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A Trio of Priscilla Dalton Gothics
[Review contains no spoilers.]

The Darkening Willows
The Silent, Silken Shadows
90 Gramercy Park

Michael Avallone (1924–1999) was a workhorse writer who cranked out popular fiction by the yard, and if the material he yielded is not lustrous it is at least durable and well-woven. "Priscilla Dalton" was one of Avallone's many pseudonyms and the only one he used for Gothics, an output confined to three novels written back-to-back in 1965 for Paperback Library.

All three are set in the United States and are told in the third person. While they make no great offerings in the way of originality or style, they are the work of a capable writer who knew his business. There are moments that sparkle, and moments that seem to grope for inspiration. Yet the stories never drag; for the most part they move along at a clip.

Of the three, 90 Gramercy Park is the most interesting, if only because of its unorthodox setting. Gramercy Park is a real place, the only private park left in Manhattan. Even today, it stands aloof from the rest of the city that surrounds it, as if reluctant to emerge from the past. Handsome brownstone mansions and townhouses face the square, and residents require a key to enter the gracefully landscaped park, which is enclosed within a wrought iron gate. At the time of the story (about a hundred years ago), the city had not encroached upon the square as intimately as it has today, and the author succeeds in imbuing the locale with a lonely, forbidding atmosphere. The house itself, No. 90 (a fictitious address), faces the square with a dignified façade that masks a rotting from the inside, a state of interior dilapidation kept secret from the world. One supposes this is a metaphor for its occupants, whose respectable appearances conceal their corrupt inner natures. The story also features a creepy housekeeper of the Mrs. Danvers type, though her description resembles less that of Du Maurier's novel and more the character as portrayed by Judith Anderson in Hitchcock's film version.

All in all, Dalton/Avallone provides a readable story. Predictable at times, these books generate enough atmosphere and mystery to hold the reader's attention, and I enjoyed each enough to read all three. If "she" had written more Gothics, I'd probably read them.

    From the back cover of The Darkening Willows:

Shrouded in gloom, Willow Oaks
Threatened Ada Marney with evil
hidden in every one of its
shadowy rooms

Orphaned and alone, Ada Marney worked as a salesgirl until the exotic Helene Dupre revealed to her and finally convinced her that she was really Alene Dupre, the long-lost daughter of the fabulously wealthy Armand Dupre, and the mistress of Willow Oaks.

Ada expected her new life to be one of peace and plenty. But from the beginning, she became the victim of the hostile, greedy inhabitants of Willow Oaks. At first she had only to deal with doubts about her identity. Then suddenly she had to cope with much more -- for someone in that evil mansion was putting Ada's life in danger.

    From the back cover of The Silent, Silken Shadows:


The night wind moaned through every corner and crevice of the rotting old ruin called Cowan House, striking terror into the heart of a beautiful young woman . . . .

Carla Terry had to spend just thirty days at sinister Cowan House to collect her inheritance. But once inside that strange place, she realized it would be the most dangerous month of her life. A deadly enemy lurked in that secret-shrouded, hate-filled mansion. Not only was she threatened by the "ghost" of Cowan House -- but someone very much alive was determined to see her dead!

    From the back cover of 90 Gramercy Park:

What is the secret menace that endangers
the life of the mistress of 90 Gramercy Park --
and frightens her with nights of terror
and days of fear?

Pretty Donna Monahan is delighted by her surprise inheritance of an elegant brownstone in fashionable Gramercy Park. But excitement turns to horror when she discovers she is a prisoner of the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Monterey.

What does this scheming woman hope to gain by Donna's death? What's behind the strange noises Donna hears when she is trapped in an upstairs room? Can Donna unlock the secret of 90 Gramercy Park before Mrs. Monterey robs her of her house -- and her life?
Very elegant covers, Penfeather!
(08-24-2010, 12:06 PM)AliceChell Wrote: Very elegant covers, Penfeather!

No artist is credited. I'd like to find out who did them. I doubt they're stock covers, because the subject matter depicted is so specific to the books. Oh well, we may never know.

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