Friday, October 10, 2014

FFB: Nightmare Cottage - G. M. Wilson

UK 1st edition (Robert Hale, 1963)
"The chilling story of a house that harbored a grisly secret..." is the catch phrase used to market the only paperback edition (see scan below) of Nightmare Cottage (1963). Makes it sound like one of those woman in her nightie Gothic suspense novels. It's not. It's one of G. M. Wilson's many detective novels blending psychic and supernatural events in the context of a murder mystery.

Wilson's series character Miss Purdy (so far I haven't been able to discover her first name) is a mystery writer herself and has a habit of encountering bizarre and inexplicable events that usually end up with someone being murdered. This time she meets an eccentric old woman named Miss Bessiter while both are traveling on a bus tour making stops at the churches and old buildings in Norfolk. Miss Bessiter drops into a faint after looking out the bus window and seeing a house that she has been dreaming of repeatedly.

In her dreams Miss Bessiter enters the house and has made so many frequent tours that she has memorized the placement of each piece of furniture and knicknack on the fireplace mantel. She can describe the patterns in the carpets and wallpaper and  even remarks on the feel of the polished bannisters. She rhapsodizes about the house to Miss Purdy and confesses a desire to go back and visit it to see if it is the same house in her dreams. Miss Bessiter is sure the house holds the key to her cloudy past. Soon we learn she is an orphan and for all her life she has been trying to learn the identity of her real parents and any living relatives.


Pulls Ferry, Norwich
Probably the most famous tourist site in Norfolk
But the next day Miss Bessiter is found dead in her hotel room. The doctor rules it a natural death brought on by the shock of the previous day. Suspecting all is not right Miss Purdy begins asking questions. She starts with a visit to the troublesome cottage of Miss Bessiter's dreams. When she steps inside she finds it matches word for word the detailed descriptions Miss Bessiter gave her of the dream house interior. Can it be a coincidence? She further learns Miss Bessiter managed to visit the cottage as she had planned. But the current occupants are unwilling to discuss that visit. In her exploration of the house Miss Purdy discovers a cursed room, one that the current owners avoid for it was the scene of an accidental death by gas poisoning and it seems anyone who enters the room begins to suffer strange visions and is overcome with fear, not to mention a powerful nausea.

UK 1st paperback (Digit Books, 1964)
When it is determined that Miss Bessiter's death was due to an overdose of digitalis the police are brought in. Miss Purdy joins forces with her usual policeman cohort Inspector Lovick and together they uncover a trunkful of family secrets, learn the real identity of Miss Bessiter and her connection to Nightmare Cottage. They also uncover a devilish scheme to preserve a family's reputation and their fortune that leads one person to commit murder more than once.

The story unfolds with skillful potting, a good dose of fair play clueing and a handful of nifty tricks and twists. Wilson's love of the Norfolk countryside (her home for many years) plays out in colorful descriptions of the land and architecture as well as a few historical tidbits. Her talent for creating interesting often eccentric characters is put to good display in this strong entry in an often uneven series of detective novels featuring Purdy and Lovick. If you like a mix of the spooky and the gritty and don't mind a bit of ambiguity in the explanations of the uncanny events revealed at the story's end G.M. Wilson's mysteries are a smart alternative to the paranormal nonsense littered with vampires, werewolves and zombies found in contemporary supernatural mysteries.

Wilson's books are unfortunately rather hard to find in the US. Only three titles were published over here with the bulk of her books published only in her native England by Robert Hale Ltd. Added to the difficulty in finding used copies is the fact her books were rarely reprinted in paperback editions. Of those in paperback (all from Digit Books, an imprint of Brown & Watson) the three titles I've read are all worthy of your attention. She's one of the better mystery writers who blends supernatural and detection and makes it all work rather well. Her plotting can sometimes attain the exquisite simplicity coupled with baffling incidents found in the work of Christie or Brand or McCloy. More about Miss Purdy and Inspector Lovick coming soon when I discuss other books in the series.

* * *

I'm picking off a handful of squares on my Silver Age Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge Bingo card this month. This book fulfills space L1, the "Spooky title" book.

14 comments:

  1. Interesting. I've never heard of Wilson. It has to be said that Robert Hale have never been famous for author promotion!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have to give a nod to Steve Lewis and his fine blog at Mystery*File where I first learned of G. M. Wilson in a review by the late Bill Deeck. Seems to be the only other review of her work on the entire internet based on my assiduous Googling.

      Wilson's characters and the Norfolk setting really come alive. She also either knew a lot about the occult and British legends or did a *a lot* of research. The outré elements in her books that are genuinely weird (in the true sense of that word) are some of the best I've come across in recent years. Even if she may overcomplicate some of her plots with an unnecessary triple twist in the final pages I've enjoyed most of her books.

      Delete
  2. Surprisingly I have one of the paperback reprints (shelved in the horror section. I never realized there was a mystery angle to the story). Looking forward to your next post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello there, stranger! ;^) Of the three I've read so far this has the most original story, is the best plotted, and has a well-handled, surprising finale.

      Delete
  3. This is really a forgotten author, John. I look forward to the post with more information next week. I never know whether I will like psychic and supernatural elements, but I am willing to give them a try.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Awful cover, but what's inside makes me want to find a copy of this, John. But of course, it's hard to come by. What else is new? You're lucky I've plenty to read home from the library or I would be miffed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, not the best designed DJ, is it? I meant to put the paperback cover up there, but I wasn't at home when I wrote this. So I was forced to find pictures from internet sites. All my photos for this post were in a special folder on my laptop which stays at home. There are now pictures of the architecture found in Norwich where Miss Purdy was touring as well as a photo of the paperback cover of my copy of Nightmare Cottage.

      Delete
  5. John, where do you get these books? This one seems like a winner.

    Incidentally, my sister has received Threshold of Fear. I had sent you a mail but I don't know whether you received it. Thank you so much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I hear about a writer who intrigues me I set off on a relentless hunt for the books. Often that sends me to the internet where I have several sources that prove to be the best place to find obscure books. I lucked out with Wilson over the past few months because one seller keeps offering her *very* hard to find books at reasonable prices. Seems to me that you would have better luck than I. Many of these primarily UK published books should turn up in India. I know that Wilson's books can be found in Canada. Maybe you can have your sister look for you. ;^)

      I did get your email. Glad the book arrived safely.

      Delete
  6. Nicely reviewed, John. Not heard of the author or the series. I agree that a lot of early paperbacks (mass shipments, actually) from the US and UK make their way to India. I have come across some fine paperbacks and have begun to realise their value since I started blogging and reading about them on blogs like yours. Most of them are sold for a song because no one wants them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Most of them are sold for a song because no one wants them."

      I love that about finding obscure writers in used bookstores. tThese days everyone wants a new edition or a Kindle edition. I can pick up paperbacks by very good "unknown" writers sometimes for as little as a quarter at as book sale!

      Delete
  7. Another one for my Norris shelf - definitely getting hold of some of her book if I can find them (I'm a fan of LP Davies after all, so I have to give these a go) - thanks chum, as ever in your debt.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Not familiar with this author at all. Very intrigued! Unfortunately, I see no libraries in the US that have a copy of the author's works and they are fairly expensive to purchase. I will have to keep watching!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I just bought two titles on your recommendation here!

    ReplyDelete

Comment Approval is turned on for this blog. I review all comments prior to publishing them.