Thursday, April 24, 2014

"The House on the Cliffs" by Caroline Farr

Date Published:  1974
Setting:  Modern

I froze, staring at my door in disbelief.  Someone was emerging from my room,  partially obscuring the square of light.  A man who was just a dark figure etched against the light as he turned with the bats almost upon him, as though to get back inside.  But I realized abruptly that had not been his intention.  He had worked the door mechanism.

The entrance to my room was closing, locking me out, the door sliding down while the bats beat impotently at it with their wings.  Some were trying to squeeze through the rapidly diminishing vertical bar of light that was the opening, while the man down there struck and kicked at them viciously.

Then suddenly there was nothing...
Complete darkness!

I sat trembling, waiting for whoever it was to switch on a flashlight and discover me sitting there frozen in terror and doubt...through my panic I heard a man talking to himself, the words confused and incoherent, the voice strangely flat and unemotional.  It was the voice of a stranger, a sick man, a mentally sick man...

When Trudy accepts an invitation from her best friend, Toni, to holiday at their grand old estate off the coast of Oregon, she expects a relaxing vacation full of sandy beaches and sunny days.  But, ironically, when the bus drops Toni off at the edge of the gated estate no one awaits to take her bags and the fog is so thick she wonders if she might walk right off the edge of a cliff while trying to blindly find her way to the house.  And as if that weren't bad enough, she's all but accosted by the crazy gardener who insists on speaking in riddles about a hitchhiking girl who's recently been kidnapped and murdered right off the main highway near Farland Town.

Her curiosity is only deepened when she is not met by the welcome of Toni, as the housekeeper says Toni is away with Gene (a former love interest and Toni's brother, whom now seems more like a brother to Trudy as well) on some kind of business arrangement.  Yet when Toni returns that evening, Trudy's curiosity turns to disbelief when she learns that her trusted friend Gene is being accused and questioned for the kidnap and murder of the young missing college student, who supposedly hitchhiked from California all the way to Oregon in her obsession for the handsome, rich architect.

Then, late one night after almost falling off the cliff into the rumbling ocean after stumbling into a landslide, Trudy is resting in her rooms when she is met by a frenzied Gene, who seems to have walked right out of the wall.  He tries to drag her with him and when she screams, she's rescued by officers who have the house staked out in search of Gene, who has fled the investigators and is now in hiding.  The police believe Gene is hiding inside the walls of the old mansion that lie behind secret passage doors.  Trudy knows where the passage lies, but believes Gene is innocently hiding out from false accusations.

In the meantime she finds herself befriended by the handsome, enigmatic artist Bruce Gallard, who saved her from the menacing landslide she'd walked into near the woods.  Bruce seems to have an uncanny interest in Farland House and the missing girl.  He warns Trudy against perusing the passages again, but she can't help her own stubborn curiosity.  When she goes in search of Gene once again, she finds herself trapped in a dark, winding chamber of absolute darkness, secret rooms, murdered victims as she's pursued by a madman in a secret passage no one else knows exists.

Will Trudy survive to uncover the mystery of the missing girls of Farland Town, and will she figure out what Bruce's morbid interest in this news story mean...or will she succumb to the dark malice of the tunneled passage?

I thought this was an excellent read from Farr (as you've probably noticed by now, I'm a bit of a fan).  It maxed out at 95 pages so I do feel she could have fleshed it out a little better.  All in all, nice mystery, nice climax of events.  The romance seemed realistic.  The last few pages were a bit rushed.  Would recommend this read to fans of gothic romance!

Rating: 4 Stars

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