Echo in a Dark Wind
Julia Withers | Signet Books | 1966 | 128 Pages
Interior designer Angela Craymore travels to Morgan castle in remote Wales to transform a brooding family estate into a modern tourist destination. Trevor Morgan, freed from the constraints of his recently deceased father’s allowance, has begun spending his family fortune to realize his vision of a fashionable retreat for travelers. However, not all residents of Morgan castle share Trevor’s dream, least of all his reclusive, shell-shocked brother David, living apart in a tower room.
Corpulent manager Wayne Trefin and his flirtatious wife Lenore are among the other residents maneuvering Trevor to advance their own personal agendas—but the castle may have more than just corporeal residents. The spirit of Marcia Morgan, first wife of the late patriarch (who was struck by a falling limb and plunged to her death over the cliff-side parapet), purportedly roams the grounds of the estate.
A series of small mishaps rattle Angela’s nerves, and she begins to wonder whether she has been targeted by a malevolent force. A decorative halberd falls from the wall, narrowly missing her when she opens the door to her room. A saddle burr sparks her horse to panic, throwing her to the ground. While exploring the castle alone, she is stalked by stealthy footsteps, and becomes trapped in a secret dungeon room.
Echo in a Dark Wind establishes a heroine-in-danger motif, teases a few possible romantic interests, but then settles into something of a middling (if not enjoyable) mystery. Once Angela’s mishaps escalate into murder, the plot quickly reaches its rather predictable conclusion. The supernatural realm is never developed, and the most profound horror Angela encounters is probably the clash between the Louis XIV armoire and the Spanish sideboard in the castle’s drawing room.
The Sucking Pit
Guy Smith | New English Library | 1975 | 111 Pages
Jenny Lawson plans a visit to her eccentric uncle, a woodsman living in seclusion on a large country estate. Tom Lawson has a dark connection to the Romany people who live in the woods, and to the Sucking Pit, a black-water sink where legend suggests the devil came to earth in human form. Upon arriving at her uncle’s cottage, she finds him collapsed on the stairs, his dying words to find his “black book”.
Jenny discovers the book filled with magic spells at her uncle’s bedside, and immediately falls under its insidious influence. She performs a rite contained in its pages, drinking shrew’s blood while–of course– nude under the light of the full moon. The ritual unleashes an insatiable carnal desire (to a degree that perhaps the book’s title refers to her character rather than the murky bog in the woods) that devours her old persona, leading her to seek new realms of satisfaction.
Cornelius, the leader of the local gypsies, discovers Jenny’s magical possession and recognizes her as a kindred spirit. Seemingly the only man who can satiate her desires, Cornelius uses her to manipulate the owner of the estate into making a safe haven for his people, and to ultimately raise the diabolical presence that dwells in the woods.
At a short 111 pages, Jenny transforms instantly from thoughtful niece to harbinger of evil. Characters are introduced, and then killed moments later. An arbitrary romance, culminating in pledges of love after just one meeting, forces the plot along to an ultimate showdown at the Sucking Pit.
A woodland fox, inexplicably named Reynard, frames the narrative, perhaps raising some greater cosmological questions. Do all foxes have names? Does a greater “Fox Society” exist that humans are unaware of? Does an omnipresent fox observer WATCH OVER US ALL?
Doctor Orient: A Mind Adventure into the Occult
Frank Lauria | Bantam Books | 1970 | 214 pages
Master of telepathy Doctor Orient responds to a psychic emergency call from Hap Prentice, a promising former student now reduced to performing cheap carnival tricks to survive. During their performance, Hap’s assistant Malta slipped into a deep trance from which she could not recover. Projecting his own consciousness into Malta’s, Orient discovers a powerful negative vortex possessing her mind, suggesting a sinister influence with implications beyond Malta’s life.
Doctor Orient and his team of former telepathic acolytes–a washed-up baseball player, a bearded dentist with unrivaled chess acumen, and a B-movie actor—join forces with an occult-minded priest to release Malta and defeat the infernal powers responsible. A cryptic utterance during a séance leads the group to Susej, leader of the Clear One cult. By exploiting the potential of mass-media—insidious pop music recorded by his disciples at his discotheque, and faith-healing performances on television talk-shows—Susej plans to unleash the power of Ose, demon of insanity, gaining control of unsuspecting minds on a global level.
Outside of a few preliminary strikes into the psychic space of his adversary, Doctor Orient takes a rather passive approach to his task. He meditates, practices breathing techniques, performs yoga and teaches the value of a well-executed move during games of chess. Although Orient defers to a greater karmic code of magic that restricts his use of excessive negative energy, readers may grow impatient with the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and implore him to fight back (telepathically explode some heads, perhaps?) before waiting for the counter-moves to reveal themselves. A hinted relationship between Orient and Malta, in a previous life, is also never fully explored.
Night of the Warlock
Raymond Giles | Paperback Library | 1968 | 160 pages
On his deathbed, warlock Hugo Knox unleashes a final series of incantations intended to revive him after death. The key to his resurrection does not depend upon the conjured creatures of darkness— snakes, spiders with human eyes, or unspeakable things smacking their lips in dark corners—but rather upon his young niece.
As a condition of her uncle’s will, Dana Knox must spend an entire year in his estate—along with the alternate heirs, housekeeper Nicole Duhamel and her son—to inherit his considerable fortune. Bayard Duhamel, also a practitioner of the black arts, has vowed to assist Hugo by awakening the latent power of witchcraft within Dana, using her as a conduit to raise the dead warlock from the beyond. Her boyfriend, Martin Lott, stands as her only defense from the infernal onslaught, but he harbors an occult secret from his own dark past.
Night of the Warlock introduces a creakily familiar young-heiress-must-stay-in-a-haunted-house-to-collect-her-inheritance trope, but quickly races ahead to an occult battle of wills. A few back-and-forth parries between Martin and Bayard establish the romantic triangle with Dana; or perhaps a romantic quadrangle, considering Nicole’s attempts to distract Martin from his true affection. After only a few days into the required yearlong stay, the rivals for Dana’s attention head for a veritable warlock smack down, with diabolic forces gathering at the threshold of the mortal world.
Without categorically accepting the notion that imagined horrors are always greater than fully realized horrors, the most effective passages occur when the elements escape the routine trappings of the genre. Skulls that scream and statues that come to life are expected funhouse scares. Bayard’s introduction, running parallel to a childhood flashback of an unknown conjured something knocking at the door, is probably the closest the book comes to a genuinely creepy moment.
Phantom of the 13th Floor
Marilyn Ross | Popular Library | 1975 | 252 Pages
Young actress Joan Crane stars in a revival of a Broadway play originally written for her grandmother, Molly Miller, whose mysterious falling death from the penthouse at the Brant Hotel has haunted her from childhood. Overcoming her own fears of the place, Joan accepts an invitation to a party at the hotel, but instead finds a shadowy encounter with a mesmerist, who predicts her own violent death from the penthouse balcony.
Joan begins to suffer blackouts, and old stage acquaintances of Molly Miller are being killed, driving Joan’s fear that the ghostly hand of her grandmother is directing her to seek vengeance against those responsible for Molly’s death. Joan calls upon a small circle of friends—her fiancé, her dedicated cab driver and a friendly neighborhood restaurant owner—to help solve the mystery.
Phantom of the 13th Floor establishes an appealing supernatural atmosphere from Joan’s first encounter on a floor that doesn’t exist in the Brant Hotel, and maintains an entertaining rhythm throughout—tea and toast for breakfast, a performance of “Molly and Me” at the theatre, followed by a taxi ride to the next stop in the investigation—as she uncovers the true circumstances of her grandmother’s death.
The Devil’s Mistress (Lucifer Cover Book 1)
Virginia Coffman | Lancer Books | 1970 | 190 pages
“You’ll adore the place, Mrs. Deeth,” the woman had insisted in that strained, thin voice which was very like her papery flesh and her eviscerated, almost desperately lost look.
Christie Deeth, recovering at a San Francisco clinic from the infidelity that cost her husband and family, takes the advice of a spinsterish patient to travel down the coast for a retreat at Lucifer Cove. Sheltered in a coastal valley, Christie discovers that the Cove offers many amenities for her damaged psyche: spa, hot springs—and a hillside temple housing a coven of devil worshippers.
Rather than the infernal call of Nadine Janos and her temple acolytes, the hedonistic charms of the spa and its mysterious owner, Marc Meridon, reveal themselves as the true threat to envelope Christine. Machinations are forming around her, making escape from Lucifer Cove more difficult than simply navigating the twisted roadways out of the fog-shrouded valley.
The Lucifer Cove of The Devil’s Mistress occupies a space in the netherworld of a (probably) never-was California of the early-seventies, at the crossroads of free love, drugs and the occult, but the atmosphere never quite thickens enough to instill a deep sense of fear or paranoia.