Monday, June 17, 2024

Dark of the Moon

William Ross used combinations of his name, as well as pseudonyms like Marilyn Ross, Clarissa Ross, Dan Roberts, and Ellen Randolph to write hundreds of gothic paperbacks through the 1960s and 1970s. I’ve mostly focused on his stand-alone novels like Dark Legend, Phantom Manor, and Secret of MalletCastle. Browsing my Ross collection, I stumbled on one with an awesome sci-fi styled name and font – Dark of the Moon. The glorious painted cover was created by talented artist Carl Hantman, known for his illustrations adorning western paperbacks by Zane Grey, Max Brand, and Louis L’Amour. The book was published in 1969 by McFadden Books using the author’s middle name of Dan. Gothics are my guilty pleasure, so I opened the door to another creepy mansion.

The book is set in 1869 in the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the ending of America’s Civil War. The protagonist is Julia, an heiress to a large estate that consists of a large mansion in New York. Julia’s marriage to a Chicago businessman named Gregory Hunt prompts strict scrutiny from Julia’s only remaining relative, Aunt Cornelia. She hires an attorney to investigate Hunt’s background. The findings aren’t positive.

Gregory Hunt lost the family fortune in the nation’s banking crisis. All that’s left is a mansion in Chicago and his meager salary as a minor officer for a New York bank. Julia is willing to dismiss Hunt’s misfortune, deciding that character is more important. However, the attorney discovers a dark past in the Hunt lineage. Gregory’s father was an alcoholic, and his brother, Norman, had a reputation for wildness. Norman was tied to the murder of a young girl that led to him leaving the country to travel abroad. Similarly, Gregory’s uncle on his father’s side was also tied to the murder of a young girl. After an investigation he was charged and executed for the crime. Not exactly a fruitful family tree.

In a peculiar sequence of events, Gregory advises Julia that he must take care of affairs in Chicago and departs immediately. Weeks go by with no word from Gregory. Later, she learns that the Chicago estate was sold and that Gregory, and his mother, moved to a farm in upstate New York. The rattled Julia decides to travel to New York for a surprise visit. When she arrives, Gregory is irate.

The author then descends the familiar literary path of placing near death experiences in Julia’s path. She’s nearly trampled by a horse, crushed by a falling chandelier, and shot. But she escapes the murder attempts while dealing with Gregory’s psychopathic tendencies, his bizarre mother, a deranged Hunt cousin, and a British military leader. Of course, Ross must pad the narrative with descriptive nightmares that plague the main character, an element that the author uses in almost every story to create action.

Is Dark of the Moon any good? It depends on your patience level and overall interest in the repetitive nature of gothic romance. Crime-noir typically uses the innocent man-on-the-run as a formula staple and these gothics utilize a vulnerable woman caught in a wicked love affair that is traditionally set in a mansion. The genre is nearly cookie-cutter in its storytelling, but the way the story is presented is key – atmosphere, a thick dread, a hint of the supernatural, and a strong female lead. Under that curriculum, Dark of the Moon is a passing grade. Recommened. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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