Friday, March 25, 2016

"A Presence in an Empty Room" by Velda Johnston

Published:  1980
Setting:  Modern Day

Then, as I stood there on the littered floor with my head throbbing, I became aware of something besides sadness and desolation in the atmosphere.  What was it?  I didn't know.  And I only knew that suddenly I had a frightened sense of vulnerability a feeling that I, like this church, could be invaded and destroyed...

Evil.  That was it.  An impression of evil swirling around me, an evil so great that it made Sam Wilsons illegal gin seem innocent.  I had the feeling that some memory was trying to form itself in my mind.  Desperately, aware of my clenched hands and of cold sweat on my forehead, I fought off a sense of invasion, of barriers giving way.

Then it leaped into my consciousness, a memory that could not possibly have been mine, and yet was as vivid as my recollection of the events of half an hour ago.  This little church, filled with the smell of burning wax.  Flicker of candlelight over hooded heads and over the doors barred from the inside.  Voices chanting softly.  Cold smoothness of the altar beneath bare back.  I moaned then, and the scent of candles cleared from my nostrils and their flickering glow from my eyes.  Hands holding my pain-racked head, I ran across the littered floor and out into the gray daylight...

Back Cover Synopsis:

To Susan Hapgood, a shy girl doubtful of her own charms, it had seemed almost miraculous that a rich, attractive man like Martin Summerslee would want to marry her. But even before he brought her as a bride to his native Maine village, Susan was aware that something shadowed the miracle- her own jealousy of a dead woman. Mysteriously killed in the crash of her own small plane, Irene Summerslee had been Martin's beautiful and much beloved first wife. Try and she would, Susan could not escape the fear that Martin was comparing her unfavorably with her predecessor. Within a few hours after Susan entered fine old Maine house, she had the first inkling that more than her own jealousy might cast a shadow on her marriage. And from then on, she felt a growing awareness of an evil force that threatened not only her happiness, but even her sanity and her very life. A surprising series of events take Susan down a dark path, to places Irene had been and to people she had known.
A Presence In An Empty Room is a fascinating story of suspense as well as a chilling tale of supernatural terror.

Susan has just lost her father to a long illness and is preparing for a life alone when she happens to meet Martin Summerslee in a bookstore.  They date for only a short time before they decide to be married.  But as soon as Susan enters her husbands hometown, and the great house where he once resided with his lovely (dead) ex wife, her dream turns into a hellish nightmare.  It seems everywhere she turns, she's met with kind comments and admiration for the dead wife who seemed such a lovely, innocent, selfless and beautiful woman.  Susan feels almost as if she's living in the shadow of a ghost when, without warning, her terrible headaches turn into full-blown possession.  Susan believes her body is being inhabited by the evil spirit of Martin's dead ex wife who, in reality, was a greedy woman who was planning Martin's death when her masquerade went horribly wrong.  Susan sees a psychologist, a priest, and finally confides in Martin...who only believes she's insane.  

I don't want to give away any spoilers by going too much in-depth with the story-line.  However, this was a rather engaging story of one woman's jealous insecurity and another woman's evil.  Of one woman finding the love that another woman selfishly threw away.  It's about greed, selfishness, and betrayal.  The only real fault with this book was how quick and weird the transition from 'normal' to 'possessed.'  I always hate head-jumping inside novels.  However, this is a vintage gothic romance through and through.  Totally recommend.

Best Gothic Elements:  possession, murder, lies, family secrets, untimely death, plotting a murder, plane crash, a lame, mentally challenged housekeepers, an orphan girl whose parents have died

My Rating:
4 Stars

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