First published 1955; cover shown is the 1959 Penguin Books (UK) paperback.
I've never read a gothic novel or a Dorothy Eden title before - probably because the covers generally show frightened long haired women running through cemeteries or decaying mansions late at night. This was a discreet green & white Penguin Crime cover, so I took a chance.
Eden was said to have the power to create an extraordinary atmosphere of fear, and she certainly did that for me. The story opens with Brigit Gaye lying in bed, her legs paralysed after a horse riding accident. A flashback to the time just prior to the fall shows Brigit's idyllic home life, with her adored husband Fergus and their two children.
That idyllic life takes a turn for the worst when on Brigit's birthday Fergus, an airline pilot, arrives home with a young girl. On second look Brigit realises this isn't a girl; it's a very attractive woman of about her own age. Prissie Hawke was an airline hostess, but now Fergus has brought her home to look after the children for Brigit. At first unsure what to think about this, Brigit quickly finds herself being inexplicably drawn to Prissie and the strange tales of her childhood.
The atmosphere of foreboding and fear sets in quickly, and that's not something I like. I found myself hurrying through the book because I knew Prissie was bad news yet no one else (no one adult anyway) seemed to notice fast enough. Prissie continued with her wicked tricks and murder attempts, and it seemed sure that she would accomplish whatever evil plan it was that she so obviously had. As usual with a gothic themed novel, there was a spot of blackmail, incest and, of course, ghostly activity.
The mystery as to why Prissie had an evil plan in the first place, and why Brigit felt so drawn to the tales of Prissie's childhood, is only revealed in the final two chapters. And finally, it all makes sense!
Dorothy Eden (1912 - 1982) was a New Zealand writer who wrote numerous bestselling gothic, suspense and historical novels. While her gothic novels had the usual ingredients (romantic heroine in an atmospheric, exotic setting who keeps getting herself nearly murdered), they were said to have been written with "a good deal more distinction than the great majority of the genre".