your wrist one more time and harangues you with her talk of “You’re Elizabeth Conway and I’m going to kill you,” SMACK HER DOWN. Do you even need the help of a possessing spirit to beat up an old lady?]

The scenes featuring Elizabeth exploring the cellar and following mysterious persons around the mansion grounds are entertaining enough, but the narrative stalls when it diverts from the focus on ghostly revenge. The covert, but decidedly non-supernatural, activities on the island would be of little interest to the vengeful spirit, even if involving the target of her wrath; the main tension being whether or not Elizabeth’s potential love interest is involved, and he’s such an obvious jerk that the resolution comes as little surprise.

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