From Satan with Love

From Satan with Love
Virginia Coffman | Pinnacle Books | 1971 | 212 pages

The sixth book in the Lucifer Cover occult gothic series settles comfortably into a rote pattern established by the previous few outings: an attractive young newcomer arrives in the diabolical coastal-California spa town, falls under the sinister seductive charms of its enigmatic owner, battles to resist the the temptations of an easy hedonism, and finally struggles to escape with her very soul intact.

The newcomer in this volume is Maeva Wells, along with her young niece, Jenniver. The pair spend an enjoyable afternoon of family bonding hiking in the coastal foothills above Big Sur, until Jenniver falls down a cliff side and breaks her ankle. They end up in Lucifer Cove, a previously unknown spa town marked by sulfurous plumes and an inexplicably confusing tangle of local roads. While Jenniver recovers from her injuries in the town’s clinic, Maeva is welcomed into a luxurious suite in the resort, recently vacated by the tragic death of its former occupant.

An intended one-night stay turns into several, as Jenniver seems determined to isolate herself from Maeva and stay under the care of the clinic, watched over by the coolly detached Dr. Rossiter. Exposed to the decadent lifestyle offered by the spa, Maeva begins to indulge in her fantasies of attraction to its mysterious owner, Marc Meridon. Ultimately Maeva succumbs to the temptations, attending a Black Mass at Lucifer Cove’s temple and signing her name to an infernal pact, wishing “Let me be loved by Marc.”

Of course, all is not what it appears—or, to readers of the series, exactly what it appears. Familiar characters and locations feature in mostly empty call-backs from previous books. Nadine Janos, high-priestess of the temple (and the main focus of an earlier title), here simply wanders around the margins, stripped of any complexities or conflicts surrounding her role in Lucifer Cove. Although initially not much more than a brogue-speaking stereotype, Sean O’Flannery, her Irish boyfriend, occupies even less of a role now, serving as little more than a perfunctory helper for Maeva’s escape attempt. Even Kinkajou the cat, Marc’s shapeshifting alternate form, is reduced to watching Maeva through the window from her garden terrace. All of Lucifer Cove adds up to little more than a reflection of the main street’s false-Tudor store fronts.

If nothing else, Lucifer Cove stands as an artifact to a specific, bygone era of post-Summer of Love California history, when hippies, cults and communes crossed over into the popular culture, and celebrities dropped in to partake in the entertainment spectacle of an occult ritual. Or perhaps this historical recollection is an entirely false history, only appearing in the cultural imagination of the times—but still one never to be repeated.

A leisurely enjoyable–albeit incredibly slight–placeholder for the Lucifer Cove series (although a seventh book was never written), From Satan with Love fails to advance the ongoing battle between Marc Meridon and Dr. Rossiter, offering another throw-away outsider’s tale of her devilish encounter with the secretive, sulfur-shrouded California town.

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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.

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?

The Devil’s Virgin

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The Devil’s Virgin (Lucifer Cove Book 3)
Virginia Coffman | Pinnacle Books | 1978 | 214 pages

On holiday break, eighteen-year-old student Diane Deeth travels to Lucifer Cove, the mysterious spa dedicated to the pursuit of hedonism on the secluded coast south of San Francisco, to check on the health and well being of her mother. Christine Deeth, leaving a broken marriage and her two children behind, previously checked in to the resort to calm her troubled nerves, but has since been unwilling, or seemingly unable, to leave.

Diane meets Bill Janocek, another outsider entering Lucifer Cove with his own agenda. Bill is the brother of Nadine Janos, High Priestess of the Devil Cult that performs satanic services at the Grecian-style temple on the hill high above the spa community. A freshly graduated cub reporter, Bill seeks to write an exposé on the criminal element drawn to the permissive lifestyle at Lucifer Cove. His main target is Warren Kittmer, a young Manson-like group leader who, although never been officially charged by the police, brags of his involvement in a thrill killing of a family in Los Angeles.

Diane finds her mother in generally good spirits, but notes that Christine seems unusually anxious for her daughter to leave Lucifer Cove. Diane suspects that her mother may be romantically involved with another of the Cove’s residents, and that the relationship may be at the root of Christine’s reluctance to return to her regular family life. Meanwhile, Diane spends much of her time weighing the potential of her own romantic possibilities. Although she develops a growing fondness toward Bill, helping him in his investigations, she cannot seem to resist the darkly magnetic charms of Marc Meridon, the elusive owner of a major share in the resort.

Since readers of the earlier Lucifer Cove novels already know of Christine’s relationship with Marc Meridon, the long drawn-out revelation comes as no surprise. The bigger mystery is why no one else at the resort would inform Diane of the identity of her mother’s love interest. Although Diane finds a dead body and experiences some supernatural manifestations, the main pull of the story revolves around implicating Warren Kittmer in the murders. However, the pimply-faced adolescent killer is such a minor character at Lucifer Cove that his eventual takedown bears little weight.

Nadine Janos also suffers from a lack of continuity from the previous books, disappointingly slipping back into a smaller, more caricatured role. She was treated to a full-blown, more nuanced character study in the earlier series entry, Priestess of the Damned. Even in her newly diminished capacity, Nadine still fails to be consistent in her behavior. She quickly turns from an aggressive disinterest toward Diane, to a full acceptance of Diane’s poorly conceived plan of attack on Kittmer and his group of followers—a plan that unthinkably calls upon Diane to lead Nadine’s cult service at the temple.

Even putting aside the supernatural elements and taking the book simply as a piece of romance fiction, The Devil’s Virgin has difficulty delivering any tension. Between Marc Meridon’s otherworldly hold over Christine Deeth, and Nadine Janos’ love-hate relationship with her Irish handyman assistant, Diane really only has one candidate to embrace—the “square” with the warm, muscular arms.

Priestess of the Damned

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Priestess of the Damned
Virginia Coffman | Lancer Books | 1970 | 222 pages

A time capsule of the occult-drenched California of the early seventies (perhaps existing only in the geography of the imagination), Book Two of the Lucifer Cove gothic occult series, features a sympathetic satanic priestess as protagonist. That alone makes the book hard to imagine existing at any other time—particularly after the “satanic panic” of the eighties, which seemingly sought to unearth a conspiracy of devil-worshippers behind every conceivable societal ill.

Nadine Janos, High Priestess of the Devil’s Coven, holds periodic rituals in the Grecian-like temple above Lucifer Cove, an exclusive spa and resort on the remote coast south of San Francisco. A returning character from the first book in the series, The Devil’s Mistress, she is revealed to be something of an outsider in this outing, trying to maintain an aloof status as conduit to Satan among the residents of the small seaside community. Not truly a believer in the package of goods she peddles to her favor-seeking flock, Nadine employs a series of visual tricks and acid-laced ritual drinks to inspire a sense of awe in her powers—and solicit greater donations.

Along with her Irish handyman (and sometime romantic interest) assistant, Sean O’Flannery, Nadine caters to lumpy businessman Buddy Hemplemeier’s wish for stock market success, Edna Schallert’s lonely middle-aged plea for attention, and Sergei Illich’s need to be desirable to his young lover’s eyes with staged spectacles. However, alone one night at the temple, she feels a strange presence and witnesses an otherworldly manifestation, making her wonder about the authenticity of her powers.

Nadine, for the head of a coven of Satan worshippers, seems strangely out of step with the rampant hedonism at Lucifer Cove, where drugs and sex define the treatment as much as time spent in the spa or hot springs. She makes a point in not partaking in the frequent opportunities for personal pleasures, which includes ignoring (except for the aspirin) the engraved silver box filled with a variety of designer drugs issued to the residents. Lost in the labyrinthine corridors during a visit to the spa, she actually turns and runs away from the lascivious advances of two of the resort’s masseuses.

An underlying fear for her independence as High Priestess marks Nadine’s wariness surrounding the intentions of the mysterious resort owner, Marc Meridon, who approaches her with a favor regarding his mistress, Christine Deeth. Nadine also suspects a vague threat in the form of Dr. Erich Haupt, the German doctor (and Hitler look alike) from the spa’s clinic, who doubles as master of ceremonies for many of the resort’s Bacchanalian celebrations.

Although Nadine experiences some unexplained phenomenon in her temple, watches the club’s greasy gigolo die in mysterious circumstances, and discovers some evidence pointing to a celebrity body-snatching ring, Priestess of the Damned succeeds mainly as a character study. The threads of an overarching story are as elusive as the club’s resident cat, Kinkajou, and mainly serve to further the lingering question for future installments, “Who exactly is Marc Meridon and what really is going on at Lucifer Cove?

The Devil’s Mistress

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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.