Showing posts with label William Ross. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Ross. 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 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

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. 

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, 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, 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

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.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Fog Island #02 - Fog Island

Canadian William Edward Daniel Ross (1912-1995) was a prolific author who wrote nearly 300 novels in his career. Specializing in multiple genres, Ross employed more than 20 aliases, including Tex Steele, Clarissa Ross, Dan Roberts and Ellen Randolph. His most popular alias was Marilyn Ross, a name he used to write over 30 novels related to the Dark Shadows television show. In addition, he used the name to author 54 stand-alone Gothic paperbacks as well as series titles like Birthstone Gothic and The Stewarts of Stormhaven. My first experience with Ross is his Gothic paperback book entitled Fog Island. It was published by the Paperback Library in 1965 and is the second episode in a series of seven stand-alones books simply called Fog Island. From what I can gather, none of these books are directly related to each other. 

In the first chapters of the book, readers learn that the Trent family lives on the rural Fog Island, just off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada. Young Stella Trent has been invited by her distant grandmother Winifred to visit the island and possibly reside in the family's large Victorian-style mansion called Trent Towers. Stella's mother had a bad relationship with Winifred and was recently deceased. Her mother's estate is now transferred to Stella and Winifred hopes to reconnect with Stella. 

Once Stella arrives and settles in the mansion, she is repeatedly attacked by what appears to be a ghostly apparition. To increase the tension, everyone she speaks with on the island warns her that the whole house is haunted and it stems from Trent Towers. While Stella is investigating, she finds out that her aunt and another man died together in a mysterious drowning incident. Everybody agrees that Stella bears a striking resemblance to the drowned woman. Will Stella experience the same fate?

Ross's story is a traditional Gothic tale that puts a woman at risk in what appears to be a supernatural event. The obligatory mansion is fun for the reader, and Stella, to explore. The novel wouldn't be complete without two dashing love interests, one of which may be a psychopath. Perhaps the most compelling part of the story is the guest house. An old family friend is doing medical experimentation there. Often Stella can see these experiments from her large window or in the illumination of the island's lighthouse. The mystery is whether or not her aunt actually drowned or is secretly held in this monstrous neighboring laboratory.

Some complain that Ross' writing seems interchangeable in all his books. I even read that some suggest that he copies full paragraphs of his Dark Shadows books and places them in his other Gothic novels. The question of whether all this is true is before the audience. I just have this book to judge and for a short, easy-to-follow Gothic novel, I really liked it. I'm looking for the rest of the books in this series, but they're all quite expensive. Based on the quality of Fog Island, it may be worth it. 

Fog Island Books:

1. Haunting of Fog Island (1965)
2. Fog Island (1965)
3. Phantom of Fog Island (1969)
4. Dark Towers of Fog Island (1975)
5. Ghost Ship of Fog Island (1975)
6. Fog Island Horror (1977)

Buy a copy of this book HERE