Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Witch Tree


And speaking of Frank Belknap Long, I mentioned a few posts back that Long had written some Gothic Romances in the 1970s, using his wife Lyda's name as a pseudonym. I've been slowly picking those up, and since I've been reading some of the stories in the Centipede Press FBL collection, I decided to read another of Long's Gothics to compare the writing styles.
While I won't classify the Gothics as potboilers, Long was a working writer and he wrote what he could sell. I doubt that they were his first choice and I do wonder how he got the gig. Perhaps through an agent. In any event, as I said, long was a pro and I'm sure he gave the Gothics his best shot.
The Witch Tree is the second of the books I've read. The first was To the Dark Tower, which I reviewed in July. Both books are concerned to some degree with Satanic cults, which seems to be a common feature in Long's Gothics. This isn't surprising, as novels and movies about Satan were very popular in the late 1960s/early 1970s when Long was writing these books.
The Witch Tree is about a woman named Joan Rondon who comes to a creepy island off the coast of East Greenville, South Carolina, in search of her sister Barbara, who has gone missing while assisting her former college professor in research involving the occult. Joan lands right in the midst of gory goings on and is in trouble pretty much from the moment she sets foot on Hawk Island. The book is only 174 pages long so that's most of the plot in a nutshell. Most of the mystery and suspense revolves around an Agatha Christie style twisty plot where you don't know who's a good guy and who's a bad guy.
As I noted in my review of To the dark Tower, Long's primary strength is developing mood. It's a dank, dark, creepy world that Joan has stumbled into and Long never lets you forget it.
One odd thing I noted about this "Gothic Romance" is that there's very little romance. Joan meets a couple of hot guys as the book unfolds and she notes their hotness, but nothing really happens There are indications at the end that Joan may end up with one of the men but that's about it. In other Gothics I've read by Madeleine Brent and Victoria Holt, the romance is usually a major subplot. I imagine there were some disappointed housewives who bought this one back in 1971. This is almost a straight ahead horror novel, closer in spirit to Long's other weird tales than to a love story. I recall that To the Dark Tower had a stronger romance element. Have to see about the others as I come across them. I have a copy of 'So Dark a Heritage' on the way, a Gothic that actually has Frank Belknap Long's name on the cover as opposed to the Lyda pen name.
Anyway, if you like Long, this will probably interest you. If you're a fan of old school Gothic Romances this might not have enough romance to make you happy. Plenty of Gothic trappings though

3 comments:

sara said...

Ooh, this one sounds right up my street! As you know, I really enjoyed To the Dark Tower and I agree, gothic romance probably wasn’t FBL’s first literary love but he gave it a good shot and really knew how to create atmosphere. The cover is kind of cool too – I love the eerie looking tree and raven!
Hope you had a great Christmas and new years Charles and all the best for 2012!
Sara

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Sara, I think you'll definitely enjoy The Witch Tree. It is much in the same mode as To the Dark Tower. Next on my Frank Belknap Long Gothic reading list will be his first, So Dark a Heritage, from 1966, which has his name on it instead of Lyda's and which has a great cover by Lou Marchetti. See the cover here:

http://www.loumarchetti.com/Art_files/Gothic/Assorted/so%20dark%20a%20heritage.jpg

Thanks for the Holiday wishes and the same to you in the new year!

sara said...

That's a great cover Charles, looking forward to your review!