Tag Archives: Series

Chalet Diabolique | Lucifer Cove #5

Chalet Diabolique | Lucifer Cove #5
Virginia Coffman | Lancer Books | 1971 | 206 pages

The fifth book in the series reduces Lucifer Cove to a white-noise occult backdrop, a lost episode of an alternate television history Fantasy Island (featuring Mr. Roarke as the devil), with the arriving guests ultimately discovering the infernal mechanics under the surface.

Kay Aronson is the guest in this outing, arriving in Lucifer Cove following the mysterious death of her husband. Leo Aronson had set out alone to the secretive spa town on the coast of California south of San Francisco, only to be killed in a plane crash. Convinced that the fatal crash was not an accident, Kay investigates Leo’s connection to Lucifer Cove, determined to uncover the real reason behind his death.

Accompanied by her husband’s personal assistant, Arthur Dugald, Kay encounters characters from earlier entries in the series—High Priestess of the Devil’s Temple, Nadine Janos; beleaguered beauty, Caro Teague; the darkly magnetic spa owner, Marc Meridon; and his mistress, the empathetic Christine Deeth—mostly in incidental appearances. Unsure of whom to trust, Kay is surprised to discover her own romantic feelings developing toward both Arthur and Marc, forming the competing sides in an unlikely love triangle. She becomes more and more convinced that all is not as it seems behind the quiet Tudor facades of Lucifer Cove.

Since series readers are already aware of Marc Meridon’s diabolical nature, and his relationship to the seemingly omnipresent cat, Kinkajou, little opportunity exists to create much suspense, although there are some creepy shenanigans in the tunnels below Kay’s chalet house. After its initial underground discovery, the body of a former guest at the resort makes a second shocking appearance.

A brief, near fatal encounter with the power of hypnosis illustrates the ease at disposing with Kay and her investigation, and her general insignificance in the greater picture of Lucifer’s Cove makes the reluctance towards her disposal something of a question.

Also, a potentially eternal cosmic struggle boils down to a literal dog-and-cat fight.

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The Flood | Blackwater #1

The Flood | Blackwater #1
Michael McDowell | Avon Books | 1983 | 189 pages

The wet and mud-caked opening book in a serial Southern Gothic, the waters of The Flood recede and leave a singular presence, Elinor Dammert.

Surveying the flooded town of Perdido, Alabama, from the vantage point of a rowboat, mill owner Oscar Caskey discovers Elinor through the second-story window (now at water level) of the town’s deserted hotel, calmly sitting on the bed as if waiting for his arrival. Much to the consternation of family matriarch, Mary-Love Caskey, Elinor quickly takes a room with Oscar’s uncle, establishing herself his caretaker and de-facto guardian of his small child.

With a coldly calculating detachment, Elinor uses all resources to further her advantage, and soon becomes engaged to Oscar. A manipulator of people rivaling Mary-Love herself, Elinor engages in a battle of wills to gain entry into the family. The physical manifestation of that contest is the marriage house that Mary-Love promises, but stalls in its construction. Even the assumed bond between mother and child is challenged in the struggle to achieve the upper hand.

Meanwhile, a young boy glimpses Elinor in an unguarded moment, soaking in a pond of river water, and for a moment sees something not-entirely human. She exhibits a natural affinity for water, and displays fearlessness around hazards such as the naturally occurring whirlpool where two branches of the river meet. A shocking act of violence suggests that Elinor is capable of manipulation on a level beyond simple social influence, and other tragedies swirl about the plagued community.

From the dirty high-water mark in the hotel to the sandy lifeless soil (except for the strangely flourishing trees that Elinor plants) left behind by the receding waters, book one of the Blackwater saga is a triumph of place and mood.

Something is clearly wrong, or otherworldly, with Elinor, but as she insinuates herself into the Caskey family, the ultimate question emerges, “What does she want?

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Horrorscope #3 | The Curse of Leo

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Horrorscope #3 | The Curse of Leo
Robert Lory | Pinnacle Books | 1974 | 176 pages

“If you can have a werewolf, why not a werelion?”

Calder Heath, heir to a large mining company, returns to South Africa from years of living abroad in England following the suicide of his father. However, all is not well at the mines. Two violent mauling deaths among the black laborers have renewed gossip about a curse on the Heath family, and Calder awakens following the full moon covered in blood, with no memory of his recent actions.

Granley, a long-time clerk at Heath Mines, recounts the story of the curse to Calder. After an illicit affair with his housekeeper, the elder Heath abandoned the young girl from the black township when he discovered she was about to give birth to his illegitimate child. When the child died from a tragic, but preventable, illness, the grieving mother channeled her anger at Heath through a curse, twisting his naturally leonine features against him. The light of the full moon would transform him–and all his male descendants–into a bloodthirsty man-lion!

If you can have a werelion, why not a wereaardvark or even a weresloth?

Calder desperately tries to shield his delicate wife, Eunice, from his bloody escapades at night, while deflecting suspicion from his gruff American mine manager, Sam York, and the slovenly, but deceptively astute detective assigned to investigate the deaths. Struggling against the growing realization that he is responsible for the grisly killings plaguing the mines, Calder calls upon the old witch in the township for aid.

A straightforward revenge curse and monster-run-amok tale, with the resulting character anguish, for most of its page count, The Curse of Leo eventually throws a twist worthy of the Scooby Doo playbook—before turning back again at the conclusion. Although multigenerational curses always seem inherently misguided (afflicting innocent descendants), Calder does prove himself to be violent and despicable enough to (arguably) warrant his curse. The very real horrors of the South African mining industry, with its history of forced labor and oppression, remain completely unaddressed, providing only convenient decoration for the werelion to roam.

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Shadows | Chill #7

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Shadows | Chill #7
Jory Sherman | Pinnacle Books | 1980 | 181 pages

Against the advice of his physician, wealthy industrialist and toymaker, Adolph Zehring-Rand, moves to Mexico to receive an experimental treatment for his recently diagnosed terminal illness. Shortly after his arrival at the hacienda near the Mexican clinic, Zehring-Rand begins experiencing visions of shadows, amorphous shapes that seem to move and attempt to communicate with him. Convinced that these encounters are occult in nature, and not the hallucinatory side effects of his new medical regime, Zehring-Rand reaches out for assistance to famed psychic investigator, Russell V. “Chill” Chillders.

Although little doubt exists of the supernatural nature of the situation, several characters establish motivation for undermining, or even eliminating, Zehring-Rand. Dr. Spinoza, chief researcher at the Clinica Medica de Ensenada, is clearly a quack, with a sham facility in place to provide the illusion of research. Hattie McBain, Zehring-Rand’s personal assistant, has a personal history of chasing wealthy and powerful men. Several rival executives at Z-R Industries have open contempt for the way Zehring-Rand runs the company, and are impatient for his ouster. Meanwhile, young girls around Ensenada have been disappearing, including the daughter of the former owner of Zehring-Rand’s hacienda.

At book seven in the series, all the reductive traits for the Chill and his associates are obligatorily noted, with little variation or growth from book one: Chill is a vegetarian, but also a vintage gun enthusiast who will eat the game he kills (check); he munches on sesame sticks to concentrate (check); he has a platonic relationship with his psychic assistant, Laura Littlefawn, but both acknowledge a latent, deeper attraction (check); Laura, a native Sioux, displays a fondness for silver and turquoise jewelry (check); and Hal Strong, a New England professor and Chill’s occasional sidekick, is driven by the need to communicate with his dead son on some other plane of existence (check).

The industrial espionage subplot provides an opportunity for a private eye to discover, first hand, how capable ghosts are of murder. Another character ultimately changes allegiances, although even this twist—seemingly driven by a newly found heart of gold–is telegraphed earlier.

The dark shapes plaguing Zehring-Rand eventually congeal into the ghostly form of a little girl, and he rushes to manufacture a new toy, an articulated doll constructed to the specifications given to him by the spirit. Tapping into the inherent horror of dolls and laughing children, Shadows delivers a few suspenseful moments, some pseudo-science bunk, and a touch of psychic mumbo-jumbo, all the while deviating very little from the expected course.

But what psychic detective worth his weight in sesame sticks thinks giving a non-corporeal entity, with unknown and possibly murderous intentions, a fully functional doll’s body to inhabit is a good idea?

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Horrorscope #2 | The Revenge of Taurus

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Horrorscope #2 | The Revenge of Taurus
Robert Lory | Pinnacle Books | 1974 | 178 pages

In a short prologue echoing that of the first book, a mysterious figure in a long grey robe and hood makes an invocation, activating one section in a radial symbol on the floor of a strange, cave-like chamber. Mad laughter accompanies his call to Taurus for a deadly story, designed for our—the reader’s—amusement. What follows is less an astronomical Danse Macabre, than a retelling of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

Leander Maxwell, a has-been movie producer whose old-fashioned subjects have long fallen out of favor with modern audiences, summons a group of old associates to his remote house in Crete, ostensibly for one last film project. Ed Banner, an American screenwriter specializing in European genre films, and his fledging actress love interest, Michelle “Mike” Conant, arrive at Maxwell’s isolated estate only to find that the other guests have little information regarding the new film, other than the prospective title,The Labyrinth. While waiting for the appearance of their host, horror strikes, and all gathered come to realize the true nature of their congregation.

Will Weisenbacker, cameraman on several Maxwell productions, dissolves into a fleshy soup after he dives into the estate’s swimming pool—which has been filled with acid. A recorded message from Maxwell announces, “Welcome to my labyrinth!” Further communications from their absent host spell out his plan to revenge the perceived wrongs he has suffered at the hands of his guests, by killing them all one by one. The aging actress, Leah Arnold, even makes an offhand allusion to the “ten little Indians” of Christie’s tale by dismissing Michelle as “little Mike.”

The ever-dwindling guests are directed through increasingly elaborate and believability-shattering traps in Maxwell’s labyrinth of revenge. Some personality flaws and weaknesses, such as gluttony and fear of dogs, are exploited, as characters are torn apart by vicious dobermans, drowned in a vat of valuable wine, and impaled upon a wall of spears in a slowly contracting room.

To ultimately answer the question, “What does all this have to do with the robed figure from the prologue?”, the anticipated figure of myth makes an appearance—thanks to the location of Maxwell’s estate on the site of the original ancient labyrinth of Minos—if for no other reason than to allow the story to circle back to the zodiac theme.

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Horrorscope #1 | The Green Flames of Aries

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Horrorscope #1 | The Green Flames of Aries
Robert Lory | Pinnacle Books | 1974 | 158 pages

Gilligan’s Island meets the Twilight Zone in the first installment of the Horoscope series, when an ill-fated cruise ship from Hawaii encounters a mysterious castaway, whose presence traps the passengers in a mystery that they can neither escape nor understand.

Beach bum and petty grifter Mark Larimer accepts an invitation for a cruise aboard the Silver Lining, a party boat overseen by Dora Davage, a former sculptress and aging socialite well known for her Bacchanalias. Dora has personally assembled a diverse group of thrill seekers, including Harlan Hickey, a rock star complete with two fawning young groupies; Professor Randall Warren, expert in multiple areas of arcane knowledge; Narda Charles, raven-haired beauty whose husband was previously lost at sea, and who seems to have a covert connection to the boat’s captain; Avery Sorg, porcine banker and former enemy of Larimer’s from a previous encounter in Philadelphia; Lelsi “with an i ” Cross, midwestern schoolteacher determined to see the world; and Mr. Cantos, a mystery man in a formal attire seemingly ill-suited to the tropics.

The party comes to a premature end when Lesli spots a man floating on a makeshift raft. Pulling him aboard the Silver Lining, the passengers are horrified to discover that the survivor is near death and eyeless, muttering incoherently about pirate treasure. Clutched in his fist, however, are a pair of mysterious gold doubloons, minted in an unknown ancient language and depicting the image of a grinning goat. While arguments rage over returning to port or pursuing a course to find the treasure, explosions rock the boat, crippling the engines and leaving it adrift. Left to ponder their circumstances, all aboard are further panicked by an inexplicable fog, advancing from three directions and casting their crippled ship in an impenetrable cloud cover.

Similar in form to familiar Twilight Zone scripts, the trapped characters in The Green Flames of Aries reveal their true motivations and clash with each other while attempting to understand the nature of their seemingly supernatural predicament. The initial mood here is everything, rich with the uncanny and the stricken, sightless castaway. This atmosphere mostly sustains itself, before eventually dissipating to score some rather easy points on the nature of human greed, and twisting around to a circular, predestined conclusion.

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The Mind Masters #2 | Shamballah

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The Mind Masters #2 | Shamballah
John F. Rossman | Signet Books | 1975 | 220 pages

“Braaaaaaam! Braaaaaaam! Braaaaaaam!”

Britt St. Vincent, a former Vietnam veteran whose traumatic wartime experience awakened his latent psychic powers, returns to service for another supernatural escapade in Shamballah. Working undercover for the Mero Institute, a top-secret organization dedicated to researching and exposing supernatural occurrences, St. Vincent travels the globe as a grand prix race driver, while covertly investigating paranormal phenomenon.

“Braap!…Ap!…Ap!…Ap!”

Benefitting from a fortuitous overlap of international racecourses and haunted sites, St. Vincent travels to the Rabenblut Castle in the Black Forest of Germany. His mission: to determine if the ghost of General Heinrich Weissmann, a leading scientist in Hitler’s occult services during World War II, is responsible for numerous inexplicable events surrounding the cursed ruin.

The racing cover also offers many opportunities for the injection of onomatopoeic exclamations into the text.

“Crack! Clumph! Crack!”

Upon arrival in Germany, St. Vincent immediately plunges into danger, when he discovers an exploded body in the lobby at the Black Cross Inn. Shortly afterward, he is seduced in his hotel room–with passages featuring overripe descriptions of the female anatomy–by Gretchen, a voluptuous racing groupie who knocks at his door. Eventually, she introduces him to an orgy and Black Mass at the castle, presided over by Dr. Neumann, the medical examiner working with the police on the murder case. St. Vincent employs some high tech gadgetry after the ghostly spectre of Weissman appears in the castle tower, including a machine that displays the residue of human auras, and a fax hidden in his briefcase (that takes several minutes to print a page of copy).

“…rrrrowwWWWwwwwwrrrrowwwWWWwwwwwrr…”

The initial rush of pure exploitation comes to a grinding halt at about the half-way mark, when in typical Bond fashion, the villain explains all to St. Vincent, the doomed hero. However, the exposition unfolds over the course of an agonizingly boring fifty-plus pages. All the long-winded explanations could have been easily summed up in a single statement, suggesting a much more interesting story than the one actually realized:

***MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT***

I am a mummified, eternal ex-Nazi–sustained by alien pyramid power–in command of an army of psychically controlled women who are powered by the invisible cosmic rays of the universe, channeled through implanted crystals that exert their deadly power upon the sexual release of their host.”

***END OF MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT***

As St. Vincent drolly remarks, “It’s hard to believe, but it’s completely possible.”

“Kawhump!”

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The Priestess

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The Priestess

Frank Lauria | Bantam Books | 1978 | 246 pages

Orient was sitting by the window, chin cupped in his hands, trying to synchronize his consciousness with the dim pulses of energy emanating from a plastic bottle cap.”

After an attempt on his life by a secret agency operating covertly within the CIA, Dr. Owen Orient sets aside his telekinetic research—and daily program of yoga and self-hypnosis—to flee from New York City to Miami. Taking a delivery position at a local mom-and-pop pharmacy under the name of David Clay, Orient settles into a mundane routine far removed from his previous life. However, when his new employer, Sam Fein, falls victim to a murderous voodoo cult, Orient becomes determined to finally stop running and stand up against evil.

Following a trail of clues back through a small-time beauty salon, Orient eventually identifies the criminal ringleader as Mojo Pay, a former NFL star and charismatic brujo, sorcerer priest of an organized crime syndicate practicing voodoo. Leveraging his own telepathic skills to win in Mojo’s casino, he captures Mojo’s attention and infiltrates his organization. Searching for any sign of weakness that could be exploited to topple the criminal empire, Orient finds his resolve weakening under the seductive charms of Mojo’s wife, and bruja, Cara O’Riley.

Orient always seems to fall for women in peril, making it his personal mission to save them, while brushing aside the ramifications of a shadowy network of psychic adepts—one of whom he encounters working as a restroom attendant in a Miami Beach hotel—controlling world events. Ultimately, The Priestess is an enjoyable mishmash of pseudoscience and mystic babble, propelling its protagonist through a landscape peppered with voodoo mumbo jumbo, lascivious zombies, sparkly piles of cocaine, and a sexual stamina battle-of-the-wills contest with a voodoo-practicing drug lord.

And for a true, era-appropriate exploitation coda, why not wrap up the overarching story with a Bermuda Triangle flavored deus ex machina?

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House of Scorpions (Chill #6)

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House of Scorpions (Chill #6)
Jory Sherman | Pinnacle Books | 1980 | 176 pages

Things get personal for supernatural investigator Russell V. “Chill” Childers in this sixth outing of the occult series, when his psychic sidekick, Laura Littlefawn, comes under attack by a Navajo scorpion cult.

The cult actually consists of only Dan Crooked Creek, a disgruntled tribal outcast, and Rowena Carter, an impressionable young runaway who has fallen under his spell. Dan’s drive to destroy Laura springs from an exceptionally mundane source–not from some personal grievance or perceived injustice, but from her success selling Native American artisan crafts. Experiencing a series of threatening visions involving scorpions, Laura turns to Chill for help in battling her psychic attackers (or more correctly, she places a psychic phone call to his housekeeper).

House of Scorpions offers very little mystery for Chill to investigate, since alternating chapters completely reveal Dan’s obsession with the scorpion’s symbolism, his related messianic complex, and his plans against Laura. His own telepathic abilities are rather nebulously explained, since his main method of attack involves enticing his collected group of scorpions to attack. Rather than simply confronting Laura, Dan somehow telepathically projects his location–in a cave outside Rowena’s family house–to Laura in a dream, luring her and Chill into a rather dubiously conceived trap [Modest Spoiler Alert: he hits Chill over the head with a rock].

Passages involving scorpion handling, mating rituals of a captive breeding pair, attempted cult indoctrination involving stinging, and eventually an attack on Chill’s hippie handyman, evoke a kind of nature-run-amok horror, as the series trademark telepathic content takes a backseat to more naturalistic shocks. Epic struggles on the astral plane are conspicuously absent in this entry, replaced by more intimate corporeal encounters involving scorpions crawling out from under beds and down nightshirts. Rowena takes the mating dance of the scorpions to a logical conclusion in a grotesque scene late in the story, one of its few horrific highlights.

Readers with arachnophobia, rather than insectophobia (“Scorpions are not insects,” as Chill reminds us), will possibly discover something here to trigger a modest case of the creepy-crawlies.

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Masque of Satan

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Masque of Satan (Lucifer Cove Book Four)
Virginia Coffman | Lancer Books | 1971 | 192 pages

The one-sentence tag line for this fourth outing in the occult series perfectly boils down the story to such a degree that reading its entire page count seems entirely optional.

The story of MISS JEAN BENEDICT, who came to the Cove to save a soul—until the lure of its evil threatened her own…”

Young missionary Jean Benedict arrives at Lucifer Cover, the hedonistic spa and resort on the isolated California coast, at the request of Edna Shallert, a former member of Jean’s Disciples Revival. Jean’s determination to uncover the “inconceivable menace” mentioned in Edna’s letter for help is fortified when she discovers that Edna now belongs to the Devil’s Coven, a satanic temple high on the hillside above the resort. But before she has the opportunity to meet Edna, or confront Nadine Janos, the High Priestess of the coven, Jean discovers the body of Edna’s paramour hanging in her hotel room.

Comforted by Marc Meridon, the darkly attractive and mysterious spa owner, Jean finds herself more and more drawn to the many luxuries offered to the residents of Lucifer Cove. Justifying her extended stay at the spa as just another mission to convert lost souls, she begins to image herself as a possible romantic rival to Christine Deeth, Marc’s current love interest. Unusual noises outside her window at night, along with the scent of freshly turned earth, hint to Jean that greater mysteries are unfolding in Lucifer Cove.

Book Four of the Lucifer Cove series offers a rather straightforward tale of a naïve young girl coming to covert those tempted by the seductive offers of evil, but instead becoming the object of conversion herself. Previous readers of the series will already know what activities are taking place behind the false fronts of the Tudor-style houses lining the main street of Lucifer Cove, so any true sense of mystery is leeched from the proceedings. Returning characters, such as Nadine Janos and her Irish handyman, O’Flannery, aren’t given much of a role, and perceived villain Dr. Rossiter remains something of an enigma.

Interestingly, Jean’s ultimate battle against evil hinges not on her own unwavering goodness, or a careful plan of attack against any inherent weakness in her devilish adversary, but instead on a technicality in a seemingly binding legal document—begging the question, doesn’t Satan surely have better attorneys at his disposal?

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