“When you were putting Miss Balfour’s room to rights, did you find a dead snake on her dresser?”
Shadows of the night, falling silently. “Quentin’s Theme” is steadily climbing the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and pretty soon everyone’s going to be humming that tune, whether they want to or not. In this world that we know now, Quentin Collins is a bona fide Dark Shadows phenomenon, with a hit record and everything.
And this phantom melody is even starting to intrude on the hazy parallel world of the Paperback Library gothic romance novels. This peculiar line of spinoff books has been spinning its own cracked version of Dark Shadows for several years now, first chronicling the adventures of an ersatz Victoria Winters, and then tumbling head over heels for Barnabas Collins.
We last checked in with the Paperback Library four months ago to read Barnabas Collins vs the Warlock — the 11th novel in the series, and the sixth to feature Barnabas. By that point, the PBL was following clear editorial guidelines that the greatest human being who ever lived is named Barnabas Collins, and everybody else can go to hell. His only flaw is that his hands are cold, and hands are not everything.
But even the Paperback Library can’t ignore Quentin forever. They can ignore consistency and common sense and the limits of human patience, but Quentin Collins requires a response.
So this is Barnabas Collins and Quentin’s Demon, the 14th Dark Shadows novel and the first one to acknowledge the existence of Quentin, and his haunting theme song.
This novel takes place in 1895, which is its own separate fictional universe that should not be confused with the 1897 of ABC-TV’s Dark Shadows or the 1899 of PBL’s Barnabas Collins, which was six books ago and who even cares. At this point, Dan “Marilyn” Ross is churning these out at the rate of one per month, and if there’s one thing you can say for good ol’ Dan “Marilyn”, he/she doesn’t let details get in the way of telling a dull, baffling story.
So let’s take a moment to visit Paperback Quentin and the unhappy menagerie at PBL Collinwood — his brother Conrad, great aunt Erica, her companion Catherine, the dogs, the housemaids, the dead wife, the vampire, the ignorant villagers, the fat police chief and the man from the Pinkerton Agency.
Oh, that haunting memory, veiled in misty glow; Lara Balfour can remember it like it was yesterday, or sometime in the last several months.
Miss Balfour is on her way from Philadelphia to Collinsport, Maine, to visit a young man who was much taken with the popular waltz that her father composed. The book doesn’t mention her father’s name, so I’m going to assume it was Robert Cobert Balfour, not that it matters, because he’s dead.
Balfour and Quentin had been corresponding for quite a while — “a remarkably sensitive young fellow,” Balfour said, “he understands my music as well as any of the critics. And he is especially fond of my new waltz.” Then Balfour succumbed to his illness, as doddering elderly fathers of twenty-two year old daughters often do, leaving Lara entirely at loose ends.
So it was only natural that Quentin should write to his friend’s grieving daughter and invite her to visit Collinwood, where they can discuss her father’s music and whatever other topics come to mind. As an added incentive, he mentions that he’s been rather unwell lately, which works like a charm, because gothic heroines have a hard-on for the unwell like you wouldn’t believe.
In his letter, Quentin promised to meet Lara when the boat docks at Collinsport, but when she gets off the boat, Quentin’s nowhere to be seen. She waits there — a young woman alone in a strange town in the middle of the night, with no friends or relations, or any idea how to find her way to safety. She’s terrified, naturally, because she’s easy prey for a slick stranger with a smooth manner and a warm place to stay, who might take her home and then violently assault her. That would be just awful.
But Lara is super lucky, because straight out of the blue, she bumps into BARNABAS COLLINS! who is walking around on the docks in the middle of the night for some reason.
“I wasn’t looking where I was going,” she said. “I expected to be met by somebody. It’s rather frightening that they haven’t turned up.”
The gaunt, handsome face showed a sympathetic smile. “May I be of any help? I’m a visitor here for a few weeks. My name is Barnabas Collins.”
So there we are, on page 10 — the first time that somebody mentions how handsome Barnabas is. Don’t worry if you missed it; it’ll come up again, on page 11. Barnabas is described as handsome 18 times in this book, which is up from his Barnabas Collins vs the Warlock total (16 handsomes) but still trailing his first book (24 handsomes). Please try to keep in mind how handsome Barnabas is. There may be a quiz later.
Barnabas turns out to be Quentin’s cousin, and he gallantly offers to escort Lara to the Collins estate. In fact, she can stay at the Old House tonight, and then go to Collinwood in the morning. This is just one of the many helpful services that Barnabas offers to young women that he runs across in the middle of the night. He’s just a Boy Scout at heart, I suppose.
Barnabas takes Lara to his waiting carriage, and explains that he doesn’t see too much of his cousin, because Quentin hasn’t been feeling well, and Barnabas is extremely busy during the day.
“I’m here to do some serious writing of a book on botanical specimens of the area,” he says. That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it. Barnabas always has some kind of crackpot explanation for his daytime activities in these books, and this one is just as good as any of the others. He doesn’t really talk a lot about botany — in fact, I don’t think he mentions it again in the entire book — but I guess if you spend every day writing about botanical specimens then you’re pretty much sick of the subject by the time evening rolls around. Did I mention how handsome he is?
Barnabas’ servant Benson takes the reins, and they begin the long journey uptown. Once they’re underway, Barnabas and Lara chat about ghosts and fishermen and how isolated Collinwood is. Then they run across one of the local sights.
Standing directly in the road, blocking their way, was a snarling wolflike creature clearly visible in the glow of the lantern. Benson tried to calm the horses as they reared and neighed. The bristling animal looked yellow-green, its eyes were catlike, glowing in the reflected lamplight. Its mouth was open and slavering, revealing ugly white fangs. And as Lara stared in horror it gave a blood-curdling howl!
Don’t worry, she’s fine; that kind of thing happens all the time in these books. They just keep driving and it runs away into the woods. Barnabas says it’s probably one of the wild dogs that Quentin’s brother Conrad breeds, or maybe it’s a weather balloon or a coincidence or whatever. Barnabas doesn’t really pay attention to wildlife; he’s so focused on the botanical specimens that sometimes he forgets what dogs look like.
Anyway, let’s get to the Old House. Lara’s not quite sure she’s doing the right thing, going home with a complete stranger like this, but one look tells her she’s in the right place.
Barnabas showed her down the high-ceilinged hall to the double doors leading into an elegant living room furnished with priceless antiques. Ornate chairs and divans filled the room and candles flickered in silver candlesticks set out on the mantel of the marble fireplace and on several of the tables. A log fire blazed in the fireplace casting a rosy, romantic glow over it all.
Yeah, I bet it does. Almost anything would cast a romantic glow over silver candlesticks and ornate divans, especially for the recently orphaned Lara Balfour. She came all the way to Maine unattended to spend time with an astonishingly wealthy man that she’s never met. This is a shopping trip for her.
His eyes were fixed on her and she was aware of a certain sadness in them, a sadness she couldn’t understand. Rather awkwardly, she said, “Collinwood must be magnificent to overshadow this house. I’m sure you and your wife are bound to be very happy here.”
And oh my god, shut up, Lara. “You and your wife.” You little schemer.
But Barnabas is a tricky guy to get to know; there’s something odd and strange and fascinating and mysterious and thrilling about him. If only he wasn’t so misunderstood!
“I find old graveyards fascinating,” he said quietly.
She looked at him. “I haven’t given the matter consideration,” she admitted. “I suppose a great deal of history and the romance of the past can be discovered in our burial places.”
The deep-set eyes of Barnabas Collins burned into her. “Your comment shows intellect,” he said. “I have been criticized in some quarters because I spend a great deal of time visiting the local graveyards and making myself familiar with them. Some of the villagers regard my behavior as odd.”
“That is very wrong of them.”
I agree; how dare they criticize this wonder man, just because he makes himself familiar with things. Barnabas is very generous and a gracious host, preparing a room for Lara and giving her all the wine she can drink.
The man in the caped coat stood by the fireplace watching her. The changing glow of the flames reflected on his strong face, giving it a romantic appeal.
“I am a night person,” he said. “I seldom sleep until the dawn.”
“You are unusual.”
He shrugged. “It has become part of my pattern of existence. The night has appeal for me. I prefer to work during these hours because of the privacy and silence they offer. I sleep a good part of the day.”
“I see,” she said.
And honestly, what else can you even say. This is life with Paperback Barnabas, just a long series of weird excuses by firelight.
Naturally, as soon as Lara falls asleep, he appears in her room and makes himself familiar with her body fluids.
And suddenly there was Barnabas standing by the side of her bed wearing his caped coat just as when he’d said goodnight. He was gazing at her with a sad intensity. His burning eyes met hers hypnotically. She could not move or speak.
And yet she was not actually frightened. She was caught up in a kind of eerie spell. The handsome man with the rumpled black hair and gaunt features took a step nearer her and then bent down.
You see what I mean about the handsome? Even when he’s sexually assaulting her, he’s handsome.
His lips touched her throat and she could feel that they were as icy cold as his hands had been. Yet she was still unable to move or utter a protest. Then she experienced a new sensation, a burning at her throat in the midst of the chill of his kiss. It was almost painful, and she felt a weakness surge through her as if all consciousness was draining away, and yet the experience was pleasant!
So, uggh, now I have to talk about rape culture again, and we’re only on page 23. But this book is giving the people what they want, and apparently what the PBL readership longed for was a romantic evening of supernaturally-assisted rohypnol.
In the morning, Lara decides that her host’s nighttime visit was just an odd dream, and she goes downstairs for breakfast. Barnabas isn’t there, naturally, although the book is a little confused about his cover story. Four pages ago, Barnabas said that he worked all night because of the privacy and silence, and then sleeps most of the day. At breakfast, Benson says that Barnabas works all day in the cellar. This contradiction bothers me a lot more than it bothers Lara.
But why are we spending time with the domestic staff, when we could be at Collinwood meeting Quentin? Benson brings her over to the main house and hands her off to Catherine, who takes care of great aunt Erica. Catherine takes Lara down the hall to the study for the big reveal.
The door was closed. Catherine knocked on it and a moment later it was opened by a youngish man of proud, sensitive features, wearing full black side-whiskers to match his thick head of black hair. His eyebrows arched delicately over wide-spaced, piercing eyes. He wore a dark gray suit with a golden watch chain showing across his vest and a stiff collar with neat open points ornamented by a light gray cravat. He stared at them in consternation.
“This is Lara Balfour. She arrived last night and was the guest of Barnabas at the old house. Apparently she didn’t receive your last letter.”
The young man had grown very pale. “Apparently not.” He offered Lara a troubled smile. “Welcome to Collinwood, Miss Balfour. I’m Quentin Collins.”
No, you’re not. I don’t know who you are, but you’re not Quentin Collins. The Quentin that I know is funny and sexy and passionate and mischievous. The only thing I recognize here is the side-whiskers.
Obviously, when I was reading this book, I kept track of the words used to describe Paperback Quentin, because that is the kind of thing that I do, and here they are. The most common adjectives are pale, sensitive, cold, troubled and ill. He’s also described as grim, silent, weary, proud, sad, haunted, gentle — let me know when you recognize Quentin — stern, anguished, brooding, bitter, hollow-eyed, abject and quiet.
But Paperback Quentin is not handsome; the changing glow of flames do not give his face a romantic appeal. Barnabas is the handsome one in the family, and don’t forget it. Quentin does get one pity “handsome” in the last five pages, but that’s all; the rest of the time, he sneers and frets and has seizures. Dan “Marilyn” Ross is Team Barnabas all the way.
Lara screamed as the bony fingers tightened about her arm. And then there came a crackle of crazed laughter in her ear and a wheezy voice informed her, “Sang a dog with a pointed muzzle and by his spells a wolf created!”
This is great aunt Erica, who frankly isn’t all that great. She’s out of her mind, actually, always babbling about magic and voodoo. I don’t know what that “sang a dog” thing is supposed to mean. I thought it might be an anagram, but I could only get as far as “handsome deceased protagonist, buy waltz lp” and I still had a bunch of letters left over.
Aunt Erica’s supposed to be confined to her room; that’s why they’ve got Catherine, to make sure she doesn’t wander the house singing baffling anagrams at people. But Catherine spends a lot of her time being unspeakably rude to people, so Erica basically does what she likes.
Catherine is in love with Quentin, for some reason, and she resents Lara’s presence in the house; she’s always giving her cold smiles and stern glances. Here’s a typical example of Catherine’s behavior problems.
She heard a footstep on the ground and looked up to see Catherine standing there studying her with one of those mocking smiles. Catherine asked, “How do you feel about Aunt Erica?”
Lara wasn’t going to give the other girl anything to gloat about. Very calmly, she said, “She’s a poor mad old creature. She’ll not frighten me again.”
The large gray eyes of the dark girl held a taunting gleam. “She plans to place a spell on you.”
So, I mean. Right? Catherine.
“A spell?” Lara wasn’t prepared for anything like this.
Catherine nodded. “Yes. She considers herself a witch, you know.”
“I pity her insanity.”
“Don’t be too sure it’s all insanity,” Catherine said slyly. “When she was younger, Erica was the leader of a group of practitioners of black magic in the Collinsport area. She learned a great deal from the native servants who came here from the West Indies on the clipper ships. The villagers claim she mastered voodoo rituals and could transform herself into other creatures. They still whisper about her evil powers.”
Yeah, don’t get too excited about Aunt Erica’s black magic powers. Everybody in the family talks about what a psychotic witch she is, but she doesn’t cast a single spell in the entire book; she just acts weird. My view is that Erica is a perfectly nice old woman who’s bored and frustrated, and tired of being confined to her room by her terrible relatives. Don’t worry about great aunt Erica. She’ll be fine.
So let’s get the last introduction out of the way — Quentin’s younger brother Conrad, who keeps a pack of ferocious dogs and gets angry whenever you notice how ferocious they are.
Lara was standing there listening to the snarling of the big dogs with a sort of fascination when a tall, young man limped over to join her. With a quizzical smile, he said, “You find my dogs interesting?”
Lara turned to him with a smile. “I’m frightened of them, but they do intrigue me. You must be Conrad Collins.”
“I am,” he said. This younger brother of Quentin’s seemed good-natured enough. He was a few inches taller than Quentin and had a small mustache. He dressed in rough outdoor clothing which made him seem more the farmhand than a gentleman farmer. And most noticeable of all was his clubfoot which gave him his limp.
The “good-natured” thing lasts for about a third of a page, thanks to Lara’s unerring ability to make everybody instantly dislike her.
“Wouldn’t they be dangerous if they escaped? Why do you breed such savage beasts?”
He limped back to stand beside her, a shadow of displeasure on his sensitive face. “I like their strength and courage. You don’t find it often among humans.”
She stared at him. “Then you really train them to be like they are?”
You see? This is what Lara does. She just met this guy, and pretty much the only thing that she knows about him is that he likes these dogs. But she sees a weak spot, and she can’t stop herself from poking at it.
He smiled grimly. “It’s part their natural instinct and part my training. My pride is that I’ve developed a unique strain of animal.”
“I’m sure you have,” she said. “Aren’t your neighbors afraid of them? On the loose they could be killers.”
“I disagree,” Conrad said in a curt voice. “They are trained to harm no one unless conditions call for it. They are taught to guard against intruders and defend their master. That is all.”
It was her turn to offer him a rueful smile. “I only hope they understand that clearly.”
Oh my god, Lara, can you back off for like five seconds? God damn it! We spend 157 pages in this woman’s company. Lara is the worst.
Then there’s a long dinner sequence with Quentin and Conrad and Catherine, which is just terrible. There are a lot of mealtime scenes in this book, because none of the characters have jobs, and there’s nothing to do except kind of drift around and piss each other off. So every couple of chapters, they have to get together for a meal, because it’s the only logical way to get these people to spend more than ten seconds in each other’s company.
I’m not sure what happened to him, but somewhere along the way, Dan Ross lost the ability to write about characters who like each other. We saw this coming on in Barnabas Collins vs the Warlock, where present-day Collinwood was besieged by a crowd of horrible guests, but at least we still had Elizabeth and Maggie around to offset the dysfunction. In this book, every character actively despises every other character, including the animals and the botanical specimens.
Here, check out how everybody acts when Lara unwittingly makes a social blunder:
Lara’s eyes wandered to the portrait of a lovely blond young woman with a wistful expression which hung on the paneled wall near her.
She asked Quentin, “Who is that?”
His manner changed at once. He stared at the portrait in a haunted fashion and said, “That is Mary, my late wife. She died very suddenly about two years ago.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just that I found her so striking.”
Quentin’s glance lingered on the portrait. “Yes,” he agreed quietly. “She was.”
The easy mood seemed to be broken after that. Lara could almost see Catherine’s glee at the awkward situation she’d created in mentioning the portrait. As they strolled toward the dining room, Quentin and the dark girl went ahead, leaving Conrad and Lara together in the rear.
Conrad gave her a teasing look. “You’ve learned another subject to avoid,” he said. “We never speak of Mary in this house.”
“You’ll find out,” was all the help he gave her.
They’re terrible. And then after dinner, Quentin takes Lara outside under the moonlight, tells her that he loves her, and kisses her on the mouth. Seriously! They’ve only known each other for a day, and you’ve seen how this day has gone. This is Paperback Quentin’s idea of a successful first date.
So honestly, it’s kind of a relief when Quentin suddenly gets a headache, dives into the shrubbery, and turns into a snarling werewolf monster. Probably. At least, he gets the headache and disappears among the foliage, and then two pages later: slavering beast.
But here comes Barnabas, our hero, who pulls out a gun and shoots the monster. Ka-POW! Apparently, Barnabas carries a gun at all times. This is a helpful character trait that goes entirely unexplained.
It’s quite mysterious, actually. It just says “Barnabas brought out a pistol and fired at the wild creature.” The creature gets hit and runs away, and then they don’t mention the gun again for the rest of the scene. There’s no sense of where he was keeping the gun, and if he ever puts it back. He might be twirling it around his trigger finger for the whole rest of the book for all I know.
Anyway, the werewolf has moved out of sight, so naturally Barnabas and Lara forget all about it, and take a walk up to Widow’s Hill so they can gossip about everybody. Quentin is weird and ill, Aunt Erica is mad, Catherine is immensely jealous, and Conrad is a pitiful cripple.
Barnabas says, “Do you want to remain here? I can take you down to board the night boat if you wish.” And then this:
“That would be the easy way,” she admitted. “But now that I’m here maybe I should brave this situation out. Otherwise I’m liable to always think of myself as a coward.”
Wait. Really? Why?
And that’s the source of tension for the whole rest of the book — why does Lara insist on remaining as an unwanted guest in this nightmarish youth hostel filled with hostile youth? What is she getting out of this experience, besides awkward conversations, date rape and periodic animal attacks?
They get to the top of the cliff, which is the perfect romantic spot for Barnabas to tell Lara how Quentin’s wife Mary died two years ago. Turns out her body was found dashed on the rocks below, her throat ripped open by some kind of animal. That could have been anyone, really — I mean, think of how many animals there are — so the case was never solved.
Her eyes narrowed as she remembered her encounter with Aunt Erica. “Today when I saw her she rambled on about wolves and lycanthropy.”
“That bears out what I’ve been telling you. Erica may not be as senile and unaware as you think. It could be she knows well what is going on here.”
Lara stared at the grave, handsome face in disbelief. “You can’t be telling me that someone here at Collinwood has the power to change into animal form?”
“The villagers have long claimed that Erica can assume animal form.”
So obviously the villagers need a new hobby. Why is everybody always picking on Aunt Erica?
But Barnabas says, “There are many things in this world beyond the comprehension of the average person,” so that proves it. The old lady murdered Quentin’s wife, unless Quentin changed into a werewolf and killed her, or Conrad set his dogs on her, or maybe she just tripped and fell off the cliff and her throat was ripped open by a passing bird on the way down. Don’t ask me, I’m just an average person. And Lara is sub-average, so what chance does she have?
She wants to change the subject to a happier topic, so she asks Barnabas, “Why does Quentin dislike you?” This is how people converse, in Paperback Library land.
Naturally, Barnabas doesn’t know why Quentin dislikes him, because it defies comprehension. But it might have something to do with his ancestor, the first Barnabas Collins, who left Collinsport under the shadow of some ancient scandal.
He shrugged. “Nothing important. I believe some of the servants have gossiped about me. They don’t understand my hours nor my preoccupation with cemeteries. They seem to think any man who wanders about inspecting gravestones in the night is a kind of ogre.”
“But this is your own affair.”
“I prefer to think so,” Barnabas said easily. “My cousin has decided to align himself with the ignorant villagers.”
Oh, those villagers. There’s a lot of conversation in the book about the ignorant villagers, who are a trusted news source when it comes to Aunt Erica turning into a wolf, but ridiculously off-base when they dare to question why Barnabas wanders about inspecting gravestones in the night. Although, while we’re on the subject, why does Barnabas wander about inspecting gravestones in the night?
On their way back to Collinwood, Barnabas says that he shot the snarling wolf-beast in the right leg, so she should keep her eyes open for anybody in the house who might have a wound on their right arm. Also, she shouldn’t trust Quentin, who’s probably a werewolf, or Catherine, who wants to get rid of her, or Erica, who’s also probably a werewolf. Then he kisses her.
She returned the kiss and clung to him for a long moment before they parted. How strange, she thought, to have been kissed by two men in one evening. What did she really know about them — and perhaps more important, what did she feel?
So that’s great. Then she goes inside and deals with Conrad for a while. Naturally, he brings up his dogs every chance he gets, and how Quentin blames him for Mary’s death. Other topics include her feelings about Barnabas, why nobody listens to cripples, and what the villagers think about a wide variety of subjects.
Lara finally escapes from another lengthy gossip session, and goes upstairs to her room.
Filled with uncertainty she approached the dresser to remove her jewelry. As she took off an earring and put it down, something on the dresser top made her gasp in horror. A tiny black snake with a coil of her blond hair wrapped around its middle had been placed there!
And that’s how you end a chapter. Take that, Jane Austen!
Naturally, this tiny dead snake is a big factor in Lara’s life; we’re going to hear a lot about this snake in the coming days. It’s obviously the work of that evil Aunt Erica, probably with the assistance of Catherine, in order to disgust and terrify her. The snake doesn’t actually do anything, and as I said, Aunt Erica is entirely harmless, but Lara never really gets over it. Barnabas actually sneaks into her room while she’s sleeping and sexually assaults her again, but when she wakes up, all she wants to talk about is the snake. Lara has warped priorities.
At breakfast, Lara tells Conrad all about the snake, and he says, “I wonder what evil that is supposed to work on you?” Lara answers, “I don’t know, but Catherine and that old woman have gone too far this time.” This is breakfast conversation at Paperback Collinwood.
Conrad provides some backstory on Erica, who is hands down my favorite character in the book. “In her prime, she headed a black magic circle in the village. Had a surprising number of the local gentry in it. One of the local parsons denounced her from the pulpit as a filthy creature with black wings.” This sounds like an interesting story that I would love to hear more about, but all Conrad wants to do is feel sorry for himself.
“I don’t appear to have Quentin’s charm where the ladies are concerned.” He grimaced. “At least my dogs like me. They don’t worry that I’m a cripple.”
She paused in buttering her toast to give him a reproachful look. “You make far too much of that.”
“Do you think so?” His tone was mocking again.
“Is it your hatred of people that makes you train those poor beasts to be so ferocious?”
Conrad looked pleased. “The thought never struck me. But perhaps you are right. I do dislike most people. At least distrust them. And I’ve trained my dogs to guard me and my possessions.”
“You’ve probably trained them to be killers.”
Oh, for Pete’s sake. The entire book is like this. Then Catherine comes down for breakfast, and they start in on her.
“We’ve just been talking about you,” Conrad says with roguish recklessness.
Catherine gave him an arrogant glance. “I’m sure it could have been nothing pleasant.”
“I was praising you,” Conrad went on in his taunting fashion. “I explained to our guest that you were brought up to know all about black magic.”
“If I knew that much, I’d soon settle with a few people here.”
Conrad smiled at Lara. “What are your feelings about Satan’s disciples, Miss Balfour?”
“I think we could do with less of them,” she said crisply, avoiding the other girl’s eyes.
Then Lara heads to the kennels, hate-watches the dogs for a while, and walks away. Jesus, Lara. Just go home! I’ve never seen someone filled with hate like this who wasn’t a Republican.
She hasn’t had a terrible conversation with Quentin yet this morning, so she finds him in the garden, “more pale and worn than she had ever seen him before.” And he was already pretty pale and worn to start with. He just gets more pale and more worn as the book goes on, and so does the reader.
To her horror, she sees that Quentin has a bandage on his right hand, which means that her host is a werewolf and she should probably leave the house at once. Spoiler alert: She does not leave the house at once.
Instead, she tells him that she found an unpleasant surprise last night, and leads him upstairs to her bedroom, the little minx. But the snake charm is gone, and Quentin has to question the housemaid.
“When you were putting Miss Balfour’s room to rights, did you find a dead snake on her dresser?” he asks. The maid just rolls her eyes and mutters something about crazy gringos.
It’s too early for Lara to report back to Barnabas, so she heads for the cemetery to think things over. While she’s there, she has the Paperback Library version of a meet-cute with a new character.
She was standing near one of the large tombs which had an iron entrance door and steps leading down to it. Suddenly a creaking of rusty hinges caught her horrified attention, and she fixed her eyes on the ancient metal door of the tomb. A chill of terror rushed through her. Very gradually, the iron door was being pushed open.
“Aha,” she doesn’t say. “Apparently I am not the only human being in the world who has ever been to this graveyard.”
Terrified as she was, Lara could not take her eyes from that slowly opening door. It seemed that one of the dead had tired of the rotting coffin and cobwebbed darkness and was lifting a bony hand to grope out into the sunlight again. She stood there motionless and holding her breath, waiting for a glimpse of who-knew-what mildewed horror of ragged shroud and grinning skull! Then the door swung back all the way and she fainted.
As it turns out, it’s not a mildewed horror at all, it’s just a guy in a dark plaid suit.
She stared up at him. “Was it you in the tomb?”
He smiled embrarrassedly. “Yes. Stupid of me. I found the door ajar and went in to inspect the place. Never been in a tomb before. But while I was in there the door swung closed. Gave me a bit of a start.”
Lara raised herself up on an elbow. “And you gave me a worse one. I almost died of fright.”
“I know,” the young man said contritely. “I can’t forgive myself.”
“And I’m not liable to forgive you either,” she said ruefully.
Oh, for crying out loud, Lara, get ahold of yourself. She just walks around and acts like this all the time.
The guy’s name is Michael Green, and he’s come to stay in Collinsport for a few months for his health. “I’m sure you’ve picked a good place,” Lara says, to which the readership responds, in what way?
Conrad comes along with a vicious dog and chases the trespasser away, so Lara wanders around for a while, and finally goes back to the house for another bitchy conversation with Quentin.
Quentin’s smile was cold. “An odd place for one as young and lovely as yourself to frequent. By the way, you won’t find my wife’s grave there.”
“I wasn’t looking for any grave in particular.”
“No,” he said with another of those cold smiles. “You merely were in a cemetery mood.”
“Something like that.”
“And so was this young man,” Quentin said with irony, “in a cemetery mood.”
Jesus Christ. I wonder when the real Quentin is going to show up and kick this guy’s ass.
Once night falls, Lara heads over to the Old House for a chat with Barnabas. She tells him about the bandage on Quentin’s hand, and he agrees that means Quentin is a werewolf, and he killed Mary, and he’s probably going to kill Lara too. He tells her that he thinks she should just leave Collinwood and go home, but she says, “I don’t want to leave until I know the whole truth. I’d never be satisfied if I did.” Lara is an idiot.
They talk about Michael Green, and Barnabas thinks it’s suspicious that she found him in the graveyard. “I find a cemetery an odd preoccupation for a young visitor from the city.” Lara points out that Barnabas is obsessed with cemeteries. He says, “It’s different with me.” Okay, whatever.
At this point, she basically asks him point-blank if he’s a vampire like everybody says he is, and he says, “I’ll have to answer that question with one of my own,” and then he says, “Do you think I would ever harm you?” and then he says, “Are you willing to go on believing in me without asking questions of any kind about my personal life?” and then he says, “Now you are being a sensible girl,” and that’s the end of that discussion. Then they go back to talking about Quentin, who’s definitely a werewolf.
And the book just kind of drifts on endlessly like this. After a while, Lara goes back to Collinwood and talks to Quentin, who accuses her of being in a conspiracy against him, and then has a seizure and probably goes and turns into an animal somewhere.
Then Lara has a weird conversation with Catherine, who warns her about Quentin killing Mary, and before you know it, it’s the next morning, and Catherine’s been murdered. This has got to be the worst bed and breakfast ever; I shudder to think what their Yelp rating is like.
Catherine is lying on the rug in Aunt Erica’s room, her throat torn open by an animal. Now they have to call the police and find somebody to take care of Erica. It’s a total hassle for everyone, and it’s one more thing to fight about.
“It’s Catherine! Someone killed her up in Erica’s apartment. Tore her throat open just as they did Mary’s.”
“One of the dogs!” Quentin cried in horror.
Conrad at once seized him by the front of the crimson robe and glowered at him as he shouted back, “I’ll have none of that this time. You tried to put it off on my dogs before. I didn’t work even then. Mary’s body was found on the beach, but Catherine’s is up there on the third floor. Are you going to say a dog found its way up there and did it?”
This is Conrad’s main talking point for pretty much the whole rest of the book, that it’s ridiculous to consider the possibility that a dog might go upstairs. People say it might have happened, and he says, look, who’s the expert on vicious dogs, you or me? and it never really goes anywhere.
Here’s what happens when Lara gets questioned by the police.
While Quentin stood by, quiet and weary-looking, the police chief proceeded to ask Lara a series of questions. He was an elderly man in shabby clothing and did not strike her as too bright. In fact, he didn’t even appear much interested in what had happened. He seemed to be chiefly concerned about finding some witness to the murder.
“You didn’t hear any familiar voices or see anything after Miss Edmonds left you?”
Seated in a rocking chair by the window, Lara considered. “Not really. I thought I heard a funny scuffling noise once. And when I looked out I had a moment where I was sure I saw a giant animal at the far end of the corridor. It looked like a wolf with burning eyes. And then it just vanished and I knew it must have been my imagination.”
He fingered his greasy hat nervously. “As I understand it, you thought you saw a dog, miss?”
“No.” She denied this at once. “It looked like a wolf. But it wasn’t anything. I realized it was an illusion.”
But the police chief must be one of those ignorant villagers we hear so much about, unable to grasp the simple fact that Catherine was murdered by a scuffling illusion. Frustrated, Lara turns to Quentin, who agrees that Conrad’s dogs are responsible. “Nonsense,” she says. “How could a dog get in the house? That kills the theory in the first place.” Seriously, what is up with people thinking that dogs can climb stairs?
It was as if a wall was being erected around her. Quentin had cleverly managed things to divert the suspicion from himself and make Conrad’s dogs the villains of the situation. Of course Conrad would argue none of the dogs were free to commit the crime, and Quentin would claim his crippled brother was merely covering up for the dogs to protect them.
She could even picture them bringing in the possibility that a wild dog or a stray wolf had somehow gotten into the house. The truth was too completely bizarre! Who would listen to a theory suggesting that something had happened to make Quentin turn into a werewolf at certain times, and it was he who was doing these killings while under the spell? The fat police chief wouldn’t ever credit such a story!
They never mentioned that the police chief was fat, by the way; I don’t know where that comes from.
Anyway, Lara talks another walk, and she finds Michael Green down on the beach.
“I want to talk to you about the murder at Collinwood.”
Lara was startled. “You know so soon?”
“It’s all around the village.”
“But how can they say that it’s a murder?” she asked.
The young man looked grim. “It happened at Collinwood. Isn’t that enough? And how many young women just accidentally fall and rip their throats open? It has to be murder.”
“The police chief seems to believe one of Conrad’s dogs did it,” she said bitterly.
Michael Green’s mouth dropped open. “Not again. That’s how they got away with it last time. But I hear the body of Miss Edmonds was found upstairs in the house. How could a dog get up there?”
And then there’s an avalanche.
Seriously, there’s a landslide, coming down all around them. This is the one thing that I respect about these books, the determination to have some kind of silly cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. They’re invariably refuted within the first few sentences of the next chapter, and they rarely have anything to do with the plot, but I admire the inventiveness.
The dangerous rain of earth and rocks went on for several minutes. When it eased to a dribble, all around them was a barrier of fallen rocks left by the sudden landslide. Lara’s cloak was a mess from streaks of the muddy earth, as was Michael’s suit and cap.
He gasped. “That was a close one!”
She nodded. “If we hadn’t been protected by the overhang we’d have been killed.”
Phew, okay. So now that’s over, they can go back to talking about how much they suspect Quentin. Michael Green isn’t really a character in the book, per se; he’s basically there because Lara needs somebody to stand around and fret with, and Barnabas is out of commission for twelve hours a day.
She heads back to Collinwood for another bitter conversation with Conrad about Quentin and the dogs and Catherine and Michael and murder and how crazy it is that anybody could ever think a dog would walk around a house murdering people. Then she goes upstairs and finds something dead on her bedspread.
It’s a tiny dead bat, laid carefully in the middle of Lara’s bed, with a circle of blood drawn around it. Also, her dresses have been thrown on the floor, with crimson crosses scribbled on them in blood. It’s a pretty hilarious prank, dreamed up by guess who.
She was still standing there staring dazedly at the dresses when she heard the cackling laughter from a distance across the room. She wheeled around to see Aunt Erica standing there. The pinched face of the crone showed delight and she pointed a bony forefinger at her.
“The Devil is in your body!” the old woman croaked. “And Catherine’s throat was opened to the sunlight!”
She strode angrily across to face the old woman with the ruined dress help up for her to see. “Why did you do this spiteful thing?”
Erica’s sunken, rheumy eyes glittered madly. “The bat will settle with you. The bat will level you with the others. Your blood will vanish and your white face with sightless eyes stare up at the sunrise!”
So once again, Aunt Erica is trying to be helpful, and everybody’s a jerk about it because they have no sense of humor. She’s clearly trying to warn Lara about Barnabas, but nobody listens because she’s old and has a personality of her own.
Lara talks to Quentin about the incident, and he says he’ll make sure Erica is confined to her room. Lara says that Erica will probably just escape again, and Quentin says that if she does then he’ll have to send her to an institution. Lara says, “That does seem harsh,” so I have no idea what she expects anybody to do about this.
Quentin admits that he had another attack last night before Catherine was killed, and he blacked out — he has no idea what happened to him after that. These people are seriously in need of adult supervision.
And then Quentin asks Lara, “If I can rid myself of this dread illness you will marry me, won’t you?” Or at least somebody calling himself Quentin says that. This is clearly not Quentin Collins. I don’t care how many waltzes he listens to.
Then there’s another wolf attack, and Lara sprints over to the Old House, barging in and demanding to see Barnabas. She pushes her way past Benson and heads downstairs to the cellar, where she finds Barnabas embracing one of the housemaids. Oh, dear.
Naturally, he explains that the girl came here from Collinwood with a message. “Please, Lara,” he begs, “You must have a little faith in me. I give you my word that girl means nothing to me in a romantic way.” So it turns out that’s okay.
As the wine combined with the blazing logs to warm her and give her a feeling of well-being, she decided she should do as he asked — cling to her love and belief in him. She could hardly do anything else. He was the one she automatically turned to. And without him she would be facing the terrors of the gloomy old estate alone.
Obviously, the answer to this conundrum is that Lara should go home and get some space between her and the ongoing murder spree, but she’s not that quick on the uptake.
So they hang out and review the case again, which is all that anybody ever does in this book. Barnabas has several theories to discuss. Catherine was either killed by Quentin in wolf form, by Erica in wolf form, by Conrad with his dogs, or by Michael Green because why not, he’s the only other character. Barnabas basically believes that every single person in the book is a suspect except for himself, Mary and the dead bat.
“Things could get much worse,” he warned her. “I may be dragged into this. Benson informs me the police chief called here today to question me.”
“You needn’t fear him,” she said. “He’s a stupid old man.”
“His stupidity could be a threat in this instance.”
So, jeez, Lara really hates that police chief. It’s a wonder she didn’t take the opportunity to point out how fat he is.
Anyway, the next day, everybody heads out to Catherine’s funeral.
At three-thirty promptly she went downstairs in a suitable black dress. Quentin and Conrad Collins were there waiting for her in black mourning garb. Both men had a solemn, preoccupied air. Conrad merely nodded to her while Quentin came to her and asked, “Are you ready to leave?”
“Yes,” she said in a small voice.
They all left the house together. It was a strange procession headed by Lara and Quentin Collins. Conrad Collins and the stout police chief came next.
And oh my god, are you kidding me? Lay off the police chief! For god’s sake, the guy’s just doing his job; he doesn’t need all the smart remarks. I bet he’s friends with Aunt Erica; they probably sit around and worship Satan and talk about why everybody else in town is such a jerk all the time.
After the funeral, Lara walks back to Collinwood with Conrad and has another upsetting conversation. She tells him that she was chased by “a grayish-green brute” last night, but she’s sure it wasn’t one of Conrad’s dogs.
“You know how I feel about my dogs,” Conrad says, and boy, do we ever.
“They’re out to make me destroy them.”
“I’ll tell Quentin what I’ve told you,” she promised. “There’s nothing more I can do.”
Conrad further surprised her by taking a step nearer and seizing her by the arms. “Why do you hate me?”
“I don’t,” she protested. “Let me go. You’re hurting me.”
He continued to hold her in the savage grip. “You can’t bear to have me touch you because I’m a cripple. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“But you don’t mind the touch of Barnabas,” he raged on. “You don’t worry about his cold hands or lips.”
“Let me go!” she said, frightened by the wild look in his eyes.
“Barnabas, who consorts with the housemaids and who never ventures into the sunlight! You admire him because he hasn’t a deformed foot like me!”
Yeah, well, there’s that. Also, you have zero appealing characteristics.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “All the time you’ve been here I’ve been in love with you. And you despise me.”
Her fear and anger swiftly melted into sympathy. She said, “You’re terribly wrong about that. Actually, I like you — better, perhaps, than Quentin. I’m sure you could be a fine man if you’d overcome feeling sorry for yourself and hating people.”
Hope showed on his sensitive face. “I’ll try, Lara. And then will I have a chance with you?”
Her tone was gentle. “I said I liked you, Conrad. But it is Barnabas I love.”
Conrad looked grim again. “He is a handsome man,” he said gruffly and resumed limping up the hill.
Yes, he is handsome, as they keep reminding us every few pages. At the moment, the romantic spreadsheet looks something like this:
Barnabas > Conrad > Quentin > Erica > tiny black dead snake
It’s not clear exactly where the mysterious Michael Green fits into this picture, but Lara goes to meet him at the graveyard, and he fills her in on the big secret: he’s a detective from the Pinkerton Agency, hired by Mary’s parents to investigate whether Quentin killed Mary. Apparently, there are several other murders that Lara didn’t know about — basically, every girl that Quentin’s hung out with has ended up with their throats torn out. Michael is determined to prove that Quentin was guilty, although he hasn’t done much in the way of accumulating evidence.
Lara moved away weakly, her head reeling. It was almost too much to grasp at once. She had suspected that Quentin was a murderer, but she’d had no idea of the extent of his crimes. This meant that even during the period when he’d been writing to her father about his music, this young man had been a heartless killer. Yet in the light of his admiration for the lovely waltz her father had composed, this seemed incredible.
Well, sure. How could anybody who murders people like a popular waltz? It just doesn’t add up. Michael Green is going to have to go back to the Pinkertons and admit defeat.
But then Barnabas shows up, and has a pleasant conversation with Michael about Quentin’s guilt; it’s basically the first time two characters have ever agreed on anything, so they become instant best friends.
Dusk had cast a blue glow over the scene. Lara thought how unreal it was: the three of them standing together beside the ghostly white tomb in the old cemetery, calmly discussing how to make the suspected murderer betray his true self.
Barnabas broke the short silence. “There is a full moon tomorrow night. It will be the most difficult time for Quentin to control his murderous impulses.”
“That’s true,” Michael Green said. “We should make our move then. The longer we hold off, the more danger for Lara.”
“If Lara goes to him tomorrow night,” Barnabas went on, “the chances are he’ll make an attack on her. Providing he is the guilty person. And I think he is.”
“There is a balcony outside his study windows,” Michael said. “I’ve been making note of the layout of the house. You and I could wait out there to be ready to come to Lara’s assistance.”
Barnabas nodded. “He usually goes to his study for an hour or two in the early evening.”
So isn’t this sweet? It is literally the longest stretch of non-hostile conversation in the entire book. Although they don’t seem to be checking in with Lara very much; I’m sure they’ll let her know what she’s supposed to do, once everything’s settled.
Barnabas said, “I do believe it would be it would be to everyone’s benefit to get this settled.”
“And the proof must be positive to convince the local authorities,” the young detective grumbled. “I’ve found them thick-headed.”
And fat! Did you notice how fat the police chief is? The dude is ridiculously fat. Okay, let’s go hide on the balcony.
At the Old House, Michael gives Lara a gun, because what this book needs more than anything is small arms fire, and then leaves her with Barnabas for a few happy moments before everything gets crazy. She simpers and babbles and talks about how wonderful things will be once they take care of Quentin; then they can get married and travel the world and have oodles of money.
She moved away from him, her partly filled wine glass in hand, to inspect some of the ornaments scattered about the room. She paused to admire a teak Buddha that had undoubtedly been carved in China long ago by some talented but forgotten artist. Clipper ships had brought the treasures of every land back to the mariners’ homes in Maine.
On another table she found a brass vase from India. The pattern was intricate and it looked extremely valuable. And beside it was an ivory tile, about two inches square, with the likeness of a male face. She lifted the tile and to her delight found that it was a pen drawing of Barnabas.
She turned to him with the tile in her free hand. “This is wonderful!”
Barnabas looked pleased. “It’s rather old.”
She sighed. “This is the sort of thing I prize. When we leave here, Barnabas, let us gather up all the treasures I feel I can’t do without and take them with us.”
So it looks like a happy ending is on the way, although not for the Collins brothers. “A nasty situation,” Barnabas says. “Perhaps another generation will see Collinwood a happier place.” This is an interesting idea, because looking squarely at Quentin, Conrad and Aunt Erica, I don’t see a ton of reproductive potential there. Where is this next generation supposed to come from, exactly?
Anyway, it turns out that Quentin really is a werewolf, so that’s settled. Lara shoots him in the chest, and he jumps out through the French windows to the darkness and rain outside.
And then a bookcase swings open, revealing a secret door, and guess what!
Conrad Collins stood there smiling in a mad, evil way as he restrained a wild, slavering Caesar by holding onto his collar.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment,” he told her. “It’s always been Caesar and me. And Quentin thinks he’s to blame.”
Lara was back against the wall, terror shadowing her lovely face. She stared at the crippled man with wide horrified eyes. “You’re the one responsible for all those murders. You and Caesar!”
Conrad nodded malevolently. “I decided on it when Quentin began taking his spells. He’s never killed anyone, but he thinks he has! Soon he’ll kill himself or the authorities will get him. And then I’ll have Collinwood!”
But then obviously Barnabas and Michael rush in from the balcony and save the day, hooray! Michael shoots Caesar, and Barnabas chases after Conrad down the secret pasage.
Michael tells Lara that he saw Quentin running out of the room, but he wasn’t a wolf, just an ordinary gunshot madman. Lara insists that he’d turned into a werewolf, but Michael says that was just her imagination. So now she’s killed a guy for no reason, which is more or less what you’d expect from Lara.
Barnabas comes back, and says he chased Conrad off a cliff, so that’s taken care of. He tells Michael and Lara to get on a boat and get away, and Barnabas will explain to the authorities that Conrad shot Quentin and then killed himself. Lara doesn’t want to leave Barnabas, but he promises that he’ll join her later, once he’s perjured himself and covered up for her ghastly crimes. So everything’s going to work out just fine.
Once Michael and Lara are onboard the boat, she worries about where she’s going to meet Barnabas again.
Michael’s tone was sympathetic. “He did give me something for you earlier in the evening. In the excitement I forgot it.” And he reached in his pocket and drew out the small tile with the drawing of Barnabas on it. “He said it was for you.” He paused, and then went on gently. “He asked me to tell you he can never see you again. And he prefers that you don’t question the reasons.”
And so, as Lara’s eyes brim with tears, we take our leave of 1895 Paperback Collinwood, now entirely uninhabited except for mad old Aunt Erica, who I’m sure is absolutely thrilled to have the place to herself at last. So it’s a happy ending after all!
Tomorrow: A Helping Hand.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In act 1, when Barnabas is anxiously waiting for Charity to return, they make a big deal about showing that it’s 5:20am. But the clock sticks stubbornly at 5:20 for the entire episode, and it’s in the middle of the room, so it gets quite a bit of airtime. At the end of the episode, it’s the next evening, and Barnabas calls to Charity. The clock still says 5:20. I guess clocks in Collinsport just commit to a time and stick with it.
After Nora screams, Edward opens the door to Charity’s room. You can briefly see the teleprompter reflected in the glass of a picture frame in the hall.
After Nora talks to Edward, Trask enters the room, and Edward stands up to greet him. For a moment, there’s something red obscuring the top right of the camera.
Tomorrow: A Helping Hand.
— Danny Horn