Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ALTERNATIVE HORROR: The Craghold Creatures - Edwina Noone

A well read private eye fan won't even have to open this book to know that it's one of the many pseudonyms of Michael Avallone. His private, after all, was Ed Noon. Avallone was a big prankster when it came to pen names. So much of  a prankster that he includes one of his own alter egos as a character in this book.  And I could only think as I was reading this loopy book that a whole lot of women readers who used to snap up Gothic suspense books by the bucketful back in the 60s and 70s must've thought the "woman" who wrote this book had smoked a little too much weed or dropped a bit too much acid.  It's not at all like any Gothic suspense novel you will ever read.

Anyone familiar with Avallone's work would recognize his tell-tale style in an instant. Forget that giveaway pen name. Forget that the book is all about a movie production company and is peppered with numerous references to old movies and movie stars. How could anyone overlook the prose style of the samples below?

She tried to scream--and couldn't. The tendons, cords and nerve centers of her throat were locked into one spasmodic, cramped complex that refused to respond to the telegraphed messages of terror from her mental batteries.
"Oh, Soldier...what was it? How can there be such a thing...it isn't possible...it couldn't be. Not even a Z movie ever had anything like that in it..."
His blood ran cold, the mercury dropping like a shot in a thermometer.
Moria Shearer! -- that was it. Cornelia was pretty much a ringer for that English doll from the Red Shoes.
Craghold House. He had been right the first time.  A Grade A, certified Zombie Depot. You'd better believe it!
There is only one person who writes like that. Michael Avallone.

I loved this book. I only wish there were more over-the-top Gothic novels like this one. It dares to combine an obsessive movie fan's love of title allusions and movie star name dropping with weird horror set pieces that aspire to a Lovecraftian pastiche.

Movie mogul Max Wendel sends his right hand lady Cornelia to scout locations for their upcoming blockbuster-to-be movie adaptation of a best selling horror novel called The Six Sidneys. Cornelia and her helicopter pilot assistant (nicknamed Soldier) find the perfect spot in Kragmoor, Pennsylvania. Little do they know that Craghold House, now a converted hotel, has a rich and gruesome history of hauntings, murders and unexplained supernatural events. Of course it would make the ideal setting for the movie --the house itself is a horror show. As the cover blurb proclaims "She searched for perfection and found a house that was perfectly evil..."

The house has unspeakably chilly rooms, hidden crypts, a monstrous occupant in the basement -- name your favorite Gothic motif and it's sure to be somewhere in Craghold. Even the current proprietor of the hotel looks like something that escaped from a zombie movie. Rest assured that Cornelia, Soldier, and the mysterious Dr. N. Waldo Ow, a guest at the hotel who is researching the occult properties of herbs, will all encounter more than their fair share of ghoulies and ghosties and things that go slurp, slop, squish in the night.

As for in-jokes and Avallone trivia the book is busting to the seams with his pranks. The heroine is named Cornelia Rich. Ring any bells crime fiction fans? It's a feminization of Cornell Woolrich. In case you missed that Edwina literally spells it out for you later in the book. Zombie Depot (mentioned above) is the title of a book Avallone wrote for the Satan Sleuth series but due to poor sales the series was dropped and that manuscript never made it to a published book. One of the other characters is Mark Dane. See if he reminds you of anyone.

Dane wasn't interested in magical healing herbs. Nor in any drugs of any kind, Mark Dane did not need any artificial stimulants to stay alive. He had a burning opiate of his own, one that never allowed him to rest or stay down too long or up high forever. He was a writer in the truest sense of the title. [...] He was drunk with the magic of the English language and it had remained his mistress for a greater length of time than any woman he had ever known.
This page long paragraph goes on to cite Dane's "over a hundred" novels consisting of "spy yarns, private eye capers, police procedurals, Gothic romances, armchair detective puzzles." And he had used "five masculine and three feminine pen names." Can this be any more of a celebration of Avallone himself? Mark Dane just happens to be one of the many pen names Avallone used. A quick look through Hubin's Bibliography of Crime Fiction show a few movie script novelizations by Avallone as "Mark Dane."

I need to read the rest of the books in this Craghold series to see if they live up to the awesome outrageousness that can only by Michael Avallone. Can the other three books make me smile as much as this one? I certainly hope so.

Edwina Noone's very special brand of Gothic Novels
Dark Cypress (1965)
Corridor of Whispers (1965)
Heirloom of Tragedy (1965)
Daughter of Darkness (1966)
The Second Secret (1966)
The Victorian Crown (1966)
Seacliffe (1968)
The Cloisonne Vase (1972)
Tender Loving Fear (1984)

The Craghold Series
The Craghold Legacy (1971)
The Craghold Curse (1972)
The Craghold Creatures (1972)
The Craghold Crypt (1973)

6 comments:

  1. Dammit, now I have to read these!

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    1. Maybe one is more than enough, Tim! But I can't resist. I've already ordered two more of the Craghold books from some online dealers. Couldn't find anything by Edwina at my usual dependable used book shops here. Basedon two online reviews I read the early Edwina Noone books sound more like the typical nightime nightgown traipsing Gothic. I'm sticking with the Craghold series and hoping for more nameless things and zombie-like hotel owners.

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  2. John: The only Noone I know was Michael Connelly's character, James Noone.

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  3. Wow, this sounds fantastic! And I've never actually read one of this vintagey Gothic novels. Might be the place to start... and stop?

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    1. It's the only Edwina Noone book worth reading, Will. I have the others and I never finished CRAGHOLD LEGACY because it resembled the usual formulaic chick in a nightgown wandering the halls with a candle or flashlight. And because I of that I’ve avoided reading the others. This one has Avallone's unique stamp on it. Very few of the traditional Gothics are this bizarre. In my reading only Virginia Coffman dares to tackle dark and genuinely supernatural themes. There is also Charlotte Hunt who has an occult detective series and genuine supernatural content but that series seems derivative of Sax Rohmer or Guy Boothby who both wrote books with evil masterminds with supernatural powers doing battle with our intrepid hero.

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  4. Yep, my impression of 'em is they hewed very closely to a set formula, like Harlequin romances.

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