Whisper of Darkness


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


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.

Vampirella #2 (On Alien Wings)


Vampirella #2 (On Alien Wings)
Ron Goulart | Warner Books | 1975 | 138 pages

More a series of vignettes than a single coherent story, On Alien Wings pinballs its scantily clad vampire heroine from the Hollywood Hills to a doomed cruise ship to a remote island in the Caribbean where human subjects suffer otherworldly fates. While attempting to smash the far-reaching demonic operations of the Cult of Chaos, Vampirella is relentlessly pursued by blind vampire-hunter Conrad Van Helsing, seeking vengeance for the death of his brother.

Attempting to cheat the Cult of Chaos on a Faustian bargain, aging Hollywood movie producer Nathan Horner kidnaps Vampirella in order acquire her powers of immortality. If he can force her to turn him into a vampire, he will technically never die, infinitely postponing the date when his bargain comes due. Unfortunately for Horner, Vampirella’s unique status as a blood-drinking alien, rather than a traditional vampire of folklore, causes an unexpected result. The laconic demon Nergal steals the spotlight with his curt dismissal of a final fight with Vampirella, “I have no quarrel with you.”

Working as an assistant to small-time magician Pendragon (and transforming into a bat onstage as the culmination of his act), Vampirella books passage to work on a cruise line. But the owner of the cruise ship is beholden to the Cult of Chaos, and along with his crew of zombie minions, intends to sacrifice the entire passenger list to the demon Demogorgon. Unfortunately, this segment races to its climax without fully steeping in the potential trapped-on-a-cruise-ship-with-zombies-from-the-deep atmosphere.

Following the fateful demise of the SS Triton, Vampirella and Pendragon wash ashore on a remote island, only to become victims of Jeanne Pierre Dargaud, a deranged scientist experimenting on human subjects to find a cure for his wife Monique’s strange affliction—again caused by the nefarious workings of the Cult of Chaos. Vampirella becomes the hunted in a most dangerous game, with Monique transformed by her disease into a ravenous beast.

Although Van Helsing’s son Adam finds himself falling under Vampirella’s seductive spell, her character remains mostly a charmless blank-slate in this second novelization of her comic book adventures. Without the visual benefit of the comic’s distinctive attire, Vampirella is again reduced to repetitive descriptions of being “long-legged”, her character shaded only by the occasional lament on her condition—usually relating to her lack of available synthetic blood. The other characters also tend to be defined by a single trait—the elder Van Helsing has psychic visions, Pendragon provides comic relief by revealing the thoughts in his head (in parentheses).

Shallowly entertaining but derivative, On Alien Wings apes a number of familiar tropes across its short page count, with a few thinly developed individual story lines leading to an ultimately forgettable whole.

Chill #4 (Vegas Vampire)


Chill #4 (Vegas Vampire)
Jory Sherman | Pinnacle Books | 1980 | 173 pages

An enjoyable, but completely disposable entry in the “Chill” Chillders supernatural investigation series, with tacky Vegas fashions—ranging from pink polo shirt ensembles to a variety of dazzling pantsuits—stealing interest away from its tale of a vampire manipulated into serving its human benefactor’s interests.

Following his keynote speech at the First Annual Psychic Seminar in Las Vegas (greeted with a round of thunderous applause), psychic investigator Dr. Russell V. “Chill” Chillders is approached by Captain Loomis of the Las Vegas Police Department. Under the advice of pathologist Dr. Bill Patterson, Loomis enlists Chill’s aid in solving the mysterious death of a local showgirl, whose blood-drained body was found in the dry creek bed beyond the Gold Dust Queen Casino where she worked. But it was the puncture wounds on the victim’s throat that led Patterson to believe that the perpetrator was of supernatural origin—a conclusion Chill never doubts.

Chill and his team—Laura Littlefawn, his half-Sioux clairvoyant assistant, and Hal Strong, literature professor and expert in the occult—discover that this death is only the latest in a string of killings targeting the showgirls at the Gold Dust Queen. The casino’s owner Ramsey Bullock, a prancing, pink-clad caricature sporting an effeminate watch and gold slippers, suspects the involvement of his rival Amelia Robinson, owner of the neighboring Silver Foxxe Casino. After a brief meeting with Amelia, Chill quickly deduces her role in the affair, and in no time is exploring the underground tunnels beneath the casinos to uncover the vampire’s lair.

Vegas Vampire holds very little mystery, since Amelia’s role in controlling the vampire is revealed in the early pages of the story. Chill’s team is also severely underutilized in this outing, with Laura Littlefawn in particular reduced to a glorified clothes horse, existing solely to make dramatic entrances wearing her butter-yellow pantsuit and turquoise jewelry, rather than engaging in any feats of psychic detection. Speaking of pantsuits, Amelia sports her own tight-fitting model splashed with silver glitter, enhanced by her complete look consisting of false eyelashes, patent leather shoes, and long cigarette holder. Chill himself is in cool form, sipping his orange juice and munching on sesame sticks in his polo shirt and crisply pressed slacks, while doing very little actual detective work—psychic or otherwise.

Disappointingly, the text hints at, but never develops, the idea that monsters of myth such as vampires exist as projections into reality from our own primordial dream state. Following this conceptual strand could have taken Vegas Vampire to a much more original and satisfying place than its silver-staking and burning-in-the-sun finale.

Fool’s Proof


Fool’s Proof
Alberta Simpson Carter | Popular Library | 1975 | 256 pages

Following a whirlwind courtship, young New York editor Haila Gorham marries David Roche, a charmingly self-assured, blue-eyed man she met at a party on Riverside Drive. David insists upon taking Haila to meet his family at Wildemont, their estate on remote Rock Island, a popular tourist destination in the summer months, but now a deserted group of boarded up houses and deserted storefronts. During the trip, Haila is unable to shake a persistent feeling of dread, and senses an undiscovered cruelty hiding beneath David’s perfectly sunny disposition.

To her barely-concealed horror, Haila discovers that Wildemont Estate is an architectural monstrosity, a jumbled abomination whose malevolence has seeped into the lives of its residents. David’s parents are cold and distant from their children, lost in an alcoholic fog, semi-oblivious to the verbal assaults from their daughter Gillian, who simmers with repressed anger. David’s brother Jack, although polite and well mannered, projects a dark magnetism that Haila finds disturbing, but also strangely attractive. Jack’s wife Lenore is a voluptuous beauty, whose movie-star glamour seems impossibly outsized for such a small resort town and its handful of year-round residents.

Haila is shocked when David coyly reveals that they will be leaving New York to reside with his family at Wildemont. But that shock is eclipsed by a story playing on the local news. Anton Freund, a local resident—and former friend of Gillian—convicted of murder in the bludgeoning deaths of several women, has escaped from custody and is thought to have returned home to Rock Island. The police’s theory is seemingly confirmed when a local girl is found murdered outside the bar where she worked, her head crushed in by a rock.

Fool’s Proof succeeds in generating suspense from its simple formula: trap a young heroine on a remote island estate with a husband she barely knows, mix with a family she fears cannot be trusted, then add an escaped murderer. Given its dark history, the accumulation of past (and present) tragic events at Wildemont advance an interesting theory of the power of architecture to influence and even drive human actions, without resorting to a literal haunting.

Although the identity of the “fool” and the nature of the “proof” in Fool’s Proof are enigmatic, the sudden romantic resolution at the finale suggests a clear life lesson—don’t let a pile of fresh corpses stand in the way of finding true love.

House on the Beach


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.

To Seek Where Shadows Are


To Seek Where Shadows Are
Miriam Benedict | Avon Books | 1973 | 158 pages

Laurie, I know you’ll think me a damn fool. But the minute I walked into this place, I felt a—what can I call it?—an enveloping horror.”

Laurie moves into a newly rented apartment in an old Gothic apartment building on Riverside Drive. Watched over by stone gargoyles from the parapet, the building is a lone throwback to an earlier age, now entirely surrounded by new high rises. Her bohemian painter friend Alex, who has a studio in the building, recommended the apartment to Laurie and her fiancé Steve, who plans on joining her from his student housing at Columbia. However, immediately after crossing the threshold, Steve is overcome with an overpowering dread that causes him not only to back out of moving in with Laurie, but prompts him to break off their engagement entirely.

Having surrendered her old apartment, Laurie has little choice but move in to her new digs. Although previously unoccupied for many years, she discovers old paints and a portrait of a woman in the old cupboards off the living room. Intending to donate the paints to Alex, Laurie is puzzled to learn that the tubes are dry and brittle to him, but for her the pigments flow fresh and smoothly in her hands. Unable to sleep in her new space, she is troubled by eerie visions of a painter and his model, while another figure beckons to her from beside her own sleeping form.

More of a moody character piece that an outright Gothic horror, the specter of the past looms darkly for Laurie, as she lives out the tragic lives of past occupants through her ever increasing visions. The house on Riverside Drive seemingly traps its current residents in a dance of prescribed events, releasing its pent-up psychic energies in a form of karmic purging. Laurie never reaches much beyond a passive state, watching and waiting for her creepy carnival ride to end.

The Reimann Curse


The Reimann Curse
Jean DeWeese | Ballantine Books | 1975 | 182 pages

A young schoolteacher is menaced by an ancient evil, her obsession with the ruins of an old estate fueling her nightmares, and ultimately unlocking a haunted past.

Following the tragic deaths of her husband and young daughter, Helen Warden accepts a teaching position in a small New England town. Driving cross-country for two days from Wisconsin, Helen takes a wrong turn off the highway a few miles from her destination. She comes across a ruined old estate, a three-story gothic hulk partially destroyed by fire, that she finds strangely compelling—as if someone or something inside is insistently whispering her name.

Turning around and heading back toward the highway, Helen stops at an inn that appears to be a smaller version of the looming mansion she just encountered. Run by Martha and George Groves, Helen learns that the Groves Lodge occupies the former guesthouse of the Reimann estate, its mansion destroyed by fire seventy years previously. Developing a strange fascination with old estate, Helen is troubled by nightmares. Her dreams are filled with the ominous black shape of the Reimann mansion, of distorted faces circling menacingly around her, and of a strange metallic object shifting in her hands. Upon waking, Helen is aware that she was screaming words in some unfamiliar language.

Initially intending only to stay the night, Helen seems unable to leave Groves Lodge, whose only other semi-permanent guests are the elderly Amanda Lund and her son Mark. Helen is fascinated to learn that Amanda was a resident of the Reimann Estate as a small child, leaving upon the death of her parents after the fire seventy years ago. Amanda has returned in an attempt to recover her memory of these early childhood years, lost since the tragedy but haunting her with the promise of some unknown revelation. As Helen’s nightmares continue, she finds her behavior changing, becoming more violent and obsessive about the estate and its dark history.

The evil influence at the core of The Reimann Curse reveals itself to be less traditional curse than the action of an ill-explained Great-Slippery-Silver-Whatsit. Helen’s selection as a victim for this non-titular object’s malevolent touch seems arbitrary [seventy-six year old Amanda would have been the logical one], and her nightmares steadily become little more than passive visions pointing the way to an expected conclusion. However, the brooding atmosphere of the ruined house lurking just beyond the bare tree line, and its insidious pull on Helen’s imagination, deliver enough genre thrills to satisfy.

House of Hate


House of Hate
Dorothy Fletcher | Lancer Books | 1967 | 223 pages

A young nurse is pulled into a family drama that may conceal an undercurrent of deadly malice, in a story that takes far too long in establishing the danger lurking in her midst.

Twenty-six year old year nurse Norma Theale accepts a position as live-in companion to Madame Victoire Thibault, a cultured but aristocratic matriarch living in her family’s Gilded Age mansion on Central Park. Heavily made-up and perfumed, the elderly patient’s needs are primarily social rather than medical (the biggest requirement seems to be sessions of reading aloud), helping her to compensate for the family rift between her and her son. Norma finds herself drawn to the eccentric and withdrawn Nicolas Thibault, a musical genius at the violin, but derided by his mother for not having an acceptable profession.

Henri Longeray, married to Victoire’s coldly distant daughter Michelle, occupies the position of de-facto head of the family, since he manages the Thibault’s successful art gallery operation, originally started in Paris a generation ago. Simone, Victoire’s orphaned grandniece, also lives in the estate, and due to the proximity in age with her mother’s new nurse, becomes Norma’s close friend and confidante. As Norma’s feelings for Nicolas deepen, she is shocked at his uncharacteristically violent reaction when an art theft at the gallery turns the family’s suspicions towards him.

Learning that Madame Thibault holds a tight grasp on the finances of all the family members, leaving them completely dependent upon her goodwill, Norma begins to fear that someone in the mansion may not be completely invested in Victoire’s continued good health. Entering Madame’s room late one evening, Norma startles an intruder looming over Victoire’s bed, scaring him off before she is able to get a close look at his face—but she fears she recognizes Nicolas’ lanky profile. Later, after coming across a trunk full of old family photos, Norma finds pictures of Victoire scribbled over with Nicolas’ childhood scrawl, “Je te détèste, ma mère.” She is forced to consider how deep the hatred runs in the man she now professes to love.

Far more weighted toward romance than gothic mystery, House of Hate shades Nicolas with growing layers of suspicion until Norma finally interrupts an attempted murder, revealing the true secrets at Thibault mansion. Occasional incidents—an overheard financial argument or a sudden turn in Madame Thibault’s condition–fail to fully paint a picture of malicious intention operating under the surface of family relations. The epilogue does deliver an unexpected retribution—or more correctly, lack of retribution—for the criminal, and an acrophobic character’s fate is served up as a strange, postscript punch line.

The Bamboo Demons (Chill #3)


The Bamboo Demons (Chill #3)
Jory Sherman | Pinnacle Books | 1979 | 182 pages

Occult investigator Dr. Russell “Chill” Childers returns in a new adventure that takes him and his assistant, half-Sioux psychic Laura Littlefawn, to the Philippines to battle an aswang—a mythological shape-shifting demon from Filipino folklore.

Felix Bulatao, a Manila scholar well-versed in local mythology, witnesses his young friend Paco’s girlfriend Caridad being violated and torn to pieces by a creature they believe to be an aswang. This fiendish beast shares similar traits with the werewolf and vampire in Western culture, feeding on human blood (and entrails) and having the ability to change form, often to that of a large dog. Felix reaches out to Chill, author of Modern Occultism and renowned investigator of the supernatural, for help in tracking down and destroying the monster. Chill and Laura Littlefawn fly to the Philippines to meet Felix and travel to Caridad’s village, looking for clues to put them on the aswang’s trail.

During a psychic session, Laura sees a vision of a man wearing military clothes, and produces a cryptic clue in the form of a single word, “Yesterday”. While driving around the countryside, the investigative team of Chill, Laura, Felix and Paco encounter sporadic fighting amongst armed rebel groups. However, violence of a more supernatural kind descends upon the home of Paco’s parents, as the aswang attacks during the night, brutally killing—and partially eating—Paco’s father. Even while examining scenes of gory carnage, Chill takes timeout to munch on his trademark sesame sticks. [Other series checkboxes ticked off: Chill is a vegetarian who likes to make salads, Check! Chill shows great interest in vintage firearms, Check! Chill and Laura have unexpressed feelings for each other, Check!]

Since the identity of the primary aswang villain is revealed almost immediately, the story slogs along as Chill tries to catch up to the reader’s knowledge. Perhaps as a nod to the Marcos-era Philippine setting and the aswang’s role as a guerrilla leader, the play of various insurgent and governmental groups becomes important, but these passages bore when compared with less frequent encounters directly between our team members and their supernatural opponents—such as when a hypnotically beautiful female aswang visits a vulnerable Laura (during a psychic vision in the bathtub). From the initial click of the radio turning off in the next room, to Laura following her unexpected visitor outside, to her finally fainting at the site of the aswang’s physical transformation (and in the process losing her hastily-wrapped bath towel), this sequence delivers in way disappointingly absent in the rest of the story.

Occasionally, The Bamboo Demons does inspire a certain kind of monster-fighting giddiness, as the group prepares to go aswang hunting with Chill’s modified Spanish dueling pistols—loaded with his homemade bamboo-tipped ammunition. Then it’s time to pass the sesame sticks and wait for the next installment.