Showing posts with label Gothics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gothics. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Message from a Ghost

Those of you familiar with our goth reviews will recognize the name William Ross, a Canadian author that wrote hundreds of novels in the genre including over 30 books in the Dark Shadows television tie-in series. His pseudonyms include Marilyn Ross, Clarissa Ross, Dan Ross, Dana Ross, Laura Brooks, Lydia Colby, and a host of others. I've read over a handful of the Ross goths and the mileage varies. I decided to try his 1971 stand-alone novel Message from a Ghost, authored under his Marilyn Ross pseudonym and published by Paperback Library. 

The book is set in present day 1971 and features a rich protagonist named Gale Garvis. Her father died and left both her and her sister Emily millions, including a robust house in Connecticut. As the novel begins, Gale is returning home after winning several high-profile swimming competitions and discovers that Emily has become a superstitious hippie. The free-spirited sister has invited another hippie to live with the family and this deadbeat smokes all day and plays with the Ouija board. Practical sister Gale isn't having any of it and demands that the hippie beat it (there's also fear that the hippie will do anything to support his marijuana fix!). He soon skedaddles, but not after delivering a stern warning that the estate's attorney is out to kill both Gale and Emily. The girls' dead father told him through...you guessed it...the 'ole Ouija board.

After a heated argument with Emily, Gale is encouraged to take a two-week vacation at a resort. The author makes good use of this transition by surprisingly positioning the story in a different location outside of the cavernous mansion. At the resort, Gale befriends a married couple, but also sees the evil drug-induced hippie working there in the shadows. Gale strikes up a number of other flirting friendships with stockbrokers and attorneys, including a brief exchange with a mobster. 

After the two weeks, Gale is persuaded to allow the married couple to drive her back to her home in Connecticut. But, the idea was a ruse to drug Gale. She wakes up in an old abandoned theater to the sounds of an organ. She sees the married couple and another bad guy from the resort and they are all behaving like lunatics. Things escalate when a deviant midget shows up wearing a mask and toting a gun. What is the “message from a ghost”?

William Ross's novel is really three different books – the first with the hippie stuff in Connecticut, the wining and dining at the resort, and the third as a sort of creepy prison-break story. While they all connect, it reads like three different books. The situation with Gale kidnapped in the old theater is obviously the best of the three. This last act features a number of near-escapes, a little gunplay, the crazy midget, and a sense that this nice woman could be raped and bludgeoned all exist to tighten up the narrative. There's also the possibility that a dead actress's ghost may be haunting the building. But, if you know your gothics, the supernatural is typically super rare. The reason for Gale's kidnapping hooks the readers, but the final reveal is preposterous. 

If you enjoy William Ross's traditional “beauties running from the big house”, then this is a fresh change of pace that combines goth with a mystery crime-fiction element. Message from a Ghost received loud and clear – get the book cheap or free for a satisfying read. Otherwise, you may regret the few bucks you did spend when the final reveal occurs. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Fog Hides the Fury

Paul Hugo Little (1915-1987) authored novels in genres like historical-fiction, romance, erotica, gothics, and crime-fiction. Supposedly, Little authored over 700 novels in his career, averaging a novel every week and a half beginning in 1963. He used numerous pseudonyms like Marie de Jourlet and Leigh Franklin James. My first experience with Little is his gothic novel Fog Hides the Fury. It was published by Magnum in 1967 under the pseudonym Paula Minton. 

Arlene Dade inherits her family fortune when her father dies in an automobile wreck. The fortune stems from a shipping business created by her great grandfather. Since she was a young girl, Arlene has been living with her Aunt Clara, a sickly woman plagued by asthma attacks. After graduating college, Arlene begins an honorary career of attending her company's legislative and leadership meetings to determine the future of the company.

After having her purse snatched at a local restaurant, a young man springs into action and runs after the thief to retrieve the purse. Arlene marries the man, and later discovers that his family had partnered with her family in the shipping business until things went sour to create an amicable split. Could this whole purse-snatching skit just be a sham so that the man can get Arelene to fall in love with him? Is he secretly hoping to marry into her fortune to gain a free ride on easy street?

Unfortunately, the plot is revealed just like it sounds. There is no shocking twist here, as Aunt Clara even predicts the book's ending. At 218 pages of large font (Easy Eye edition), Little simply goes through the motions of writing a narrative about Arlene's life. Her childhood, high school, college, marriage, and discovery of her husband's deceit is all wrung out of this boring, plodding narrative.

Magnum lists “gothic” on the book's spine, but the novel doesn't really have much in common with a gothic aside from a large house (in San Francisco for God's sake) and some thick fog. It's missing the mysterious painting, rumors of ghosts on the upper floors, the family curse, and a penchant for the dark and spooky. Granted, there's a shoreline, a family secret, some bumps in the night, and two deaths, but nothing that stands out as atmospherically “goth”. 

If you are wanting a predictable romance novel, then by all means track this one down. If you want entertainment, look elsewhere. The book is average at best.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Secret of Mallet Castle

The Secret of Mallet Castle was originally published with a horrific juvenile cover by Arcadia House in 1966 under William Ross's popular pseudonym Clarissa Ross. I can't bring myself to even show you that artwork here, so you'll need to check it out on your own. The book was later published by Manor in 1977 with a more traditional gothic cover under the name Dan Ross. In the middle of these publications was a McFadden-Bartell with perhaps the best cover, that was published in 1967 under the name Dan Ross. This version was also used by Paperback Classics for their 2023 audio edition (available on CD and Audible) narrated by Romy Nordlinger. 

Eve Grant is a scrub nurse working at a hospital in Ohio. She receives a strange message from a law firm indicating that an uncle she never knew of has left her an immense fortune in his will. For the record, I will inherit debts from every family member I know and don't know. These things only happen to cute paperback nurses, teachers, and nannies. The deal is that she will inherit the fortune and a large castle that was carefully constructed in Cape Cod. Her uncle is terminally ill and near death, but the law firm would like Eve to go to the castle at once to meet the man before he dies. 

Ross does a great job of characterization by having Eve hesitant to inherit the fortune, instead wishing to concentrate on her own career to make her own way. For the record, if this event happens to me, I'm capitalizing on whatever Hell the family member had to endure to earn his or her fortune. My lousy sales agent job with an insurance company can take a hike. I'll make my own way with other people's money anytime. But, Eve does visit the castle and is introduced to her uncle's wife, a snobbish older retired Hollywood actress who is angry with Eve because she gets the bulk of the money. Also, Eve is introduced to her uncle's caretaker, a former Hollywood director or agent that is slightly over-the-top and seems to have a particular disdain for Eve.

Eve's closest ally and friend in the novel is a local town surgeon, who immediately strikes up a romantic connection. But, the narrative consists of Eve being nearly killed by the caretaker, her uncle's son-in-law, and a brutish former pro-wrestler that serves as a type of house bodyguard. Unpleasant things happen to Eve to the point where she questions the motives of her uncle's people. But, where is the uncle in all of this?

Despite Eve's best efforts, she is routinely blocked from meeting her uncle. His keepers seem to have an agenda to keep Eve from physically meeting him. The mystery introduced to readers is whether her uncle is really alive. If he isn't, then who is the man they claim is in the west tower? Also, is there any actual truth to the rumors of a floating apparition in the castle hallways? Is the castle haunted, is it inhabited by murderers, or is this a figment of Eve's imagination stemming from exhaustion? 

This is one of the best gothic novels I've read by William Ross. It certainly follows the formula of a female protagonist in danger within a large structure, but there's enough variety here to make it enjoyable. Eve is a stronger character than some of the prior gothic beauties, and the twist at the end actually threw me off a little. This may also be the first gothic I've read that had the main character packing heat. Needless to say, the ending went out with a loud bang. Overall, The Secret of Mallet Castle is worth a listen or read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE. 

Friday, May 5, 2023

Mistress of Orion Hall

We keep reading and reviewing the robust body of literary work by the talented author Jon Messmann. From men's action-adventure titles like Nick Carter:Kill Master, The Revenger, and The Handyman, Messmann was a total success story, contributing to hundreds of paperback titles while creating one of the highest selling adult-western series titles of all-time, The Trailsman. While he was busy entertaining red-blooded American men, Messman also authored romance novels and gothic-suspense paperbacks for the ladies. Using the name Claudette Nicole, Messmann authored more than a handful of these books for the top tier paperback publisher of the time, Fawcett Gold Medal. 

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. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 1, 2023

The Bleeding House (aka The House)

Hilda Lawrence (1906-1976) was a pseudonym for Hildegarde Kronmiller Lawrence, a mid-20th century author that wrote four novels in the 1940s. Nearly all of the books feature the characters of Mark East, a private investigator in Manhattan, and two New England spinsters, Miss Beulah and Miss Bessy. My only experience with the author is her last published work, Duet of Death. This 1949 offering consists of two short novellas – The Bleeding House (aka The House) and Death has Four Hands (aka Composition for Four Hands). 

Cutting Edge Books has recently published new editions of The House and Composition for Four Hands. Each novella is featured as a paperback and also collected digitally in the omnibus Best Pulp Noir Fiction Volume Nine: Four Hardboiled Novels. I chose to concentrate my efforts on The House

The book is presented in first-person by Isobel, a young woman living in a large, cavernous mansion left to her by her late father. Her dull days are spent under the constant scrutiny of her callous mother. Her only enjoyment in life is spying on her neighbors, a group of middle-aged cousins and friends that indulge in drinking affairs that typically involve rumors of Isobel's father, her mother, and her household. 

Through's Isobel's recollections, readers learn that Isobel's father died under mysterious circumstances. He acquired a terminal illness and spent his dying days with blue-collar men at a nearby labor camp. But, his death was linked to a tragic, fiery car accident on a road between the two dwellings. 

In the book's opening chapters, Isobel begins seeing a mysterious figure in the house. Her father's dog, which she inherited after his death, senses that the stranger may be a family member. Other signs begin to appear that perhaps Isobel's father isn't really dead. Is she mentally experiencing things she desires or is something supernatural occurring? Lawrence's spongy narrative twists and turns as Isobel, and her cavalier fiance, attempt to unravel the family mystery. 

As a veteran of 60s and 70s Gothics, it was interesting to see Lawrence using that same formula 15-20 years before the genre's paperback boom. Arguably, the author was inspired by Mary Roberts Rinehart, who cleverly invented some of the genre's consistent tropes in her early 1900s fiction. Atmosphere is key to these stories, and I felt like Lawrence missed an opportunity here. Otherwise, the book's central mystery, defining characters, and the obvious Gothic overtones were a real pleasure to experience. If you enjoy these cozy mansion-mysteries, then The House is worth visiting. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Dark Shadows #01 - Dark Shadows

Paperback Library published 33 Dark Shadows novels from 1966 through 1972. These gothic paperbacks were based on the American soap opera that ran on ABC television from 1966 until 1971. The paperbacks were authored by popular gothic author William Edward Daniel Ross under his pseudonym Marilyn Ross. Thankfully, these novels make up a stand-alone series that can be read independently of the television show. They re-create the show, evident with this first paperback, the eponymous Dark Shadows, capturing most of what occurs in the Dark Shadows debut episode. But, the paperback series changes some of the characters and even adds new ones that aren't featured on the television version. Thus, it creates its own universe and continuity. If you want to avoid sappy daytime television reruns, then this paperback series is exactly what you need. Plus, it is completely affordable as audio books on CD or on your favorite streaming service like Hoopla or Audible. 

In Ross's series debut, young Victoria Winters arrives in the fictional Maine seaside village of Collinsport. Readers learn that she was orphaned as a baby and she never learned who her parents were. Money was mysteriously supplied to her throughout her upbringing in the form of a mailed check. Now, she is ready for her next job as a governess to a young boy at Collins House, an enormous mansion that houses over 40 rooms. 

Meeting the family, she discovers that Elizabeth Collins Stoddard hasn't left the house in nearly 20 years. Her brother, Roger Collins, is a single guy that possesses a rather dull outlook on life in between his routine cocktails. There's also Carolyn, a rambunctious, spunky young adult that finds relief from the boredom at a local bar. But, the most interesting character is that of Ernest Collins, a symphony violinist that experienced the death of two loves. The first was his wife Elaine, who supposedly died in a car accident. The second was a lover that threw herself from Widow's Hill, a place far above the rocky shore where women apparently jump to their deaths. 

Throughout the narrative, Victoria is tormented by an unseen stalker that plays tricks on her. At night she can hear heavy breathing and footsteps outside of her room. She finds a creepy mask hanging from her ceiling and is attacked in the dark cellar. The scariest moment for Victoria is when her car suddenly loses control and crashes. Of course, Elizabeth and others refuse to believe that anyone is stalking Victoria. But, the mystery points to Ernest as a possible suspect.

Unfortunately, this debut Dark Shadows paperback is a dull, uninspiring read. Ross utilizes long, drawn out dialogue to pad the book's length, leaving readers lulled into a bored mood with the pointless conversations. The attempts to scare or harm Victoria are few and far between, leaving very little activities to keep readers enthralled. Further, the atmosphere is described as sunny and warm, which left me disconnected from the television visuals of the old seaside mansion draped in fog. If I didn't read the title or the “Victoria Winters” name, I never could have guessed this was a Dark Shadows book. In addition, both Elizabeth, Ernest, and his lovers are not included in the television show.

Perhaps the series will improve with more of a supernatural element. Barnabas Collins, despite appearing on the cover of at least one printing of this specific paperback, doesn't appear in the series until the fifth installment. In the meantime, steer well clear of this dud.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Bloodroots Manor

Author Jon Messmann cut his teeth writing for the Golden Age of Comics before moving into full-length novels. At the height of men's action-adventure fiction, Messmann created and authored the vigilante series The Revenger, the Travis McGee-styled Logan books, and the enormously popular adult western series The Trailsman. But, Messmann also capitalized on the gothic paperback craze of the 1960s and 1970s. As Claudette Nicole and Pamela Windsor, Messmann authored a number of gothic mystery and romance novels for Fawcett Gold Medal and Pyramid. Cutting Edge Books has published a number of Messmann titles in new editions, including his gothic paperbacks like Bloodroots Manor. It was originally published by Fawcett in 1970 and has been out of print for more than 50 years.

Nancy Hazleton married a man named Dirk and the two set off for a “happily ever after” life in New York. But, Dirk refused to become intimate with Hazleton and often placed her in audacious stunts to impress his friends. In a wild chain of events, Nancy realizes that Dirk has been attempting to murder her throughout their short marriage. During a life or death struggle, Nancy escapes Dirk's wrath and he plunges to his death. Nancy is placed into a mental hospital to rehabilitate.

After regaining her mental stability, and working through her horrendous past, Nancy becomes enrolled in an interior design school. Upon graduation, Nancy is hired by a man named Samuel Howell to redesign his spacious country house. As the book begins, Nancy is riding a train to Deepwell Junction in the rural mountains of Kentucky. When she arrives late at night, she is shocked to discover that Deepwell Junction's train station is an abandoned husk. Further, the directions leading to Howell's estate lead Nancy to a large abandoned house that's severely damaged. To escape a thunderstorm, Nancy takes shelter inside of the old dwelling. In a terrifying sequence, a horribly disfigured man emerges from the shadows and attacks Nancy in the house. She attempts to escape through the forest and collapses. Is this a nightmare or reality?

At 150 pages, I read Bloodroots Manor in one sitting. Messmann was such a craftsman and he builds this narrative into a crescendo of mystery and white-knuckle suspense. Nancy's exploration of the mysterious town, the Howell family legacy, and her relationship with a local historian all add small ingredients to the much larger mystery. Messmann conveys a real sense of isolation and panic as Nancy contends with the idea that she may have been lured into a deadly trap. Each chapter felt like one more step to some grisly discovery. 

If you love the traditional, atmospheric haunted house tale and the “evil thing down the hall” type of storytelling, then Bloodroots Manor is an easy recommendation. With its cursed heirs, family secrets, phantoms on the hillside, and cavernous mansion, this one has everything we all love about the old fashioned gothic novel. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Haiti Circle

Our coverage of beautiful women running from scary places continues with The Haiti Circle, a 1976 gothic paperback with the name Marilyn Ross on the cover. The author is really William Edward Daniel Ross, a prolific Canadian writer that authored over 50 gothics in the 60s and 70s. A few of his books have been published as audio books recently by Paperback Library with narration by Romy Nordlinger. 

In The Haiti Circle, a woman named Agnes is suffering from the recent loss of her mother. After a nervous breakdown, Agnes journeys to Haiti for a vacation and a life reset. It is here that she meets a Creole doctor named Martinez, who immediately falls in love with her. Understanding she is a teacher, Martinez introduces Agnes to wealthy widow Mr. Dodge and his daughter Germaine. Agnes learns that Germaine's mother committed suicide by jumping from the high walls of Seacrest, the family mansion. Now, Germaine is in need of a tudor and caregiver.

Once Agnes starts her new job, she begins hearing rumors of voodoo rituals on the island. There are a number of shady characters living at Seacrest, so speculations runs rampant on which white people are involved in the voodoo cult. Agnes is targeted by some sort of curse that places a tarantula in her bed and bats in her room. Further, Agnes sees a “zombie” outside of the mansion and learns it is a link to a prior suicide before the Dodges took ownership of Seacrest. 

Ross uses essentially the same character as the female protagonist in each of his novels. Agnes is the same cookie-cutter character as Jan (Phantom Manor), another Jan (Dark Legend), Victoria (Dark Shadows series), and Stella (Fog Island) – teacher/tudor, vulnerable, single, unsuspecting. The mysteries are numerous, which makes the book a little more tolerable. Also, the idea of a zombie and the whole voodoo-cult-thingy is just wacky enough to make the book interesting. I had a few guesses on who the culprit was, but the ending surprised me. 

The Haiti Circle is one of the better Ross novels I've read. Recommended for its spooky ambiance, a number of compelling characters, and a surprise ending. I also enjoyed the audio book version, although I'm tired of Nordlinger's narration. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, July 11, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 97

On Episode 97, Eric and Tom collaborate for a comprehensive feature on Jon Messmann, the prolific author and creator of The Trailsman series, The Revenger, The Handyman, and numerous Nick Carter: Killmaster novels. Eric also reviews Messmann's stand-alone action-adventure novel, Bullet for the Bride. Tom reviews a vintage crime-fiction paperback called The Mob Says Murder by author Marvin Albert and Eric offers insight on his new projects with Brash Books and Cutting Edge. Listen on any podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE.

Listen to "Episode 97: Jon Messmann" on Spreaker.

Monday, July 4, 2022

The Pavilion at Monkshood

British novelist Anne Arundel (1910-1993) utilized pseudonyms like Anne Buxton and Katherine Troy to author romantic suspense novels. Her bibliography includes over 40 novels penned from 1937 through 1983. My first experience with her is the gothic novel The Pavilion at Monkshood. It was originally published by Ace in 1965 under Arundel's popular pseudonym Anne Maybury. 

The novel is set in the obligatory British countryside on a secluded estate called Monkshood. Jessica Lothian, a 20 year old servant, has been summoned by the Herriot family to reside in the home and to look after Aunt Julie and cousin Claudine. Technically, Jessica is a Herriot on her father's side, but nevertheless she seems to function as a sort of “Cinderella” character during her time on the estate. Claudine is the horrible, self-absorbent “sibling” who mocks and scorns Jessica relentlessly. But, the idea is that Jessica will soon marry a dignified young man named Kurt in a fixed, arranged marriage. While Jessica doesn't dislike Kurt, she has no intimate feelings for him.

Throughout the narrative, the Herriots and a close family friend are plagued by a mysterious stalker. This stalker is harmless enough in the beginning, occasionally spying on family members, taking heirlooms, and moving around others. Jessica becomes obsessed with locating the identity of the stalker. But, things turn deadly when the stalker pushes a young woman off of a cliff. Jessica's probe into the mysterious stalker's past leads her to an old tunnel that connects the mansion with a pavilion hosting a bizarre statue of the ancient god Pan. 

Through 190 pages, the narrative covers Jessica's interest in the family friend, his business arrangements with growing a fleet of schooners, and a backstory of the Herriot family enduring the loss of their daughter. Aunt Julie's behavior borders on psychosis and there's a number of dances and evening dinners for readers to wattle through. 

I've read other reviews of Maybury's novels and they mostly point in the direction of traditional romance. Mostly The Pavilion at Monkshood is a straight-up romance novel with all of the upper-crust white lace and long tassels. But, the stalker portion of the story was intriguing to me and panned out just right to allow for a storybook ending. There is a Lifetime Movie of the Week aura to the plot, but it didn't discourage me. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a dress in distress. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Terrified Heart

According to the internet, New York native Irving Greenfield was a youthful runaway, a Korean War veteran, a merchant seaman, professor, and author. He authored the 16-book series Depth Force for Zebra as well as the Navy trilogy under the pseudonym of Roger Jewett. His most popular novel is Only the Dead Speak Russian, which spent six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. My first introduction to him is his gothics. He authored 11 gothic novels from 1966 through 1976 under the pseudonym Alicia Grace. I'm trying out The Terrified Heart, originally published by Belmont Tower in 1973. 

Danielle has experienced a tumbled love affair in New York. Breaking away from the past, she moves to cozy Vermont to work as a college professor teaching Greek History. It's here that she begins struggling with an awkward friend relationship with a man that just can't accept no as an answer. Needing a break from her new job and residence, Danielle spots a dreamy part-time job as a research assistant working on a Greek project. She's all in.

When Danielle meets Keith Wyler, he explains his entire convoluted past and job to her. Keith grew up on Long Island on a sprawling estate called Eleusis. He became married to a woman named Nina, who was then murdered and dumped on the shoreline. Keith was the main suspect in her murder, but the jury acquitted him and he left the family home for many years. Keith studied abroad, became enthralled with Greek culture, and now has returned to the U.S. hoping to write a book about an ancient Greek text. But, he wants to return to Eleusis to write the book while also reclaiming his birthright to inherit the estate. To accept the job as an assistant on the book, Danielle must agree to pose as Keith's wife upon his return to Eleusis. 

Greenfield's prose is elementary with a particular dryness to the characters. There's nothing to really like or dislike about any characters – even the murderer. Instead, Greenfield spends most of the 192 pages as banter between Danielle and Keith about his upbringing and the rivalry between himself and his crippled brother James. Readers can figure out who killed Nina instantly, which doesn't prove much credibility to the local law-enforcement. 

The unbelievable portion of the plot is that Nina and Danielle are nearly identical. What are the chances that Keith can find a woman who has a Greek History degree, looks identical to his previous wife, and is willing to pretend to be his current wife on a trip to the 'ole homeplace? That alone should be enough evidence that this is a complete mess. With a paper-thin plot, and disposable characters, The Terrified Heart is a literary deadbeat. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, June 10, 2022

Murders Macabre

Norman Firth (1920-1949), known as the “Prince of Pulp Pedlars”, was a British author that contributed to small publishers like Bear Hudson, Utopian Publications, and Mitre Press. The diversified writer delved into multiple genres including crime, western, science-fiction, and horror. At one point, Firth accepted a commission to author 30,000 words a month of spicy stories for various magazines. Bold Venture Press has been working with Firth's estate to reprint some Firth's short stories that were originally published under pseudonyms. The first collection is called Murders Macabre, a 200 page volume that contains three short stories with an introduction by Firth's estate manager Philip Harbottle. 

"Terror Stalks by Night"

This story was originally published in 1945 by Bear Hudson under the pseudonym N. Wesley Firth. Bob Carter arrived in the tiny village of Riverton three days ago and has found himself incredibly bored. During a heavy thunderstorm, Bob pulls his car into a bus station to smoke a cigarette and reflect on his poor decision to visit such a dull place. A beautiful woman named Lucille quickly approaches Bob's car thinking he is a taxi. With a beautiful woman in his car, and nothing planned for the day, Bob casually asks “Where'd you want to go?”. Lucille explains that she is headed to a decrepit mansion called Rivers End to meet her remaining family members. It is here that her late aunt's will is to be read and the inheritance to be divvied out. Her aunt's stipulation was that all remaining family members had to be in the house at the same time for the reading of the will. When Bob arrives at the spooky mansion, Lucille goads him into going into the house with her. Inside, Bob and Lucille experience a long night of bloody, homicidal terror. A phantom with knives for fingers is stalking the halls and killing each family member one by one. With a corpse in the front doorway and the telephones down, the two are trapped with the killer. "Terror Stalks the Night" was absolutely amazing with its blend of violent savagery, eerie ambiance, and slight sense of dark humor from Bob, the stories central character. This was just a superb introduction to the author.

"Phantom of Charnel House"

This story was originally published as “Death Haunts the Charnel House” in 1946 under Firth's pseudonym of Jackson Evans. Six years ago, Wenton inherited a ton of money from his uncle's estate. With nothing to do but loaf around all day, Wenton thought it would be fun to become a ghost hunter. He placed an ad in the local paper and soon found himself extremely busy traveling the English countryside proving that most of the haunting and ghost appearances could easily be explained. Only a few cases seemed genuine, although Wenton still retained some doubt. His newest endeavor is Charnel Estate, a haunted habitat that features over 100 workers residing in the Charnel Estate village and working at the nearby factory. Only, rumor has it that the original Charnel Estate housed a murderer, a fiend that used harpoons to impale victims. Now that there's a new owner of Charnel Estate, the old murders have returned again. It is up to Wenton to find the murderer and determine if there's a supernatural aspect to the killings. Again, Firth does an amazing job with atmosphere and location, placing Wenton's investigation in the middle of a rural, foggy English village ripe with suspects and motives. The appearance of this “phantom” was terrifying, despite the very real possibility of the Scooby-Doo styled ending. Regardless, the suffocating tension, horror tones, and grisly murders were worth the price of admission. This was a fantastic story.

"The Devil in Her"

This story was originally published in 1945 under the pseudonym of Henri Duval. Dr. Alan Carter arrives at an English lodge to recuperate from the horrors he witnessed treating ill patients in third-world countries. The lodge is a family friend's place, a household that Carter frequented in the past. Once there, he begins to hear rumors of a witch prowling the moors killing livestock. Once Carter reunites with a former lover named June, he begins to think she herself may be the witch. Once the victims shift from animals to humans, Carter is thrust into the investigation to determine who the killer is and the motivation. The suspect list grows to include a therapist named Calatini, a rival that impedes upon Carter for the affection and love of June. There are plenty of slayings before the story's stirring finale. This was a solid story filled with suspicions, murder, re-kindled passion, and the tropes of an old-fashioned detective tale. 

I hope Bold Venture Press will continue compiling Norman Firth's short stories for future collections. I thoroughly enjoyed Murders Macabre as an introduction to this talented, seemingly forgotten author. If you love traditional horror and the weird menace type stories of Bruno Fischer, this is a mandatory addition to your reading collection. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Image of a Ghost

We've talked a great deal about prolific author Norman Daniels, but haven't posted a single review for his wife's work. Dorothy Daniels (born Dorothy Smith) authored nurse-fiction and romantic short stories before finding success in the gothic genre. She sold over 10 million books between 1965-1975, culminating in 150 total works in print. My first experience with the author is her 1973 novel Image of a Ghost. It was published by Warner and then reprinted again in 1976. Both feature artwork by prolific Men's Adventure Magazine artist Vic Prezio.

Janet Bancroft inherited a fortune after the recent death of her mother. A year and a half later, Janet spots a paranormal article in a French magazine explaining odd occurrences in a large Maine house. Photographs are included that depict a ghostly woman standing on a staircase. The article includes an invitation from the homeowner asking anyone who recognizes the apparition to call or visit. Janet hurries home, packs a bag, and drives to Maine to talk with the owners. Why? Because Janet recognizes the ghostly woman asher dead mother!

Image of a Ghost is mostly a traditional mystery that tips a foot into a murder procedural. The narrative is mostly just cut-and-paste as the owners, Janet, a dashing male attorney, and others remain in the home hoping to locate the answer to why Janet's mother has risen from the grave. This is a gothic novel, so anyone worth their salt knows there's nothing paranormal about it. The typical Scooby-Doo explanation is offered, but that doesn't necessarily leave out any violent murder or sadistic hi-jinx. Daniels' plot includes a murder mystery as fingers are pointed at all of the guests hoping to uncover clues. 

Overall, this is just a below average gothic that is missing a proper atmosphere and story. The characters are one-dimensional, the ghost isn't that interesting, and the murder mystery leaves a lot to be desired. In other words, Image of a Ghost is an image worth forgetting. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 21, 2022

Macabre Manor

Based on a small sample size, the Gothics that I've read from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s have teased a supernatural element. The covers and taglines always suggest that the big mansion or castle contains a ghost or spirit haunting a beautiful woman. The finale fizzles out to be a scorned lover or disenchanted relative that suddenly becomes greedy and secretive. It was conventional style that is reminiscent of the shudder pulps of the early 20th century. At the beginning of the 1974 Manor book Macabre Manor, authored by Elizabeth Grayson, the protagonist appears to be tormented by a demon. Is the terrifying demon real or just a figment of her twisted imagination? Needing to resolve this important question, I jumped into this 190 page vintage paperback. 

Joyce has recently married Philip Hammond and moved into his family's mansion on the Caribbean island of  St Michael. After a walk on the beach, Joyce is visited by a demon calling himself a French man named Jean Pierre. He appears to Joyce as a “zombie” and slowly begins to demand things from her. After Joyce suffers a nervous breakdown, she is hospitalized and treated for anxiety. The Hammond family feels that Joyce isn't really interacting with a demon, instead she's suffering from fatigue and her new surroundings. When the demon asks Joyce to poison her father-in-law, the book begins to delve into a criminal conspiracy involving a bank and illegal gambling. 

Macabre Manor is merely an average Gothic novel with the traditional genre tropes – inheritance, wealthy family, supernatural sprinkles, and a vulnerable female embarking on a dark mental journey. According to Goodreads, Elizabeth Kary used the pseudonym Elizabeth Grayson to author a number of historical romance novels. However, based on my research, I can't verify if this author is the same one that wrote two other Gothic novels in the 1970s for Manor Books – By Demon's Possessed (1973) and Token of Evil (1974). Based on the quality of Macabre Manor, I'm in no hurry to find out. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 14, 2022

Phantom Manor

Author William Edward Daniel Ross (1912-1995) specialized in gothic paperbacks of the 60s and 70s. Using a variety of pseudonyms, the Canadian writer authored over 50 stand-alone gothics as well as an abundance of novels related to the television show Dark Shadows. My experience with the author is the gothic titles written under the pseudonym Marilyn Ross. After enjoying his 1965 novel Fog Island, I decided to read Phantom Manor. It was published just a year later by Paperback Library with the allure of another vulnerable beauty trapped in a mansion shrouded in evil. 

Phantom Manor is set in the late 1800s and stars a Philadelphia woman named Jan. She finds herself financially strapped when her sick father passes away. Her immediate relative is a grandfather living in England, an aggressive man that had an estranged relationship with Jan's mother. Before Jan's mother died, she swore that she would never return to her family's fog-shrouded Phantom Manor. But, Jan wants to know more about her family and sends a letter to her grandfather explaining her father’s recent passing. Her grandfather responds with an urgent invitation for Jan to finally visit her family home.

The family's robust estate is a coastline manor situated on a small peninsula. When the tide rises, the only road leading from the estate to the village is enveloped in seawater. This is an important part of the book's finale and also lends some isolation to the book's narrative. Upon Jan's arrival at the manor, she discovers that her grandfather had died from health complications prior to her visit. She also learns that one of her uncles is now deceased and another has ran off to Australia chasing women and good fortune. He hasn't been heard from in decades and most fear he is now dead. Remaining is the estate's staff, the dead uncle's widow, her disabled son, and a distant cousin that serves as the manager of the manor. With no immediate relatives available, the grandfather named Jan as the sole heiress of Phantom Manor. 

Jan learned that years ago (and recapped in the book's prologue) that her grandfather and a nearby monk order had feuded over land rights. It was rumored that the feud led to the death of a monk named Francis. Supposedly, Phantom Manor's third floor is haunted by the monk's vengeful ghost. Oddly, the estate staff has Jan's lodgings on the third floor. Needless to say, she's immediately attacked by this skeleton specter. Later, she falls to an unseen attacker in the house's wine cellar and is also nearly crushed by a large falling stone outside. After multiple attempts on her life, she begins to align herself with the family attorney. Together, the two suspects that the dashing and handsome distant cousin (the only family member remaining alive) could be the mysterious attacker (you think!?!).

Phantom Manor is rather dull with a bulk of the narrative spent on Jan's relationship with the distant cousin and her new role as the manor's sole heir – learning the staff, new instructions for the staff, fighting with the staff, firing the staff, etc. It's like reading a human resources guide on running a mansion. I didn't find any of it particularly spooky and mostly it was missing the atmospheric touches that made Ross's Fog Island work so well. I did enjoy the crime-mystery aspect of the book's closing finale, but I had already figured it out in the book's opening chapters.  

Overall, there are hundreds and hundreds of these gothic paperbacks. There's no reason to spend any of your precious time reading this. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 7, 2022

House of Dark Illusions

There are over 30 gothic novels authored by Caroline Farr between the mid-1960s and 1970s. Most of these books were originally published in Australia by Horwitz Publications and then reprinted in the US by Signet with vivid, traditional painted covers of beautiful women fleeing from gloomy mansions and castles. Depending on who you ask, the Caroline Farr name is a pseudonym for a revolving door of authors. The most consistent author associated with the Farr name is Richard Wilkes-Hunter, a New South Wales native that also authored books under pseudonyms like Alex Crane and Tod Conrad. 

Another name associated with the Caroline Farr novels is that of Allan Geoffrey Yates, the popular author that became a household name by writing crime-fiction as Carter Brown. My sources close to the Yates estate confirm that he did author some Farr novels, but the titles are unknown. There is also another Australian author closely associated with the Farr name, Lee Pattinson. According to papers held by the National Library of Australia, Pattinson was employed as a writer with Horwitz and authored romance novels under names like Teri Lester, Noni Arden, Kerry Mitchell, and Caroline Farr. 

The conclusion is that Caroline Farr was a house name used by at least three different authors that were published by Horwitz. Most recently, I gained a couple of these Signet reprints of Farr novels and I decided to try one out – House of Dark Illusions. It was originally published in 1973 and begins with a familiar gothic genre trope, a young woman learning of her inheritance. 

In the opening pages of House of Dark Illusions, young Megan has just experienced the loss of her father. She's a student at Boston College and lives in an apartment on Boston's North Shore. With her father's death, Megan fears she won't have enough financial support to remain in college. Thankfully, Megan receives a letter from her Aunt Lissi with a tantalizing offer. Lissi invites Megan to the family's coastal mansion in Nova Scotia, Canada. 

In the backstory, readers learn that Megan's mother is a descendant from a wealthy Canadian family. Unfortunately, she died when Megan was very young. The family never liked Megan's father so he left the family behind and raised Megan as a struggling single father in Boston. Megan debates returning to her childhood home, but feels that enough time has passed and it's important that she visit the only remaining family left, Aunt Lissie.

When Megan arrives at the spacious shoreline estate, she learns that her mother possessed telekinetic powers – the ability to move inanimate objects with her mind. Lissie feels that Megan has the same talents as well, but needs help discovering them. Lissie insists on having a séance so that Megan can harness her own hidden energy and possibly connect psychically with her dead mother. Additionally, the séance will include two distant cousins, a medium, and two doctors. But, when the séance begins, Megan begins seeing visions of an Indian prince being murdered in a palace. How does any of this connect to the story? 

At 140 pages of large font, House of Dark Illusions reads more like a short story. There isn't really enough time to delve too far into these characters to properly introduce them. I felt the narrative was missing huge chunks of importance or simply shortened to meet a publishing deadline. The entire story does play out, including answers to Megan's questions about her family and inheritance, but it feels like a rushed job. The book's finale left something to be desired, but possessed a fitting conclusion to the average plot. Whoever crafted the book used foggy roads, the misty coastline, and the cavernous house as atmospheric plot enhancers, but even the spook factor wasn't enough to save the book. I'd recommend passing on this unless you really love the artwork of these old books and must possess everything. Otherwise, just move on to much better books. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Dark Legend

With nearly 300 novels, Canadian native William Edward Daniel Ross is probably the most prolific gothic writer of all-time. He wrote multiple series titles under a variety of pseudonyms as well as contributing to the paperback canon of Dark Shadows television tie-ins. I've read a few of his Marilyn Ross penned gothics and find them average at best. With a lot of driving time, I decided to listen to Ross's 1966 gothic title Dark Legend. It was originally published by Paperback Library and exists as an audio download from Paperback Classics.

The story takes place in the late 1800s in a large lakeside mansion in Maine.  Protagonist Jan wakes up in a bedroom with one of the most common soap opera tropes – amnesia. She doesn't know who she is or any prior events that have placed her in this enormous mansion. Thankfully, a man she doesn't recall comforts her and explains he is her fiance and that they had a train wreck on the way from Virginia to Maine. Further, she is introduced to her cousin, aunt, former childhood nanny, and the town doctor. 

After the splendid bedside manner, Jan learns a lot about herself. She's filthy rich after inheriting her grandfather's fortune. She also learns that the neighbor is a crazy psycho that keeps vicious howling hounds patrolling his manor. Further, it's revealed that her mother was murdered by a man wearing black gloves and her father committed suicide. Because of all of this, there's supposedly a masked man wearing black gloves that haunts the mansion. Oh, and there's a summer cottage nearby that Jan is warned of. Apparently, it hosted some sort of heinous act that the family is now distancing itself from.

Dark Legend is better suited as a romance novel with a sprinkling of gothic suspense. The narrative mostly consists of Jan deciding if she wants to remain engaged despite the fact she knows nothing about her fiance. She's also attracted to the dashing town doctor and jealous of her cousin's relationship with both men. Ross spends a great deal of time on building these romance angles or having the characters organize a massive ballroom dance. There's wardrobes, guest lists and food to prepare and it stomps the brakes on any propulsive plot developments. 

There is a hint of suspense when Jan is attacked by the hooded killer repeatedly. There's some mystery surrounding the death of her mother and the weird neighbor next door to flesh out the story. None of it can really save the tired storyline though. Ross is literally just cutting and pasting these plots – estranged granddaughter with dead parents, that inherits a haunted mansion, but must contend with a bitter family member while sparking a relationship with a handsome male. Ross' inability to create unique stories makes me appreciate authors like Jon Messman (writing as Claudette Nicole) and Michael Avallone (writing as Edwina Noone). Your mileage may vary.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Heritage of Fear

NYU graduate Morris Hershman (b. 1926) authors gothic, romance and western titles under the pseudonyms Evelyn Bond, Arnold English, Sara Roffman, Janet Templeton, Sam Victor, Lionel Webb, and Jess Wilcox. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and his papers are stored at Bowling Green State University. My experience with the author is his 1960s and 1970s gothic paperbacks published by the likes of Belmont, Lancer, and Avon under the Evelyn Bond name. In the mood for a cozy mansion thriller, I tried Hershman's 1966 Belmont novel Heritage of Fear

Set in 1874, the book stars a young American woman named Karen who has recently married the wealthy British businessman Hugh Locke. On a train ride to Hugh's enormous Locke Hall home, Karen bumps into a man who has some knowledge about her new family. Hugh's father had been married twice before and experienced the death of his first wife when she was just a bride. The second wife nearly died in a horse riding accident before finally perishing giving birth to Hugh. This stranger provides an ominous warning. Demanding an explanation, Karen prods Hugh into revealing the origin of the warning. Hugh explains that Locke Hall is connected to ridiculous folklore that any bride brought to the home will die. 

Needless to say, Karen experiences some frightening things inside her new mansion. First, she is nearly killed when a large painting falls on her. Second, she is spooked by the “ghost” of a woman dressed in a wedding gown with her throat savagely sliced. After the wedded couple host both the family attorney and Karen's father, a murder occurs pitting everyone against each other. Is their a murderous ghost on a homicidal rampage or did one of these four people commit murder?

Hershman's narrative plays out like a suspenseful whodunit with an abstract locked room mystery. The idea of the gruesome ghost was scary at times, but at this point I'm a seasoned gothic pro and I know how these supernatural entities eventually morph into vengeful ex-lovers, greedy family members or jaded employees. I won't ruin the surprise because there is a small chance that this could be your first gothic read (out of the 2,500 unique titles that were probably published). Hershman is a capable writer that I enjoyed and I felt he made the most out of this tired storyline. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Secret of Canfield House

Florence Hurd (1919-2008) was born in Chicago and graduated from the University of Chicago. According to her obituary, she moved to San Diego, California and became a social worker. Later, she married, raised two children, and enjoyed a successful career as a gothic romance writer. My first experience with Hurd's writing is her beloved novel Secret of Canfield House. It was published in 1966 by Fawcett Gold Medal. 

The novel stars a young, vulnerable, and attractive woman named Emeline. After moving from Vermont to New York, Emeline discovers that she was never cut out for the big city. When her father dies, Emeline returns to Vermont to pick up the pieces while discovering new employment. She settles on interviewing for a housekeeper job with a snooty woman named Mrs. Canfield. The gig is that she will temporarily live at the vast Vermont manor aptly titled Canfield House. The pay is good but the job is a rather lonely one. Mrs. Canfield and her son Miles only use the house on occasional weekends. But, they want the silver polished and the pillows fluffed – a housekeeper ritual left to Emeline. 

Settling into her new employment and residence, Emeline attempts to befriend the house's groundskeeper. He lives in the barn, drinks a lot, and is a mute – not the best company for a lonely woman. After failing to make small talk in the quaint New England village, Emeline finally finds companionship with the family's weekend cook. Through this relationship, Emeline discovers that Miles was married once, but his bride ran away with another man. Oddly, their bedroom remains closed off from the rest of the house, a dusty tribute to lost love...or maybe death?

Emeline's new job becomes a terrifying ordeal when she's forced to contend with an arsonist, her poisoned dog and what could be an “unholy” haunted bedroom. Like something out of Amityville Horror, she hears noises in the cellar, footsteps through the empty house, slamming doors and monstrous faces in the window. Does the “secret” of Canfield House concern a demonic doorway to Hell or a home invasion nightmare? 

While Secret of Canfield House possesses all of the genre tropes of a fine New England gothic, Hurd cleverly skirts the edges of a traditional old fashioned suspense tale. The story's sweeping finale comes during an onslaught of howling winds and rain. During a power outage, Emeline explores the house by candlelight determined to solve the mystery. Skeletons in the wall, missing pearls, a hidden diamond bracelet, and a smoking gun smoothly enhances this moody 160-page thriller. I was firmly glued to every page in a white-knuckle race to find the answers. You will be too. Highly recommended!

Friday, November 5, 2021

Circle of Secrets

Jon Messman proved to be a prolific and diverse author throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He created the wildly successful The Trailsman series of adult westerns, contributed installments in the Nick Carter: Killmaster spy series as well as authoring his Handyman and Revenger series of men's action adventure novels. Messman also wrote horror and stand-alone thrillers, but surprisingly, he also authored gothic romance novels under the pseudonyms Claudette Nicole and Pamela Windsor. After reading a lot of Messman's work, I decided to try one of his Nicole gothics, Circle of Secrets. It was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1972.

Kim Morrison and Mary Ellen met and became friends in college. Years later, the two still remain long distance friends and communicate through letters and phone calls. Oddly, Mary Ellen only talks to Kim after midnight and maintains a bit of secrecy concerning her personal life. On their most recent phone call, Mary Ellen seemed distressed, motivating Kim to pack her bags to make a visit. The next day, Kim receives the deed to Mary Ellen's house, a beautiful old plantation home off the coast of Georgia. The property, known as Starset, has been passed down from generation to generation, and apparently Kim is the new owner. But, what's going on with Mary Ellen?

Kim's visit to Georgia is plagued with issues. She receives an ominous telephone call warning her to stay away from Starset. Within a few miles of Starset, someone shoots Kim's tire. Further, there are multiple attempts to murder her using things like rattlesnakes and faulty stairs. Kim discovers that Starset has remained empty for years and there is no sign that Mary Ellen has recently lived in this house. After further investigation, Kim discovers an old gravestone on the property...and Mary Ellen's name is on it. Mary Ellen has been dead for three years! Has Kim been communicating with a ghost this whole time!?!

Circle of Secrets is a more of a murder mystery than a gothic. Traditionally, these gothic novels describe the house in so much detail that they become a character. In those books, most of the suspense and intrigue occur inside the walls of the lavish mansion or castle. Messman still includes the mansion (and vulnerable woman), but he places most of the mystery outside of the house. Like a toned down detective novel, Kim interviews the minister, coroner and town residents about Mary Ellen's mysterious death. Slowly, the book evolves from the ghostly tease to a flat-out crime-noir mystery. However, Messman rips the rug out from under the whole thing on the very last pages. It becomes a frustrating open-ended finale where readers can draw their own conclusions on who, or what, is terrorizing Kim. 

If you can purchase a copy of Circle of Secrets on the cheap, then I recommend it. It's a murder mystery cloaked by gothic drapery with great artwork and colors. Additionally, Messman is such a great writer that even this average read is enhanced by his storytelling magic.