Thursday, August 13, 2015

"The Sleepwalker" by Helen McCloy

Published:  1974
Setting:  Modern Day

I have no idea what time it was when, once again, I became aware of the dark landscape with the silent flicker of lightning along the horizon.

Once again I faced a dark door that must not be opened, two lamps burning on either side of it, one red, one green

How had I got here?  I must go home!

I ran so fast that, like a plane, I became air-borne.  Not merely weightless, like an astronaut in a capsule, but ripping through resistant air with the speed of a jet, hurling over mountains far below with a flash and a  roar.

It was more exhilarating than anything else I have ever experienced or imagined, this flying actively with one's own worrying about landing.  Who ever saw a bird crash on landing?  

Now I was over a sea, banking, circling, descending in a spiral that grew narrower and narrower until there was only myself, a point at the end of a corkscrew, and the dark waters which received me coldly, laving and rocking me in the rise and fall of their billows.

The water was gone.  Everything was gone.

All motion had stopped, from the ponderous wheeling of great galaxies which take billions of years to make a single turn to the lunatic random motion of subatomic particles.  Time itself stopped because time cannot exist without motion...

I was cold.

I groped for a blanket.

My touch couldn't find anything that felt like blanket, but it reached something smooth, hard and cold.  Metal.

There was not metal on my bed.

I opened my eyes.

I was sitting at the wheel of my car, wearing an old raincoat over jeans.  The light came from headlamps and a moon round and radiant as a silver plate...

Back Cover Synopsis:

Marian Tansey appears to be living a happy life. She has great friends, a job in a thrift shop, and she has just bought a new car. She may even be falling in love with Dick Lang, who sold it to her. She could be on top of the world, but there are a few clouds in the sky. 
There is a mystery surrounding the car. It has been 'borrowed' during the night by someone unknown. But most of all there's the frightening fact that, although she hasn't admitted it to any of her friends or colleagues, Marian lost her memory a year or two ago and has no idea who she is. Then, there is a murder...

Best Gothic Elements:  murder, amnesia/fugue, a woman who does not know her own identity stumbles unwittingly into the hands of a killer, missing persons, sleepwalking

During the first fifty pages of this book, I really felt that the whole mystery was going to refer to someone stealing Marian's car and the story would be devoted to finding the culprit....which, to me, sounds like a really boring story with not much depth.

I'm glad I kept reading, though, because there was much more to the story.  What I hated was how none of it was ever really fleshed out.  You never really get to know the life of Mirian before the only get to know her as her new identity as she searches for who she was and why she's sleepwalking.

And when the climax does occur and the secrets are revealed, it is in such a hushed way that you're left wanting more of this story.

The book is easy enough to read (though a bit boring the first 50 or 60 pages).  It does have a creepy, mysterious feel.  So if you're looking for  a quick, cozy read, you'll probably enjoy it.  It's not as much of a gothic romance as I'd hoped.

My Rating:
3 Stars

"Black Candle" by Christine Randell

Published:  1968
Setting:  Modern Day

...I drove off down the unfamiliar lane, then glanced in the driving mirror to see if I was being followed, smiling at myself at the absurdity of the thought.  For who would suspect the nature of my errand, and credit the eccentricity of an old man who thought his savings safer in a barn than in a bank?

I reached the barn with no need to refer to the diagram.  It stood on the edge of the wood as father had described.  The place was so big, solid, and windowless with a heavy creaking door the full length of the building.  I pulled it open and stared uneasily.  Inside it was black as night, and I wished my father had advised me to bring a torch.  The door would not open far but I pulled it as wide as possible to give me the maximum light, then moved inside.  The place was cold and damp, and had a foul smell of decay.  Cautiously I groped my way across the ground, stumbling over some unseen object and hurting my leg.

I stopped to rub my leg, and to try to become accustomed to the gloom.  This errand was not going to be as easy as I had supposed, and I suddenly felt a disturbing sense of apprehension, and wished I had never embarked upon it.  My heart was racing as I moved further into the darkness, then I leaped like  startled cat as the door slammed shut, and the darkness was absolute.

It took a moment or two before I could stumble my way back to the door, where my trembling hands seized the handle and pushed with all my might.  The door did not budge...suddenly reason vanished, and I was pushing and pulling in turn, and felt the wetness of tears on my face.  The door was jammed solid, and could not be budged...

I was a prisoner in this old barn, with no idea when I might be released.  I sank to the ground in hopeless despair, and covered my face to hide the darkness from my eyes...

Back Cover Synopsis:

I could feel that evil things had happened in this house and that evil people had lived here.  Overlaying the chill, the damp, the smell of death and decay, was an overwhelming sense of awareness that evil forces were at work, and had been throughout the centuries.

This is Lorna's first reaction to Maulicrane Farm where she has come to visit her dying father- a father she had never met.  As the days pass, events prove to Lorna that there is still a very real danger at Maulicrane.

At first she believes it is her father who is threatened- kept in a drugged state so that he cannot recover from his mysterious illness.  Suddenly she learns that she herself is the target- the intended victim in a terrifying, deadly plot.

Best Gothic Elements:  buried/lost fortune, heroine who stumbles into the hands of a dying father and stands to inherit his fortune, curses, evil & senile housekeepers, a sick man being held prisoner, exchanging of identities, impostors, murder, faking ones death, ghosts and hauntings, one person drugging the drink of another, heroine is locked in an abandoned barn, Irish Farm, diabolic love affair

This book was easy to read with a mystery well enough designed to keep things paced.  

Lorna loses her mother to a car accident and, left with no family, decides to contact the father she never knew.  Years earlier, Lorna's own mother escaped what she described as an evil place, with Lorna in tow as a young child.  Now, Lorna feels compelled to at least meet the man who fathered her.  

But there is no warm homecoming at Maulicrane Farm, where her father lays, deathly ill.  She arrives on the day of a funeral, but soon will learn the death was her father's close friend, who has placed a curse upon the house prior to his death.

Much of the story consists of Lorna trying to escape the evil, domineering clutches of a crazed housekeeper who intends to keep her father there for her own selfish there is a fortune hidden somewhere and she's hell-bent on getting her hands on it.    Things aren't made easy for Lorna, what with the perverted & dishonest farm help, jealous housekeepers, and a ghost who steals an important piece of jewelry left to her by her mother.  Her only solace in the whole situation is the young English doctor who has befriended, and romanced, her.

But just when Lorna feels she's solved everything...she comes face to face with a horrific truth even more diabolic than any nightmare!

Highly recommend for fans of vintage gothic.  Very original with a surprise twist ending!

My Rating:
4 Stars

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Fatal Affiar" by Velda Johnston (A Short Review)

Published:  1986
Setting:  Modern Day

Book Synopsis:

The inheritance of a condominium in New York, along with a considerable amount of money, brings Betty and Jenny Carr from the small town of Carrsville, Missouri, to the glamorous big city. Betty, the younger of the two sisters, has dreams of becoming a famous dancer. Their sole contact in New York is their unsavory cousin, Colin. Soon Betty takes up with Colin's equally dubious friend, the sleekly sophisticated, middle-aged Antonio Braselmo. Jenny knows little of Betty's affair with Antonio, nor that after months of rejection and disappointment in the theater, Betty has gambled her half of the inheritance on a show that folds after only one performance. Shortly thereafter, Betty disappears, and with only a terse poscard from London as a clue to her whereabouts, Jenny takes off across the Atlantic in search of her sister. There she meets the attractive, sardonic journalist, Mike Baker. From him she learns that Braselmo is a notorious, throughly unscrupulous trafficker in anything that makes money. If Betty is with him, she is in very grave danger indeed. Mike joins Jenny in her desperate search, which leads to a confrontation that is as bizarre as it is deadly. Set in Manhattan, London, Paris, and a mansion high in the Swiss Alps.

Best Gothic Elements:  shattered dreams, missing persons, crime, kidnapping, inheritance, dangerous relative with evil intentions, a secluded glen in the Swiss Alps, a surgeon willing to commit an unthinkable, two sisters torn apart by secrets and lies, businessman who've become rich by crime, money laundering

This is one of my favorites by Velda Johnston thus far.  This book begins with a well-enough sense of mystery and danger, and it only progresses as the terror/mystery deepens the complete span of the book.

I would have to say my favorite thing about this book is the harrowing sense of adventure, and the heroine who is not afraid to bend heaven and hell to save her unsuspecting sister from criminals hell-bent on doing anything (even maiming the beautiful ballerina dancer) for the promise of a quick-made fortune.

The story begins in Manhattan, the girls then travel to Paris...the grand finale occurs in the deep green, rolling hills of the Swiss Alps.

I loved this book.  My only complaint is I wish it had been longer!  Fans of vintage gothic romance will love this story.  Also makes for a great, exciting cozy mystery and is a great mystery, in and of itself.  Highly recommend!

My Rating:
4 Stars

"Shadows on the Lake" by Leona Karr

Published:  2005
Setting:  Modern Day

Relieved  that her aunt seemed to have reluctantly accepted her decision, Courtney began finalizing her departure.  The next morning, she did all their washing and began to pack.  As usual, Devanna ignored her and gave all her attention to the baby.

Toward late afternoon when Jamie went down for a nap, Courtney decided to enjoy one final sunbath on the roof.  

"Good idea.  You've been as pale as a bleached rag lately," her Aunt commented with her usual bluntness.

As she put on her bathing suit, Courtney had a momentary flicker of regret.  Even though the atmosphere inside the houseboat had been oppressive, outside the sun, the beautiful view of the lake, and the pleasant climate had offered her some enjoyable moments.

And then there was Neil...

Her eyes were misty as she turned away from the deck, and started to climb up the narrow ladder.

She made it nearly to the top.

Then it happened!

The ladder suddenly puled away from its fastenings and she was flung backward.

She screamed as she hit the deck railing with such force that it broke, splintered and raked her arms and legs with deep cuts.  One end of hte falling ladder hit her head and propelled her over the side of the houseboat.  Black water drew her down and down.  Kicking and flailing her arms, she barely made it back to the surface...

Back Cover Synopsis:

A lonely houseboat on an isolated dock was not what Courtney Collins expected when she and her infant son arrived at Hidden Cove for the summer.  But their cold, mysterious host was Courtney's reclusive aunt and the only family she had left.

As the days passed, the hostile atmosphere was broken only by their landlord Neil Ellsworth's charming attention to Courtney.

The sexy-but-forever-single businessman offered a strong shoulder for Courtney's uncertain fears and for once Courtney could foresee a happy future.  But her dream was shattered the moment her baby was kidnapped.  With few clues and a nearly spotless crime scene, could Neil hold the key to unlocking the truth?

I had mixed feelings about this book, once completed.  Yes, it was full of action and had a solid mystery from beginning to end...the problem is that from the beginning, we already know what the mystery is.  The mystery was good, but it was completely predictable.

That being said, I also disliked the personalities of both characters.  Courtney was so cold and evasive that it was nearly impossible for anyone to permeate the stone wall she'd become.  And Neil didin't make her want to with all the constant talk of all his women friends he's left in the dust and how he's a 'forever' bachelor.  These two seemed an unlikely pair.  I found it weird that Neil would find all the wealthy, young, beautiful society ladies in his circle unworthy of his time yet he'd find an insane love attraction to a woman with a baby, a mystery, and a shady past.    The romance was unrealistic, but I guess anything can happen.

Despite this, I did read the book in a day.  It was an interesting, quick read.  The author writes well, and there was enough chaos to keep things interesting enough to finish the story.

If you enjoy the Harlequin Intrigue line, I'm sure this book will be enjoyable.  It has a few gothic elements, but this is not a gothic romance.

Best Gothic Elements:   musty old creepy houseboat, a kidnapping, a heroine who has no other family and has come to spend the summer with an eccentric aunt, murder, gunshots that sends a car flying over the edge of a cliff (the hero and heroine barely escaping with their lives)

My Rating:  
3 Stars