Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Shadows by Jan Alexander [1970]

Obtained this cover scan via Fantasticfiction.co.uk. It's just a tad fuzzy, and the words beneath Shadows reads: "Ghosts rule a Hollywood manor with a deadly hand -- must Mari join them in eternal damnation?"

I finished reading this marvelous novel 20 minutes ago. It rates a definite *5 Stars* on a scale of 1-5.

The author, Jan Alexander, is actually Victor J. Banis. Apparently he is/was "a native Californian who grew up in the movie colony." This is the 2nd of such Hollywood-oriented Gothics I've read, the previous of which was "Mist of Evil" by Patty Brisco [reviewed in September]. For some reason I've liked the Hollywood "movie scene" draw and was happy to find this Gothic last month.

Mari Andrews is the 24-year-old niece of Maggie Berke, a living Hollywood legend. Mari's been working in her native Minneapolis, MN, with her mother, Maggie's sister, in their own fashion/clothing business. But Mari is intrigued with Maggie [who is gracious and good-hearted despite her phenomenal fame and money; just PLEASE don't call her "Aunt" Maggie ;-P ], and decides to pay Maggie a visit [it's been 20 years] while trying her hand at breaking into show biz.

I like this descriptive of Maggie, glamorous and regal on the stair landing, greeting Mari with "...that familiar pose; hip thrust to one side, arms outstretched, head thrown back in a frozen toss of laughter."

Can't you just SEE that? Powerful descriptive, particularly the last.

Maggie is elated with Mari's visit. Buddy's spirit, however, isn't. Just as Mari is about to cross the landing to sail upstairs and into her aunt's welcoming arms, the huge and heavy overhead chandelier comes crashing down. A terrified woman appears behind Maggie, nearly leaping on her and screaming in terror: Elisa.

Elisa is Maggie's stepdaughter. She's convinced Buddy's ghost doesn't want Mari there. From the get-go she's cold, unwelcoming, nervous and hostile towards Mari. Is it a case of exaggerated superstition or something else? And what, if anything, has Davis -- the maintenance man -- to do with Elisa's moods?

As for Davis, he's a sinister character. Rude, abrupt, hostile; doesn't behave like an employee of an estate.

Maggie's son, Buddy Berke, had been a childhood Hollywood sensation; even bigger than Shirley Temple. Unfortunately Buddy died tragically of pneumonia before age 10. His death haunts Maggie, who blames herself; The Aerie [her palatial estate] is a memorial to her beloved Buddy. And she's convinced his spirit haunts the place; visits and speaks to her. And what Buddy's telling his mother is he hates Mari and wants her gone.

Mari soon meets Maggie's dashing young doctor, Ken Wolfe. They strike up a sweet and slow romance. Mari is ruled out as actress material. She knows eventually she must return to MN if the romance with Dr. Wolfe doesn't work out; Maggie is supportive and hospitable...for a while.

Then, at The Aerie, matters take a progressive turn for the worse. Maggie seems to be losing her grip on reality. Though she's not yet 60, is she perhaps in the early stages of senility? Is she losing her mind due to insanity? Buddy's spirit continues to warn Maggie that Mari's in danger and should leave. Maggie is upset by Buddy's unjustified hostility. Mari is visited at nights by an apparition-like being; at one point she is nearly killed.

The story is a heady brew of tranquilizers, a seance, a temporary disappearance, action [more on Mari's part than any other protagonist's I've yet read], deliberate interference on Mari's part to frustrate the plans of her enemy [you go girl!] and of course intrigue.

Unlike other Gothics of the time I've read, this one included a reference to the Apollo Program [watching a simulation of going to the Moon and back], and also a vivid and enjoyable description of "hippies" strolling and dancing along the Sunset Strip.

There is one "blooper" in the storytelling: At one point Maggie and Mari are in the library, reminiscing over Maggie's old glamour shots. Maggie begins reminiscing about Buddy, becomes mildly upset. They're in the mansion, in the library. The next chapter continues the scene...with them *outdoors* and discussing going back inside, which they do. The devil is truly in the details with storytelling; I know that first-hand. :-\

There are two terrific surprises at the end. Just when the story seems to be flagging, straining at the bit to be finished -- it GETS finished, in spectacular fashion. :-) Very satisfying.

The cast of characters as I visualized them:

Ms. Maggie Berke [age 59]: Joan Bennett, with sable-brown hair.

Mari Andrews [age 24]: A mixture of pretty young actresses at the time: Soft brunette hair pulled back, large hazel-green eyes, fine features.

Dr. Kenneth Wolfe [age 29]: George Peppard.

Elisa [age 28]: I disliked this character so didn't bother.

Davis [age 32]: Clint Eastwood.