1983 – 170 pg
* Most of my reviews contain spoilers as does this one ( I say this now , because this is after all a gothic / mystery ) *
I was eager to read a Windswept – having only merely skimmed copies in order to write a coherent description for my A-Z guide and was anxious to see if they were as good/bad as their adult counterparts. If you’re a fan of Gothic fiction you’ll know they follow a pretty predictable formula : Girl heads to a gloomy mansion ( usually as nurse , companion , or relative ) , is terrorized by cloaked figure who maybe be one of two sexy suitors , or a lurching butler , or the grim housekeeper/grounds keeper , discovers who is the culprit , and why – usually an inheritance is involved – sometimes the girl gets it or if not, she winds up with one of the hunks and alls-well-that-ends-well. What most interested me about the Windswept series is how they’d handle the angle of getting a teenage girl alone , in a gloomy mansion. Considering most adult gothic’s feature girls usually orphans or in a orphan state , over the age of twenty one , I was eager to see how a writer would handle this , I mean these books were designed for teen girls and the heroines weren’t much older than sixteen – how to go about placing them in a vulnerable state would be a tricky business – but Miriam Lynch wastes no time in setting this up in Dark Magic – her heroine, a slightly morose girl named Andrea has been living with a cold business-like Aunt Charlotte for three years since her mother died and doesn’t even seem to care when the roads are washed out and Andrea is stranded in the towns spookiest residence aptly called Shadowlawn.
During my research for nostalgia to coincide with the review I discovered in a box of gothic’s , that I had already read one of Miriam Lynch’s adult books. The Devil’s Mirror.
It was quite good , and though Lynch is a flawed author – she knows how to please within her genre. Out of a box of gothic’s it was her story I remember ; A young girl trapped in a so-called beauty farm run by devil worshippers. Her writing flaws are minor ; pacing , which is often stalled out or interrupted by descriptions and a tendency to sometimes displace action by placing the heroine outside of it. But the bonus is that she has a knack for creating gothic flavor – like candles whose intermediate brightness and shadow throws a painting of birds and small animals into the illusion of coming alive – Dark Magic – pg 16.
The plot starts off with Andrea still moping over the fact that after three years in Eastfield she has not made an impact on the students , she has no friends , and more importantly no boyfriend – in the true gothic realm Andrea is an outsider , all alone. Her unsympathetic teacher catches her daydreaming and gives her , of all students , Shadowlawn as a local landmark to do her history paper on.
Less than enthused she makes her way through a drizzle , down a soggy road to the foreboding manor and who should answer the door and make it all worth her while Craig Bartlett , great-grandson of the owner , a college student and something of a local sensation. She explains the situation wanting to know if he can help her out with some family records to do a little research on the property.
[ He threw an uneasy glance over his shoulder. “Right at this particular time – you see, we’re all right now. I’m on spring vacation , and of course my mother and I live here, but Lawrence and Enid…” ] pg 8
That’s the exact response – garbled and unfortunately one of Lynch’s weak spots – purposely with holding evidence from the reader but in a clumsy way. Now mind you in gothics n’ mysteries stuff is withheld – but a clasp of thunder could drown out a reply – why make Craig look like a babbling idiot. Is the here, out of we’re all here right now, an editing error? Who knows. He goes on to add the equally cryptic – “They just flew in two days ago, and gramps will want to have something as soon as possible.”
Of course for the sake of plot , people talk like that. By now the reader is asking – have what? – what is he talking about? But one can scarcely believe that a level headed college boy talks in such ciphers especially since Craig is not really up to playing the usual role of the ‘suspicious hunk’. He’s barely up to playing the ‘good guy.’
He invites her in hoping that she can latch onto something ( for her paper ) simultaneously giving her the bums rush. Andrea is both fascinated and repelled by a couple of swords above a mantel in the study , but Craig warns her that his grandpa wouldn’t like her to touch them. His manner is almost off putting so Andrea says she wouldn’t dream of using them – she mentions they look different then the ones she saw girls use in fencing class. ( oh those upper-class schools and their fancy-schmancy clubs. )
They go over some papers until the news breaks out ( the kind that kicks off any gothic ) that the rain has caused the river to rise , roads will be washed out , buses have stopped running – Andrea is stranded at Shadowlawn.
Lights go out and Craig appears with a tiered candelabra a perfect atmospheric touch and they continue with her homework assignment till dinner when the rest of the characters are introduced.
Josiah Bartlett ( a.ka. Gramps to Craig ) is the head of the household and owner of Shadowlawn , a seemingly quiet but alert man bemused by the relatives efforts to please him. Namely Lawrence Blair who tells dreadful jokes – If you want to have your elephants teeth pulled out , where do you go? Tuscaloosa! Yuk – yuck. His wife Enid is wearing the craziest outfit – [ Her dress of wine colored satin, had a fishtail skirt , a cowl neck , and a tight waist , everything too exaggerated for anyone as short and chubby as she was. A bouffant hairdo called attention to the fact that it’s brassy color was false. Angry little glances came Andrea’s way from behind harlequin type glasses, the kind long out of date. ]
Can you believe I kept mixing her up with Craig’s mother after this description , I’m not sure how. I suppose his mother’s whinny ways brought this loony outfit to mind. ( By the way it sounds as if they’re describing Mrs. Slocombe from Are you Being Served? )
To round out this odd bunch , I give you the hired help Ed Grenfall and his wife Lucy who serves the meals in – a velvet wrap around skirt and see-through blouse. One thing Miriam Lynch doesn’t lack in this story is good clothing descriptions which could be best described as either dressing ( heh heh ) or filler. She also has some high-falutin wording that manages to sabotage the action –
[ The argument seemed to have sprung up full-blown. At least , so it seemed to Andrea. There had not been any preliminary discussion that she heard – it was an outburst on the part of both combatants. Certain words were shouted out in higher-pitched tones. ]
I must say I hate it when authors reveal too much in their title – or that even the cover gives away the ending. Before reading this I had ideas – who wouldn’t given the hokey cover of a model who holds a wand as if she wants to belt the agency that got her this job. And the title – Dark Magic – hmmm I’m going to go out on a limb here , that someone in this story is duh! Could it be? A magician. No! Peacharino , How do you do it? It’s a mystery. Kinda like this one which does a bit of a bellyflop. So why continue reading , you may ask. Well for starters , I don’t know who the magician is ….and I want to know why a magician should be so spooky – unless he can make my wallet disappear. Brother , I’m starting to sound like Lawrence.
Oh well. On with the show.
Andrea though feels like an outsider , believes she has at least one person on her side – the flashy maid Lucy who ensures Andrea has pj’s and a toothbrush. The spookiest thing that happens the first night is that Andrea hears someone tap dancing in the basement to the Stars and Stripes forever. Wouldn’t have bothered me – but then again I probably would’ve pounded on the floor and shouted “Keep it down.” I know my rights as a houseguest.
Andrea on the other hand quickly becomes one of the hired help – coming to Craig’s aid when a fever ( he’d gone out in the rain to inspect the roads ) strikes him and no one can be bothered hauling fruit juice and Asprin up to his room – notice I use words like hauling as if the fruit juice came in buckets. And all the adults act as if that were the proper term – hauling. I suppose this is to really clobber it over the reader’s head that these people are selfish – not just the odd couple but also Craig’s own mother. Not much happens for a while , Andrea gets locked in her room – even the window is locked with a mechanism …a very well designed gadget , securely in place. I don’t know how Lynch manages to be so descriptive and so vague all at the same time. Despite the fact that Andrea presumably hates her Aunt Charlotte it’s she , that she thinks of, and her strength as she continues to seek an escape. But wouldn’t you know it – the door as she tries it again is unlocked and she dashes down to dinner to get a lecture on being late.
Though Andrea tells everyone she was locked in her room – they brush the incident aside – this house is old , damp wood swells. But Andrea may have wished to have stayed locked up as she is treated to another groan worthy joke by Lawrence involving a ghost getting his picture taken whose punch line is the spirit was willing but the flash weak, Craig makes an woozy appearance , and under the watchful eye of gramps everyone makes a fuss over him ushering him back up to bed. Despite his weakened state Andrea tells Lucy to have him meet her in the library – it’s urgent.
As for the mystery – besides the tap-dancing in the night , the adults keep bickering over some mysterious dog that each one wants , Andrea has never seen a dog in the house and doesn’t know what they’re talking about. And Josiah Bartlett hints at plans that seem to include Andrea though it’s news to her ( though everyone else knows what he’s talking about. )
One of the main flaws in this story is the efforts to keep the reader reading are not done by the usual cliffhanger but rather a little hint , about as subtle as an elephant trying to give you a discreet kick under a dining table , about the upcoming action – Chapter six ends with [ She did not get to the study then nor for a long time afterward, as nightmarish occurrences took place one after another during the next few hours. ]
That sounds remarkably like a cartoon commercial bumper. I wouldn’t have minded so much had it pre-empted one of it’s so called nightmarish occurrences – however we get the same shabby stall out in the following “action” sequence. I’ve been reading some how to write books – I don’t have all the answers. I’m flawed , I use exclamation points like they were smiley faces , and my commas don’t always appear where they’re supposed to. But I can spot a lousy scene – and this one is pretty lousy.
Can you spot the flaws?
Rather than walk the reader into the scene , Lynch does a little zig zagging through time , first Andrea is there , then she’s describing what she tried to explain to the others , after the fact , robbing us of the action , but as soon as we’re back to the action we’re yanked out of it with this – [ Later , when she thought of that horror filled moment – ] What is this later business?! We ( the readers! ) were in the moment , now, horror stricken , now looking at a crumpled body at the bottom of the stairs. Arggggg!
The scene is almost rectified by Andrea’s horrified flight away from the body. But she’s never given a chance to blurt out her info properly, instead there’s a rather misplaced description of a grandiose bedroom that Craig’s mother and Enid are arguing in and cause Andrea is transfixed by bedroom’s splendor – the body is , ( by the time she tells them ) gone. ( Lets hope it was the tap-dancer )
Everyone dismisses Andrea’s claim, even Josiah – because by law of mathematics no one is missing so who could it have been. Her eyes, as the cliche goes – must have been playing tricks on her – but Andrea won’t be persuaded into believing anything but a body so Josiah merely dismisses them with an ominous – no change in plans for tomorrow.
Now had this been a grown up Gothic – a reader would be gnawing a knuckle , and shouting get out of there Andrea , they’re going to sacrifice you to some sort of tap-dance loving Mayan god that lives in the basement which is really a gateway to an ancient temple!
But seeing as how this is a Windswept , and my first, I began to doubt there was any real danger and when I mean danger, I mean for all involved ( sometimes gothics throw a little danger the heroine’s way to distract from the fact that the real target is about to be offed )
So I waited for the terror to increase. But there is a stall out as Craig comes to see what all the fuss is about and we learn his mother calls him Sonny boy which he hates ( who wouldn’t ) She also carries on like a twelve year old because her husband left her ( who wouldn’t ) , the support checks are late ( Craig informs everyone that’s a lie ) and I’m beginning to groan at the idea of some bury the hatchet scene concerning this rocky divorce ( the only hatchet I’d like to see buried is in the woman’s self-absorbed head. )
Remember how Andrea sent a message that she wanted to talk to Craig in the study – before the nightmarish occurrences that happened one after another ( promises , promises – there was really only one – finding the body , maybe two – nobody believing her ) when they finally do get to the study , she realizes she’s got nothing to say ( well nothing that isn’t downright rude – what’s with your crackpot family? Not the best way to start a relationship ). And for an awkward two paragraphs she stands there blushing. Finally, when she does manage to ask about the suspicious dog she keeps hearing about, Craig merely throws back his head and laughs himself into a coughing fit before stumbling away.
Andrea admits to the reader that he’s a big help ( sarcasm ) albeit she’s a bit more polite about it [ She knew no more now than she had before he had come to join her. ]
Later that night she awakens to hear her name being called outside her window and groggy with sleep stumbles out onto the tiny little balcony decorated with black lace-like grillwork. ( I love Lynch’s little touches like this – black lacelike grillwork ) It’s drizzling out and she can’t see anyone. She calls to him , faintly. No answer and then the click of the window being shut behind her. She is trapped out on the balcony shivering and cold , getting wetter by the moment and with nothing to break the window can’t get back inside. Seeing a lit up room down the line of balconies – Andrea decides to work her way to it. This is quite possibly the most exciting moment of the book ( next to the tense finale ) Andrea working her way tenaciously across the balconies , slick with rain – however the moment is sort of marred as we realize and she realizes that why go across all those balconies without checking one window – simply so that she can look into the lit one which is occupied by the Grenfalls ( the servants ) and for some reason – perhaps because they should’ve heard her call – she believes they are the ones that locked her in.
Andrea learns a little bit after climbing into the room next to theirs and listening in. Ed it seems had been in jail for robbery , and Lucy feels bad for that ‘poor kid’ Andrea knowing how the family is trying to scare her out of the mansion. More importantly Ed’s had enough and has decided he’ll take the dog. ( Have you guessed what the dog is? You should ) Andrea hasn’t – and assumes they plan on kidnaping some animal. She decides to tell the whole story to Craig – but he hasn’t been much help in this story and continues in the same manner – she finds him asleep on the couch with some sort of milky substance in a glass beside him. Drugged? Rather than wake him she goes back to doing her homework on Shadowlawn and finds an article that Josiah was a skilled magician ( aha! ) and that he has a miniature theater in his home , but that most of those who entertained with him are all dead. He also believed in the rehabilitation of criminals – taking the sinister luster off of Ed’s presence. Damn. Even Andrea admits with this knowledge the house isn’t as sinister as she thought. Double damn. Oho – but then Andrea is about to revoke her ideas when she notices the twin swords are gone. Alright! About time for some action.
Andrea goes looking for the theater which wouldn’t you know it is in the creepy basement. Everything is rickety ,spooky and old looking as though it hasn’t been updated in a century. She finds a strait jacket and …the swords. Shoved into a long coffin shaped box.
Naturally, she gets the hell out of there.
But as she goes back to talk to Craig she nearly bumps into his mother who is exiting the study with the milky glass. Aha he has been drugged.
She goes back to doing her homework and discovers Josiah’s wife is about her size , and died after being caught in a rain storm. She reads on about the obsessed Josiah Bartlett who lives to give his amateur magician shows three times a year and one of his talents which causes a chill to run through Andrea is sawing a woman in half.
Although I’m not sure why this gives her such a chill knowing it is after all a trick , the reader is distracted by a call – Craig’s mom calls his father in an attempt to lure him home with a sick son ( eee! That could almost be a creepy sign of Munchausen syndrome – had she sent him out into the cold rain. ) Andrea learns a bit more – mainly that the father ( the smart one ) got disgusted with the fawning , the shows , the absorption over the dog and wants nothing more to do with it. But it’s not enough to divert Andrea’s growing fear about getting sawed in half – trick or not , how can he pull it off with his trembling hands. Logic enough to creep out even me , the reader! But then she pulls the daffy gothic heroine routine – she runs off in a blind , mad dash to the gate, trips and sprains her ankle.
Okay saw her in half. She deserves it.
For some reason, though she’s dumb enough to think the dog is a real animal , she has grasped that she plans on being part of the magic act and that Lucy and Ed acting on Josiah’s orders won’t let her escape his plans which is why she attempts to crawl down the driveway. Of course that doesn’t work – any snail could tell you that’s no way to make an escape. She is carried back fed , and forced into one of the sparkly tutus that she saw in the basement. As the tension grows she is carried helplessly to the basement where she finds dozens of mannequins filling up the audience ( clearing up where the body at the bottom of the stairs came from. )
By now Andrea is scared out of her mind. What kind of freak show is this? A fake audience , the old man must be out of his mind. Craig, the one live person in the audience ( well at least he’s awake ) and assures her he won’t let any harm come to her – though adds like a goon that he’s not sure gramps has ever done the trick before. Way to cool her nerves babe! – as if he knows that she knows, that she’s about to be sawed in half or stuck through with swords. The grown up’s make fools of themselves ,creaking though tap routines in unflattering costumes , making bad jokes , and finally the crazy man of the hour Josiah. Andrea is sure the others are so willing to allow him his own way that they’ll even sacrifice her being sawed in half! She’s propped up as his assistant and watches him fumble through tricks growing more terrified as cards drops from his fingers. When she tries to crawl off – Craig – wonderful dreamy -dumb Craig – cries what are you doing? Honestly, what does Andrea see in this guy? He’s spent most of the book being evasive , sick or asleep. I think I just described Sleeping Beauty. I have to admit the build up scene is wonderfully creepy – I was expecting something dreadfully hokey the kind of mystery that isn’t a mystery, just a misunderstanding. Though Andrea does have reason to be alarmed , I think Lynch missed a huge opportunity for real terror – rather than place Andrea in the box and have her rescued last minute by Craig , whose is horrified that gramps would even attempt the trick , this moment is foiled by a previous tricks gone awry – lit cigarettes appear between his trembling fingers which drop and set the basement ablaze!
Andrea immobilized by her sprained ankle is rescued by Craig, while his mother wails that he didn’t rescue her first. Since Andrea doesn’t know of the other exit Craig tries to explain it was only logical. The fire is contained , but the others learn that Ed and Lucy have escaped during the blaze and stolen the dog which makes Josiah laugh – he tells him the priceless dog statue was actually worthless – it was the only way he could get them to come and visit. Hmmm – I guess being nice was out! Craig’s father comes and there is the *groan* hint of reconciliation. Poor fellow. Andrea’s aunt shows up and it seems she really does care ( a nicer twist ) and Andrea finally recognizes the hint of fragile love and tells her let’s go home. Well Andrea didn’t get the house or inheritance but looking at Craig knows at least she got him! For what that’s worth.
A hoot of a gothic tale – grab yourself a copy –http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Magic-Miriam-Lynch/dp/0590325019 – it’s definitely worth reading – ***
Ever wonder how far gimmicks for books in this day and age of technology will go? – I mean in my day ( the 80’s ) the height of a new fangled gimmick was the old-fashioned book and record – when you hear the chime – turn the page! I thought all this book needed was some ominous haunted house noises to put you in the mood – like this vintage Disney Record of haunted house sounds! Sit back, listen and imagine this gothic as an updated book and record.