Cutting Edge Books have released nearly all of Messmann's romance, vigilante, nautical-adventure, and gothics, including The Mistress of Orion Hall. It was originally published by Fawcett in 1970, and has remained out of print until now. This new edition of the novel is available in both paperback and ebook versions with updated cover art.
The book begins in an interesting way, the death of the book's title character, the Mistress of Orion Hall. But, this was simply an early flashback to “long ago” when a woman was killed in a massive mansion by men in shrouded hoods. Needless to say, the book quickly moves to present day Vermont by introducing the protagonist, a young woman named Lisa.
Like any good gothic paperback premise, Messmann knows that he needs a reason for the young female character to inhabit a large mansion on a rocky seaside bluff. Lisa needs to be an unemployed nurse, teacher, or nanny, or a newlywed returning home with her dashing new husband. Oddly, this one is fairly simplistic. Lisa speaks Greek and her Aunt Maggie is reopening the family's long abandoned mansion in Cyprus. She needs Lisa to come and live at the mansion and become a language translator for the many guests destined to stay at the luxury house.
The journey with Maggie to Cyprus is met with a number of deadly occurrences. First, Lisa is nearly killed on the ship trying to save her aunt from falling overboard during a storm. Once she arrives at the mansion, she is pushed over the cliff and nearly perishes on the rocky coastline. An auto accident occurs as well, leading Lisa, and Maggie, to suspect that the mansion is either haunted or someone is attempting to stop the house's grand opening.
In some ways, this traditional gothic tale reminded me of Frank Smith's gothic titles written under the pseudonym Jennifer Hale. The idea of the main character discovering an old painting of a woman who looks just like her is a common genre trope. Smith used it as a main plot point in his 1973 novel The Secret of Devil's Cave. With the central mystery of who, or what, is stalking the Orion Hall inhabitants, Messmann carefully walks the balance beam of presenting a physical murderer or a supernatural entity. If you've read one gothic or read them all, the answer is always the same. But, kudos to the author for allowing some nautical action to play a big part in the book's finale. Interesting enough, when Messmann unveils the answer to the mystery, it resembles a plot he used for his 1972 action-adventure novel A Bullet for the Bride.
Like most of Messmann's literature, The Mistress of Orion Hall is another entertaining novel that follows paperback traditions of the time. Whether it has aged well is in the eye of the beholder, but I found it to be on par with his other gothic titles. Cutting Edge Books has nearly all of them at affordable prices, so there is plenty to choose from.