Monday, October 9, 2017

"The Phantom Cottage" by Velda Johnston

Published:  1969
Setting:  Modern Day  (New York City &  Cape Cod)


I blurted, "Last night someone drugged and kidnapped me."

With those little eyes never leaving my face, I stumbled on.  I explained how everything...the candle flame, the flowers and faces that swam across my eyes, the black-coated figure across the room...seemed to change shape and size.  And how I knew, even through the drug, that they were all involved in Laura's death.

The Police Chief stared at me belligerently.  "You'd better go back to New York, Miss,"  he said, "and go talk to one of those fancy head doctors."

As I left, I was almost convinced that he was right...that I had gone stark, raving mad.  Then, for the first time, I saw the rope marks on my wrists...

Back Cover Synopsis:


Jane Warren was fleeing the memory of a broken love affair when she came from Manhattan to the windswept solitude of the cottage by the sea.  Neither the howling of the wild dogs in the swamp nearby, nor the strange hostility of the local townsfolk, could weaken her resolve to live here until her heart was whole again.

Too late she realized she had entered a dark labyrinth where every turn revealed a new horror of the past...where a man she could not bring herself to trust gained frightening power over her...where terror pursued her toward a final monstrous revelation of evil in....the phantom cottage.

Jane is your average New York City girl.   As a self-employed illustrator, she can afford to take her own vacation when her long-time boyfriend leaves her jilted for the more promising prospect of his employers daughter.

Jane has also just buried her only true friend, Laura Crane, who died tragically in a hit and run accident just days earlier.  The elusive Laura who refused any type of personal disclosure, yet also harbored the innocent love of animals.  Laura had phoned Jane in the middle of the night, upset and frightened of something...or someone, yet had been killed minutes later as she made her way to Jane's apartment in the dark.

Desperate to be away from a city who'd left her heart-broken, Jane escapes to the tiny town of Garth, nestled at the edge of Cape Cod.  Garth, the city for which her belated friend Laura had mentioned in passing once before.  

Jane was only looking for a quiet, scenic town for which she could remain anonymous as she nursed her broken heart.  Yet, what she found was the phantom life of some other girl.   As it turns out, there was much more to the story of Laura than she could ever have imagined.  And as she struggles to put together the puzzle pieces of a life that Laura had escaped from, she's met with ludicrous secrets, lies, and murder!

Best Description of Cape Cod:  Every once in a while, something lives up to your expectations of it.  The Cape was a different world.  Soon after I crossed the canal and began to drive up the old Cranberry Highway, the last of the drizzle gave way to a wispy ground fog.  It hovered in the hollows of the almost deserted highway and swirled between the black-trunked pines like smoke...or like the wraiths of those long dead.  Well, I reflected, if any part of this nation was haunted, the Cape should be.

Interesting Names of Businesses:  Renee's Cocktail Bar, Jim's Giant Hamburgers, Hillhaven Funeral Home.

Best Gothic Elements:  an unsuspecting girl being drugged and kidnapped,  an old murder mystery, hidden/switched identities, a political scandal, a wild pack of dogs in a marshy fog-ridden swamp, a cottage beach rental by the sea, hit and run murder, an attempted hit and run, digging through the old newspaper periodicals for some sensational murder story from the past, small old historical towns, the use of LSD to drug a victim.

This is on of my favorite books by Velda Johnston.  It contains everything for the making of an irresistible gothic romance mystery.  I particularly like the setting by the sea, especially the little rental cottage and the main characters forays on the beach.  These little details really pulled me into the atmosphere of the story.

My Rating:

5 Stars

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"Where is Holly Carleton?" by Susan Marvin

Setting:  Modern Day
Published:  1973

"I am Mme. Manet,"  she introduced herself.  "Do you wish to see me?"

"Well, I--I asked for Mme.  Holly Manet, my sister," Janice tried to explain.

"Mademoiselle, there is no Holly Manet living here at the Villa Fontaine,"  she said with a touch of irritation.  "I am afraid you have been given an incorrect address."

"Jacques' wife,"  Janice said quickly, her heart thumping.  "My sister Holly."  It sounded absurdly repetitious.

"There has been some mistake,"  Mme.  Manet said stiffly.  "My son Jacques is not married..."

Back Cover Synopsis

"I married the handsomest man," Holly wrote. "You must come to France to stay with us..." But when Janice Carleton made the long journey to be with her sister, no bride and bridegroom where there to meet her. Relatives denied knowledge of any marriage, and the police accused Janice of "bothering" such wealthy and respected people. With no one to help her solve the mystery, Janice would have to do it herself...

When schoolteacher, Janice, receives exciting news from her young actress sister that she's hastily wed, Janice changes her tour plans to visit Holly in a tiny village town in France.  However, when she arrives the wealthy household of Villa Fontaine is quite adamant that their heir, Jacques, has never been married.  They insist that Holly simply has been beguiled by someone masquerading as the young Jacques.  

Janice holds steadfast that her sister is sophisticated enough to realize whether she is marrying an impostor and when she is offered  a job sitting the elderly Mme. Simone, she stays on in hopes of solving the disappearance of her sister.

Life at Villa Fontaine is further complicated when she is befriended by a reporter, Neil, who says he's been stood up for an interview with Jacques.  He, too, finds this bit of irresponsibility uncharacteristic of the successful business tycoon.  A romance blooms between the two as Neil aids Janice in uncovering the secret of where her sister has gone.

Together, they journey into the hillsides and wilderness of France, into tiny towns where the locals have sinister accusations of Americans.  Holly is willing to risk her own life in order to save her sister from what she senses is certain peril.

All in all, this was a pretty good read.  It was a bit slow in parts when the searching through France became redundant.  It has several subplots and some atmospheric side stories that make for a quick-paced, descriptive read.  Recommend!

Dark Description:   Thunder again rolled through the sky.  Ominous.  On impulse I crossed to the window, opened a wedge between the drapes.  Lightning crackled across the night sky, illuminating the choppy, dark sea below.  I spied a ship coming into harbor.  Down the shore red lights blinked on and off, calling other ships into port...

Damsel In Peril:  I awoke with a startling suddenness, every nerve on alert.  Rain hammered at the windows.  The fire was completely obliterated when I'd expected the logs to smolder until dawn.  A heaviness in the room made my heart pound.  A labored breathing.

I was not alone.

I strained to penetrate the blackness.  Somebody stood before the closet.  Tall.  Heavy.  A man.

Trembling, I geared myself for action.  What good would I be to Holly dead?  I screamed.  One frenzied, terrified scream.  And with it I hurled myself over to the far side of the bed to the protectiveness of the floor.

I lay there.  Hearing the scurrying of heavy feet.  My door opened and closed.  I stumbled to my feet.  Too late to catch a glimpse of the intruder!

Interesting Food:  Desert:  Mousse and Coffee;  burnt almond pudding  with coffee ice cream and macaroons.  Dinner:  Creamed fillets of sole with oysters and shrimp served with thin wedges of toast.  Veal in read wine sauce.  Asparagus with peas.  Foie gras in gelatin.

Best Gothic Elements:  kidnapping, missing persons, mysterious disappearance, a lame person who works as gardener, rich tycoon, missing heir, animosity among locals toward tourists, a sinister butler/driver who is not trusted, domineering house maid, maid who steals and tries to frame tourist, small town secrets, and a huge villa mansion by the sea.

My Rating:  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Boris Karloff's Thriller - Rose's Last Summer

I love digging through these old TV shows and resurrecting, per say, the episodes that I feel are reminiscent of the vintage gothic stories.

Maybe it is because of the times back then and how these types of story-lines were rehashed and rewritten over and over. Perhaps the Gothic Romance story-lines were just that appealing to the common-day audience at the time.  I think they would have had to have been, considering the ungodly amount of paperbacks that once littered store shelves.

Yet, I found the plot-theme of this episode eerily presenting of so many of the gothics I have read over the years.  Same plot, just enough of a twist in characters and story-line to define it as a whole new story.

Season 1 Episode 5, 1960, Hosted by Boris Karloff , An aging actress is mysteriously found dead in a family's garden, and they may know more about her death than they will admit.
Written and Directed by: Maxwell Shane

"Naked Once More" by Elizabeth Peters (A Short Review)

Published:  1990
Setting:  Modern Day

Cover Synopsis:

She may be a bestselling author, but ex-librarian Jacqueline Kirby's views on the publishing biz aren't fit to print. In fact, she's thinking of trading celebrity for serenity and a house far away from fiendish editors and demented fans when her agent whispers the only words that could ever make her stay: Naked in the Ice.

Seven years ago, this blockbuster skyrocketed Kathleen Darcy to instant fame. Now the author's heirs are looking for a writer to pen the sequel. It's an opportunity no novelist in her right mind would pass up, and there's no doubting Jacqueline's sanity...until she starts digging through the missing woman's papers - and her past. Until she gets mixed up with Kathleen's enigmatic lover. Until a series of nasty accidents convince her much too late that someone wants to bring Jacqueline's story -and her life - to a premature end.

I have read (and own many) Barbara Michael's books.  So, I figured since the same author wrote this book (albeit published under the pen-name Elizabeth Peters) that I would find it just as enjoyable as the dark, brooding, gothic mysteries of Michael's.  Boy, was I wrong!

This book is a simple who-done-it mystery.  Not only that, it's only one of a complete series (I also was not aware when I began to read it) so there was some references to earlier stories that I did not fully understand.

To make a long story short, Jacqueline Kirby as come to a writer's retreat in order to solve the disappearance/death of a famous romance writer.  She must eliminate the suspects and get to the truth.

Honestly, what I remember most about this book is the meals she ate.  The ending did surprise me, I totally did not see the ending coming.  However, the rest of the book is predictable and...yes...boring!

Only read it if you don't have anything creepier at hand!

Best Gothic Elements:  stolen identity, disappearances, poisoning by food, ghosts

3 Stars

Friday, March 17, 2017

"Northwater" by Cecily Crowe

Published:  1968
Setting:  Modern Day

The dim yellow wall lights in the upstairs serve merely to cloud the eyes.  "Kitty?" I called softly.  I stood still, listening.  "Kitty?"

I must have known where she had gone.  I must have believed she wouldn't play tricks on me,that malevolence wasn't in her nature, to lie in wait for me in the dark; I still believe it.  It was one of those accidents of timing, and Kitty, thinking I was still with Father Boneau, or not thinking at all but impelled by inner grieving, had simply taken advantage of the moment to linger behind and offer up her penance, perhaps even her prayer.

I turned the corner and went silently to Mother's room. Inside, the thick darkness was only faintly yellowed by hall lights. I crossed the carpet toward the dressing room.

I stopped moving as if I had stepped off a precipice.  Mother! She was bent over the dressing table once more, in her long white dress, her forehead resting on the glass...

A scream (whose?  mine?)  rose and spit the darkness, seemed to pierce all the rooms of the house.  A familiar pain stabbed me, I was falling steeply, groping in the black rushing air, and even after the white figure moved and became Kitty I continued to fall, pain and darkness engulfing me until the last pinpoint that was myself disappeared in space...and, like a tiny light, went out...

Cover Synopsis:

Althea North has come home to Northwater a very different person from the wild and beautiful girl who left the New England mansion eleven years before.  She has lived through a disastrous marriage to an Italian Count, a harrowing bout with narcotics and several promiscuous love affairs.  Now, Althea has returned to settle an account with her life - and to die.  Ill with an incurable disease, she knows she has little time to find the peace she longs for or to help her younger sister, Kitty, who is tormented by the mysterious death of their domineering mother.

Althea sets to work to reopen Northwater and to become reacquainted with Kitty and her husband Jack, the garage mechanic whom Kitty married in defiance of her mother's wishes.  Plagued by her worsening illness and by terrible nightmares of her mother's ghost, Althea tries desperately to uncover the horror of her family's life and death.

As her relationship with Kitty deepens, Althea slowly develops friends among the people of the town who at first view "the Countess Branzini" with suspicion.  Then, as if by a miracle, a never-before realized capacity to love.

Writing in the same graceful style that made The Tower of Kilraven so popular, Cecily Crowe weaves Althea's strange story against the background of life and its conflicts in a New England resort town to create a novel of ever-mounting suspense which ends only at the last - and crucial - confrontation between the two haunted sisters.

This short novel was so eloquently written that I would almost label it as literary fiction, even though it was released in the Gothic Romance genre.  

Another reader described this book synopsis as deceptive and simple and I would have to agree.  Short as it was, this story was powerfully chilling (both emotionally and psychologically).  The main character, Althea, has had her share of living (drugs, affairs,etc) and has recently discovered she is terminally ill and so decides to return to her childhood home, an old mansion in the backhills of a sea resort town. 

The plot of the book revolves around Althea's guilt, as well a that of her younger, more vulnerable sister, over the mysterious death/suicide of their mother.  Althea seems to be struggling with a primal, deep-set guilt and is seeking forgiveness...mostly that of herself.

The novel has deep, sinister undertones.  The echoes of old ghosts.  Family sagas and secrets. And a mysterious death.  I had the feeling of something evil constantly lurking in the background.  This is a read I could not put down!

Best Gothic Elements:  ghosts, murder, suicide, terminally ill character, old plantation mansion nestled on the out-banks of New England, family secrets and lies, a domineering and controlling mother.

5 Stars