“I tried slapping her, and telling her there was no such person as Alvah.”
And so, as Sabrina sinks slowly in the west, we wonder: is there any other version of this story we could pay attention to instead?
I mean, the current storyline on Dark Shadows basically entails Barnabas struggling to save fake Maggie from fake Angelique, as they fight over an imitation Quentin made of straw and food coloring. Sabrina is gone and Julia is on the ascendant, but still, it’s Parallel Time and there’s only so much I can deal with. So how about today we turn to an equally ersatz band of time, and see what’s happening over at the Paperback Library?
Dan “Marilyn” Ross is currently pumping out Dark Shadows novels at the rate of 159 pages a month, and honestly they’re just as canon as anything else, so we ought to keep an eye on them just to make sure they’re not hurting anybody. The current installment as of May 1970 is #17 in the PBL Gothic series: Barnabas, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost, the second book to use the “Barnabas, Quentin and…” construction.
The cover blurb says “Barnabas and Quentin join forces against Collinwood’s ghostly killer,” which isn’t strictly accurate, in that they don’t join forces, it’s not necessarily Quentin, there isn’t a ghost, and nobody gets killed. Besides that, it’s fine.
Dark Shadows novels, like all paperback gothic romances, are preoccupied by a single concept: how dreadful it is when guests and employees arrive at a spooky old castle. There are two variations: #1) a nice guest arrives at a castle owned by dreadful people, or #2) nice people who live in a castle are afflicted with dreadful guests.
Some of the Dark Shadows novels take place in the present day, with Elizabeth, Roger, Carolyn and Maggie in residence, and some take place in the past, with a new crew of 19th or early 20th century Collinses dynamically generated for each book. If the novel is set in the past, then the main character is the nice outsider coming to visit a terrible family; if it’s set in the present, then the main character is Carolyn or Maggie, and the problem is all of these awful outsiders.
BQ and the AG is present-day, so Collinwood is occupied by Liz, Roger and Carolyn, and all of the problems are imported. Paperback Library novels are populated entirely by the suspicious and the unpleasant; even the friendly people are annoying to one degree or another. They’re supplied with one emotion and one concern each, and every time we see them, they’re harping on their chosen subject, which is often how much they dislike each other.
To be honest, I’m not sure why Dan Ross couldn’t create likeable characters. He wrote around 330 pulp paperbacks over his career, so that’s somewhere around four thousand different characters, and not a single one of them has a likeable trait. It’s uncanny.
The main character is young Carolyn Stoddard, and the first thing we learn about her is that she has unorthodox theories about climate change.
There was something diabolical about the suffocating August heat under which Collinwood sweltered. Carolyn felt there was something abnormal about it. In fact, it was her firm opinion that it was part of the curse hurled at her uncle, Roger Collins, some time before.
So that’s the mentality that we’re dealing with for the next 160 pages, a college student who thinks that it’s hot in the summer because of ghosts.
But Carolyn, her mother Elizabeth and her uncle Roger are about to be embroiled in a hot summer feud, thanks to the imminent arrival of the unspeakable Daltons: Edward, Alice and their daughter Celia.
Alice was an old flame of Roger’s back in the day, but he was grumpy and kind of useless, driving her into the arms of Edward, a professional ghost-botherer who writes books about spiritualism. Carolyn knows their daughter, Celia, from summer school in Boston.
Celia has recently suffered a nervous breakdown, so Alice wrote to Elizabeth, asking if they could come and visit. Obviously, Elizabeth said, sure, we haven’t had a trio of irritating houseguests since the last book, come on over. The fact that Alice’s daughter is mentally unwell just sweetens the pot, as far as Elizabeth is concerned. Bring it on.
The other thing you need to know about from the outset is the curse of Harriet Barnes. Last winter, Roger was the foreman of a jury that convicted a weird woman for poisoning three husbands for the insurance money. Harriet was a prim, gray-haired woman who always dressed in black, so I don’t know how she managed to snag three husbands. I know some perfectly nice young women who can’t even get a second date.
Anyway, she was convicted, like I said, and she burst into a rage, screaming at Roger and accusing him of who knows what. In her cell, she wrote a note claiming that she was innocent and furious, and then she took poison, which if she was so innocent then where did the poison come from.
So now there’s a curse, and they live under it. Here’s the extent of the problem so far:
One of the fishing boats was lost in a storm and this was at once put down to the curse, as was the death of a handyman who fell from one of the upper windows of the old mansion by the sea when he leaned out too far and lost his balance while repairing a shutter.
Now that seems like a pretty inefficient curse, if you’re going to say the handyman died because Harriet was mad at Roger. What does the handyman have to do with it? Harriet needs to learn how to focus; this shilly-shallying isn’t getting her anywhere.
Roger’s also had some run-ins with Dr. Moore, a big fat doctor from the village who testified in Harriet’s defense at the trial. I’m not trying to be sizeist or anything; it’s just that these novels tend to pick a single physical attribute for each character, and then hammer at it every time they appear. In his first scene, Dr. Moore is referred to as “a large, sandy-haired man,” which is fine, but a couple paragraphs later he has a “round, good-natured face,” and by the end of the scene, he’s described as “the portly doctor”. Dan Ross is a strong believer in adjective consistency.
Anyway, Dr. Moore testified that Harriet was not guilty by reason of insanity, which let’s face it, she probably was. Everybody’s insane, in this ghoulish nether-realm that we call the Paperback Library.
Anyway, back to Paperback Carolyn, who doesn’t really sound a lot like the Carolyn that we know, either Parallel or Classic. She’s a late 60s teen from central casting, basically a good kid but not what you’d call a deep thinker. Here’s her review of Edward Dalton’s books on spiritualism: “They were groovy! I mean, really spooky and all that!” So that’s what we have to contend with.
The one thing that Carolyn loves more than anything is her mysterious cousin Barnabas, who visits the estate every now and again. “Carolyn was thrilled by this distant cousin,” we’re told, “who, in his Edwardian suits and caped coat, brought a taste of the mod English styling to the estate.”
This is the twelfth novel featuring Barnabas, and by now he’s evolved from a secretive incestuous child-ruiner into sort of a gentleman-vampire, who operates more or less in the open. He doesn’t live in the Old House year-round; he just comes to visit sometimes, usually showing up just before the novel begins and leaving just before it ends, with a melancholy goodbye note sent to the teary-eyed main character.
Barnabas shacks up in the Old House with his mad mute servant Hare, who snarls and growls and waves his fists around whenever anybody shows up during the day. Hare is great. We could use a lot more Hare in these books.
Everybody is generally aware that Barnabas is some kind of a problem, which Roger summarizes this way:
“There are those in the village who resent Barnabas. They think he’s a vampire, just as his ancestor was — that first Barnabas Collins, who was driven off the estate in disgrace because of his attacks on innocent young women.”
The “driven off the estate” thing is fascinating. Apparently both Barnabas and Quentin are dangerous monsters who attack townspeople, but they’re never actually captured or imprisoned. They just get run out of town somehow, and everything settles down for a while, until they come back later and start the process over again.
As always, the main thing that you need to understand is that Paperback Barnabas is drop-dead handsome. This is first mentioned on page 15 — “looking up into his melancholy, handsome face” — and reiterated at intervals through page 121 — “his handsome but melancholy face showed a grim smile.”
But there’s been an unfortunate dip in the handsomeness lately, which is troubling. This book only calls Barnabas handsome 8 times. That’s more than anyone else, obviously — Quentin gets 3 handsomes, and Roger only gets 2 — but it’s way below average.
Here’s the breakdown from the other books that we’ve looked at so far:
But Barnabas has settled into a kind of stasis, anyway. He’s going to be the star of the next book no matter what happens, so he doesn’t have anything to prove. They don’t give him a romantic plot in this book at all — there are a couple times when Carolyn suggests there might be a romance between Barnabas and Celia, and then a couple other times when Carolyn wishes that she could have a romance with Barnabas herself — but Barnabas remains aloof, floating through the story with no real effort. At the end of the book, Barnabas is hardly present for the climax; all he does is turn on a light.
And speaking of lights, we might as well get to the thrilling chapter 1 cliffhanger.
Carolyn opened the door and was about to switch on the light when her eyes caught a glowing, macabre horror etched on the wall against the blackness of her room. A hideous skull’s head, with staring black eye-sockets and grinning teeth, surmounted by the plain hat she’d so often seen the murderess, Harriet Barnes, wear. She let out a scream of sheer terror!
Here’s how that turns out, further down the page:
Still the grinning skull mocked her in the darkness. Carolyn was leaning weakly against the door frame when her mother came quickly, in answer to her scream.
Elizabeth touched her arm. “What is it?”
Carolyn pointed to the wall. “There!”
Her mother’s tone was scornful. “What a ninny you are! It’s nothing!” And she switched on the room lights.
It turns out that the terrifying skull’s head was actually the new yard light reflecting through the trees. That’s how these books work; it’s almost never an actual skull’s head.
But then Carolyn thinks about it some more, as she prepares for bed. “Perhaps the new lamp wasn’t the only explanation for the spectral face. Had some supernatural force made the reflection take on that special grisly warning for her? A chill shot through her as she considered this.”
So that’s Carolyn in a nutshell. Sure, the lightbulb isn’t supernatural, but did the supernatural make her react to the lightbulb that way? This kind of logic leads you down a dark path, inhabited entirely by ninnies.
Once that’s over with, it’s time to meet the Daltons, and guess what, they’re just as unappealing as we expected. Celia is limp and unwell. Alice is mainly theoretical. But the one that we need to keep an eye on is Edward Dalton, and that’s a shame, because he is intolerable.
Like everybody of consequence in the world of PBL, Edward is a monomaniac, pathologically obsessed with the specific bee in his bonnet. We’ve seen that in previous books, with Anthony Collins and his mummies, Conrad Collins and his vicious dogs, and Nina Bremmer and her need to cheat on her husband with everything in pants.
In Edward’s case, it’s seances and spirits. He has written several books on the subject, and don’t worry if you haven’t made a note about that, because Edward Dalton will remind you.
He takes a walk with Carolyn, and reveals the following confidences:
#1. He possesses psychic powers, and so does his daughter.
#2. He’s been performing seances so that spirits could speak through Celia, who’s an exceptionally receptive medium. This is almost certainly what caused her nervous breakdown.
#3. He’s come to Collinwood because he’s hoping that the spirit of Harriet Barnes will take over Celia’s body.
#4. He considers it an acceptable loss if Celia becomes physically and mentally weak, to gain spiritual and supernatural powers.
#5. When he’s informed that the family doesn’t want him to investigate ghosts at Collinwood, he says, “I haven’t the slightest intention of changing my plans.”
He’s horrible, in other words. He starts out as horrible, he continues to be horrible through the entire book, and he is still horrible when the book concludes. This is the story of what happens when a horrible man comes and stays at your house.
By the time they get back to Collinwood, Celia’s had another breakdown; she’s only been in the house ten minutes and already she’s feverish and restless. Dr. Moore comes over and gives her a sedative, so at least she’s getting appropriate Collinwood medical care. And hey, do you remember what I said about Dr. Moore being fat?
The stout doctor paused to glance at them all. “It’s very odd!”
“What is odd?” Roger persisted.
“Just now when she was murmuring in her fever up there, she kept repeating the name Alvah over and over. She kept fretting about Alvah and whether he was ill. I asked her mother if she knew any Alvah and she said no. She’d never heard the name before.”
“Well?” Roger said.
The portly doctor sighed. “You won’t like this, I’m sure. But I happen to know that Alvah was the middle name of Harriet Barnes’ third husband. It was his middle name and he never used it. She was the only one who knew it and she told me she often called him Alvah when they were alone. It was a pet name between them.” He hesitated a moment. “Alvah is no common name. Why is this girl, a stranger here, so familiar with it?”
Carolyn couldn’t help glancing at Edward Dalton and noting the triumphant smile on his thin face.
So, great, now we’re supposed to keep track of the dead murderess’ dead husbands’ middle names.
Dr. Moore says that Celia’s trouble is mental; with their permission, he’ll engage a psychiatric nurse to administer a complicated treatment regimen of tranquilizers. This service is apparently offered gratis by the local medical community to any house guest at Collinwood, which makes sense, because there’s a lot of mental patients in the immediate area, and somebody needs to be part of the solution.
Edward Dalton says it’s nothing to worry about. “I do not consider my daughter ill,” he says, “but rather tormented by the uneasy spirits clamoring for her attention in this old house.”
Carolyn objects, and Dalton says, “I know she has the power to become a great medium, and it is her stifling of this power that is torturing her. Thus she requires sedation and other medical care to quiet what is a natural urge on her part.”
Roger explodes, warning him not to go and write sensational articles that profit off the Collins family’s name and violate their privacy. After he stalks off, Carolyn reminds Dalton that she told him Roger would object.
“True. You did warn me,” he admits. “But I had no idea anyone could be so narrow in their thinking.” This is life with Dalton.
Celia finally comes to, and Carolyn gets a chance to have a conversation with her. As a person, Celia is a fairly inert substance; she’s perfectly nice, but there’s not much to her. She doesn’t want to be used as a medium by her father, but has a hard time getting up the gumption to do anything about it.
Carolyn tries to lighten the mood by talking about the lovely country around Collinwood, and offers to take Celia on a walk. For example, they could go to the Old House, to meet Carolyn’s cousin, the vampire. “He’s very charming,” she explains. “He dresses in the mod fashion and he is gentle and kind.”
But Celia has a monster of her own. She tells Carolyn about Martin Wainwright, a young man she met at college, who was very kind to her during her illness. She’s asked him to come visit her while she’s staying in Collinsport, so he’ll probably show up later in the book. He’s Quentin, by the way.
This is what happens with Quentin now; they give him another name, and slip him into the book secretly. Dan Ross doesn’t have a very strong understanding of who Quentin is or what his relationship with the family is, so he just chooses a character and says, this guy is Quentin in disguise. In the last book Quentin called himself Herb Price, and now he’s Martin Wainwright, probably. The title Barnabas, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost is mostly speculative; the only one we’re sure of is Barnabas.
Celia’s got another surprise up her sleeve, handing Carolyn a locket that she found on the floor. Carolyn doesn’t recognize the locket, but when she looks inside, she finds a picture of Harriet Barnes!!! which how could anyone get that except maybe on Etsy. Keep an eye on that locket, if you can spare one; I’m pretty sure it’s going to come up again.
Desperate for a change of scene, Carolyn drags Celia over to the Old House to meet Barnabas. This is the requisite Barnabas-worship sequence, where everyone talks about how great he is. In chapter 3, Barnabas is described as very charming, charming, extremely handsome, his usual charming self, handsome, charming and handsome, in that order.
Celia, on the other hand, is kind of a handful. She sees a portrait, and says, “Those eyes! They seem to leap from the painting and pierce through me.” It turns out to be a portrait of Angelique. “I feel she is alive,” Celia whispers, and then she says, “It’s strange, but I feel that girl wants to tell me something.” If Celia doesn’t want to get used as a medium then she’s doing a lousy job being anything else.
To keep the conversation going, Barnabas mentions that he just found the portrait of Angelique in the cellar this evening.
“When I discovered her down below,” he said, “her lovely face was a mess of cobwebs. They covered her features like a veil.”
“I don’t like to hear that!” Celia exclaimed, her face suddenly pale. She turned away from the painting. “It makes me think of the grave and all kinds of unpleasant things.”
So what are you even going to do with a girl like this, besides send her to Bryn Mawr and hope for the best?
At this point, Edward Dalton comes over to find his daughter, understandably concerned that she’s visiting vampires. He basically grabs Celia by the arm and pulls, which Carolyn considers unforgivably rude.
So she spends some time with Barnabas talking about Dalton and Celia and spiritualism and Dr. Moore and Alvah and the locket and Roger and Harriet Barnes and the curse. It’s page 45, and this is the point when they’ve built up enough material that they can have four-page conversations where Carolyn recaps the entire book and how she feels about it.
In the morning, Carolyn talks to Alice about Celia’s latest attack of nerves and when is Dr. Moore coming over, and then she goes and talks to Elizabeth about Alice and Dalton and Celia and Dr. Moore and Roger and Barnabas. This is the how the PBL style works; you set up some arguments and inferences and clues, and then the main character walks from person to person, reviewing the case, until you hit 159 pages and the book is over.
Then it’s time for a new character. Dr. Moore comes over, bringing Nurse Bell, who’s one of those weird gloomy old battleaxes that you need for atmosphere.
A large woman in a white nurse’s uniform came down the stairs to join them. Carolyn couldn’t help staring at her. The woman was powerfully built and had short graying hair. Her face had a sullen look and she wore horn-rimmed glasses. Carolyn guessed by her bearing she was a domineering type.
Nurse Bell is here to make sure that Celia doesn’t go mental and do something dangerous and she is absolutely the ideal person for that role, in the sense that she does nothing to discourage Celia’s hazardous midnight raids on the family, which happen approximately once per chapter from here on in.
Meanwhile, things are heating up on the docks, and we get a close-order drill demonstrating how people think about Barnabas in PBL Collinsport.
The facts are these: last night, eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins went to the Blue Whale to socialize with the living, and he left the bar with a girl around midnight. Sometime later, the girl was found collapsed on the dock, with a strange red mark on her throat. She was weak, and had no memory of who attacked her. Roger takes issue with this kind of behavior.
“You’re being unfair,” Elizabeth protested.
“When I say that Barnabas is a recluse who finds an outlet by attacking pretty girls in the night and biting them on the throats?” he demanded.
“Barnabas would never do such a mad thing,” Carolyn defended him.
Roger turned his full anger on her. “Then why have such incidents occurred when Barnabas is here as a visitor and only then?”
“I don’t know that they have,” she protested.
“I do,” Roger assured her. “I have kept a careful record. It is my opinion Barnabas is a psychotic who imagines himself a reincarnation of his ancestor, the one cursed as a vampire. And he acts out the part as best he can. It won’t be long until the villagers are whispering about him again. And then the police will catch him one night and we’ll all be disgraced!”
“You’re being melodramatic, Roger,” Elizabeth admonished him.
So obviously this is Roger’s fault. If he feels like keeping careful records of things, then fine, that’s his prerogative, but if you start pulling on the thread of dangerous psychotics, then you’d lose at minimum three-fourths of the cast, up to and including Roger himself, and then where would we be?
That night, Carolyn is awoken from an uneasy slumber by the desperate screams of some inconsiderate person being strangled in the hallway while people are trying to get some sleep.
Heading to the hall to see what all the racket is about, Carolyn finds her mother on the ground, throttled by something knotted around her throat, and you’ll never guess who’s responsible.
There was an eerie wailing, keening sound from further down the hallway. A wraithlike figure was moving slowly towards them out of the shadows, moaning and staggering slightly.
Carolyn saw who it was and cried out, “Celia!”
Her answer was a mad, high-pitched shriek of laughter. Then Celia staggered and leaned against the wall and began to moan again. Carolyn was about to go to her when she was roughly shoved to one side by Nurse Bell.
“I have her,” the nurse said in her coarse voice as she grasped the unfortunate girl. “I fell asleep for a moment and she got out of her room.”
“Shouldn’t we call Dr. Moore?” Roger demanded.
“Not unless you need him for Mrs. Stoddard,” the nurse said, holding Celia tightly. “The girl is suffering from a reaction to the drugs.”
So those must be some pretty messed up drugs; they might want to investigate some alternate treatment options. What are these people up to? They should double-check the labels, and make sure that they’ve got the antipsychotics and not the pro-psychotics.
Luckily, Elizabeth’s perfectly fine; she’s just been choked to unconsciousness, no big deal. Carolyn and Roger put her to bed, and then they start messing around with clues.
It turns out Elizabeth was strangled with a scarf, and Roger shows Carolyn that it’s monogrammed with the initials HB. Startled, Carolyn tells Roger about the locket that Celia found. She relays Barnabas’ suspicion that Edward Dalton is planting objects around the house, trying to build up material for one of his ghost stories.
“That’s fantastic!” Roger exclaims. “But after meeting Dalton, I don’t think it’s beyond the weird beanpole.” And then they spend a while chewing that over.
Roger wants to see the locket, so Carolyn looks in the drawer where she left it, but it’s not there. “Maybe it was a ghost locket,” he says, “and it simply vanished. I’m sure Barnabas can supply you with a neat explanation.” Roger is the only bearable character in the book.
In the morning, Roger, Liz and Carolyn confront the Daltons with how utterly horrible and nightmarish they are. Alice and Edward apologize for their daughter, sort of, and they promise to take Celia away as soon as she successfully murders a member of the family.
Liz and Roger display the scarf with the HB monogram, which Alice says must have already been in the house. And then there’s this.
Roger eyed them cynically. “Carolyn also found a locket in her room which had belonged to the dead woman — a locket which has since vanished.”
Dalton raised one of his spidery hands. “May I correct you?”
“In your facts,” Dalton said, his pale face showing a malicious smile. “If I’m not mistaken, my daughter found this locket and later gave it to this young lady.”
Carolyn was forced to nod agreement. “That is the way it happened.”
Edward Dalton looked pleased. “I just wanted the record to be right.”
And oh my god Edward Dalton is the worst. Why would you invite these people to stay at your house, and why don’t you ask them to leave? You’d think that strangling your host in the middle of the night using a scarf owned by a convicted murderer would be grounds for expulsion, but Paperback Collinwood grades on a curve.
Then Dalton makes a speech reminding everyone that Harriet Barnes put a curse on the family before she killed herself, and when they ask him to get to the point, he says, “Though none of you seem to want to recognize it, I am an eminent name in the field of spiritualism.” Oh my god you are terrible.
He claims that Celia is being possessed by Harriet Barnes to take her revenge on the family, although you could make the case that a visit from the Daltons already is revenge on the family.
Dalton wants to have a seance, to expel the evil spirit by encouraging it to take possession of his fragile daughter’s mind, cracking it in twain. Roger says that he doesn’t believe in this spiritualist nonsense, and Dalton retorts, “Could it be that it frightens you, Mr. Collins?” Dalton is the worst.
Carolyn decides to brighten the mood by taking Celia on a drive around Collinsport, which doesn’t sound that great but there aren’t a lot of options. Naturally, she has to spend two pages getting everyone to agree to let the mad girl out of the house, and she’s only able to get Nurse Bell’s signoff by promising to drop in on Dr. Moore while they’re in town.
“I’m sorry to have been such a drip since I arrived,” Celia says, as soon as they’re out of the driveway. “I so looked forward to coming. But the moment I got here I began to feel ill. It’s all my nerves, of course.” Carolyn nods. “I’d be fine if father didn’t nag me. He’s so set on my being a medium for his seances. Of course, I know it’s his life work, but he shouldn’t have dragged me into it. I became so mixed up I had to go to that awful mental hospital. And part of my trouble now is that I’m terrified of being ill again and having to go back there.”
Naturally, Carolyn is already regretting this entire outing. She had to go through all kinds of red tape to take Celia out of the house, and now all she wants to do is complain about her boring problems.
Things don’t get any sunnier when they get to town. Carolyn wants to drop by the post office, so she parks outside a city building that happens to house the jail. And then this happens.
She turned to Celia and was mildly startled to see that her friend was staring at the building with an uneasy look on her pretty face.
Alarmed that the girl might be going to slip into one of her strange spells, she spoke to her sharply. “Is anything wrong?”
Celia gave her a quick glance. “No,” she said. “It’s that building. I don’t know why. The sight of it depresses me!”
She passed it off lightly. “Those dirty chipped red bricks are enough to depress anyone. But the taxpayers here are tightfisted and they won’t vote the money for a new building until this one falls down.”
In spite of the warm day, Celia was trembling. “It’s ugly and frightening.”
So for crying out loud, what can you do with someone like this? They’re giving her free room and board, plus a health care plan, and this is her attitude. Carolyn privately notes that this jail is where Harriet Barnes committed suicide, and she wonders if Celia’s reaction means that she’s possessed by Harriet’s spirit. It does not. Celia is just a problem.
At the post office, they find a letter addressed to Celia c/o Collinwood, and it turns out to be from Martin Wainwright, aka Secret Quentin, who’s coming to stay at the Collinsport Inn in a few days. Celia’s happy that Martin’s coming to see her, but it doesn’t last long.
Celia’s face shadowed again and she sank back against the seat, crumpling the letter in her hand. “Please drive away from here,” she begged. “I can’t stand staring at that ugly building!”
Okay, jeez. Sorry my town is too ugly for you.
After that ordeal is over, Carolyn deposits Celia back in her quarters and goes out to score some face time with Barnabas.
It was still twilight when she reached the Old House, the front door of which was open. She went up the stairs and was about to enter its dark hall when Hare materialized out of the shadows.
She was so desperate to see Barnabas she felt no fear of the mute servant. “I must see Mr. Barnabas at once,” she said with authority. “It is important! Do you understand?”
The ugly face showed no expression. His bloodshot eyes gazed at her sullenly. Then he raised a hairy hand with long dirty fingernails that sent a wave of revulsion through her, and pointed in the direction of the cemetery. At the same time he uttered a strange harsh grunting.
So Hare is great, right? My only complaint about that scene is that he’s not currently holding a chicken wing, with barbecue sauce all over his beard.
Anyway, Carolyn trots off to the boneyard, which sets up one of those ridiculous chapter-ending cliffhangers where we’re supposed to believe that she’s frightened of being out of doors at night, and it suddenly occurs to her that it’s going to be completely dark like she has no idea how the sun works.
And then, without warning: the other main character arrives.
Suddenly in the shadows to her left she heard an odd kind of rustling movement. She turned and stared at the spot from which the sound had come. And to her utter horror there slowly took shape an enormous wolf! A creature of luminous eyes and slavering mouth! Its giant fangs showed and it moved towards her with a warning snarl.
But the book isn’t super committed to the idea of having a werewolf character; those few sentences are the start and finish of this wolf sequence. Carolyn turns and races madly out of the cemetery, and then she hears a young man say, “One moment, miss!” And she turns around and there’s no more wolf and instead there’s a guy.
It’s Martin Wainwright, of course, who’s lurking around the cemetery for no particular reason, and who changed into a wolf and then back again within the last few minutes, also for no reason. This is now a scene about Carolyn meeting a handsome young man named Martin.
Barnabas comes by, and he meets Martin too, and they all chat pleasantly for a page or so, until Martin strolls back to town. Then it’s time for the “he looks familiar” sequence.
“A most interesting young fellow,” Barnabas says. “Strangely, he looks familiar to me. I have a good memory for faces, and his seems one I’ve seen before. But I don’t connect the name Martin Wainwright with it.”
Then Carolyn tells him about the enormous wolf that disappeared just before Martin showed up, and Barnabas says hmmm, how curious, and that’s how we deal with Quentin in the PBL these days.
So if you think that the TV show is having a hard time figuring out what to do with Quentin, then that’s nothing compared to Dan “Marilyn” Ross and the Paperback Library. It’s obvious that Dan has no interest in sticking Quentin in the middle of these books, this is entirely pro forma.
In the mummy book — the first to use the Barnabas, Quentin and… title construction — Dan just decided that a random secondary character was secretly Quentin, and then that character disappears about two-thirds of the way into the book with no real impact on the plot. The same thing happens here. My guess is that Dan had already sketched out an outline for these two books, when he got instructions from the powers that be at PBL that from now on Quentin needs to be included.
Things heat up a bit in the next chapter, with a one-two punch. Carolyn is awakened from sleep by a cry in the night again, which is the Collinwood equivalent of an alarm clock. This time, the c. in the n. comes from outside, so she looks out the window and sees Barnabas walking a young woman in a nightgown around the yard.
All the frightening gossip about Barnabas’ vampire tendencies came back to her. She’d never allowed herself to listen to this talk, but now she wondered. What reasonable explanation could there be for his being out there with some girl at this hour?
Now the two had moved closer to the house, and with a sense of shock she recognized the girl as Celia. Celia, clad only in a flimsy nightgown and strolling hand in hand with Barnabas! They halted, and Barnabas took the girl in his arms for a long embrace. Afterward he seemed to be saying something urgent to her. Then he walked off into the shadows, leaving her standing there alone.
Baffled, Carolyn goes outside to find her friend, but she doesn’t get far.
Then she heard the footstep behind her. And in the next moment she was seized by the throat. She tried to call out, but couldn’t. The wickedly cruel hands crushed her until she was unable to breathe. After a brief, feeble attempt to free herself, she sank into unconsciousness.
So that’s fun. It turns out to be Celia, of course. Carolyn comes to, and all hell has broken loose. Nurse Bell came downstairs looking for Celia — she lost track of her again, thanks Nurse Bell — and found Carolyn unconscious on the lawn, with Celia standing next to her babbling, plus there’s a red scar on Celia’s throat, so it’s simply mayhem in the front yard tonight.
They discover that Carolyn was choked by a chain — the missing locket with Harriet Barnes’ picture, yikes — so now Dalton acts all superior and says that clearly his daughter is possessed by an evil spirit, and why doesn’t anyone ever listen to him, don’t they realize that he’s a recognized authority in spiritualism, and so on. It’s ghastly.
Next morning, Carolyn’s in bed. Her windpipe was crushed, and she’ll be talking in a whisper for a few days. So now it’s open mic night at Carolyn’s bedside for any random visitor with a sob story.
Alice comes in and starts criticizing Nurse Bell for allowing Celia to break loose and commit mayhem. Then she starts picking at her husband, who only wanted to come here so he could write a bunch of sensational articles about the ghostly legends of Collinwood. Alice says that she’ll talk to Dr. Moore about taking Celia back to Boston — Edward will be furious, but so be it. Then she takes up the subject of Roger’s dislike of Barnabas, and then back to Edward’s twisted plans, and then Dr. Moore again.
All Carolyn can do is sit there and nod, and wait for Alice to conclude her one woman show. We’ve now reached the point in the book where every character spends all of their time talking smack about every other character.
Then Martin Wainwright comes over for his own standup set. The good-looking young Quentin-resembler finds Carolyn out on the terrace, and makes several pleasant remarks about Celia and how amusing Carolyn’s injury is. “If I’m going to spend much time with you I’ll have to get familiar with the sign language,” he says, which isn’t funny but it’s as close to a joke as these books ever get.
Then we get some remarks on Martin’s lifestyle:
“What do you do?”
He opened his palms. “Nothing. I met Celia at college. I was taking some non-credit courses. We had fun.”
She whispered, “Haven’t you any plans?”
“Just one important one,” he said. “I’m not going to get hooked in the present nine-to-five rat race. I like my freedom too well. Most people’s lives are dominated by their desire for money. It doesn’t tempt me.”
So Paperback Quentin is a hippie slacker with an early 70s anti-establishment sensibility, which isn’t really our Quentin’s style. Can you imagine Quentin saying that he’s not tempted by money?
Finally, Celia comes outside, and Martin takes another couple potshots at Carolyn’s trauma. Celia’s happy that he’s met Carolyn, and he says, “Sure we’ve met. In fact, I’ve left her speechless.” When Carolyn encourages them to take a walk, he croaks “Good advice,” imitating her hoarse whisper. Carolyn decides that maybe she doesn’t like this guy, although honestly he’s more fun to hang around with than anybody else in the book, with the possible exception of Nurse Bell.
And speak of the devil, that’s who comes onstage next for her own weird scene. Nurse Bell has lost track of Celia again, which is all she ever does.
The mannish nurse watched Celia and Martin as they moved into the distance. “That one slipped away from me when I was talking to her mother.”
Carolyn croaked, “All right. Boy friend.”
Nurse Bell was still scowling. “I don’t know what Dr. Moore would say about it. She’ll be coming back all excited and have another one of her crazy spells.”
The big woman nodded. “Exactly like last night. I turned my back for just a minute and she was gone. I was out looking for her when she attacked you.”
So you’re not very good at your job, I guess, Carolyn doesn’t say. The entire point of you being here is to keep an eye on Celia and make sure she doesn’t slip away and massacre the innocent. And then Alvah re-enters our lives.
The big woman leaned close to her and in an confidential tone said, “When she has these spells it isn’t just wild raving. She talks like a different person. And she mentions names and places. Like that Harbor Point, for instance. She talks about it whenever she has a spell.”
“The man named Alvah,” Nurse Bell said. “She’s always raving about what a fine person she is. And she can’t understand what’s making him ill. I tried slapping her and telling her there was no such person as Alvah and she only looked ugly at me and went right on with the nonsense.”
So, holy cow. Maybe the Republicans are right, we don’t need health care.
By the way, here’s a thing that didn’t happen: anybody telling the Daltons to get the hell out of the house. Celia has now struck twice, attempting to murder both Elizabeth and Carolyn, and yet nobody’s leaving train schedules around and talking about how nice it must be in Boston this time of year.
But it’s possible to run out of chances in this town, as Barnabas may learn. A couple days later, there’s another puzzling incident.
“It’s Barnabas again,” Roger told them.
“Another girl?” Carolyn asked.
“I’m afraid so,” Roger said. “Everything the same as before. He picked her up in the Blue Whale. And later she was found dazed and with a scar on her throat.”
“And they think Barnabas did it?” Carolyn’s mother asked.
“Of course! They blamed him for the first attack. And we know that Celia had the same mark on her throat. I tell you Cousin Barnabas is getting out of hand.”
“He’s never admitted any of this to me,” Carolyn said. “And he never lies to me.”
“I still say he’s guilty,” Roger snapped. “And we’ll have to talk to him and persuade him to leave.”
“What if he won’t go?” Elizabeth worried.
“We’ll have to find a way to make him,” Roger said grimly. “I’m not going to wait until we’re all disgraced!”
Elizabeth turned to her. “Perhaps you can reason with him. He likes you.”
So apparently nobody’s ever heard of stakes and sunlight. They treat Barnabas’ brutal assaults like an embarrassment, rather than a crime. The Paperback Library has a strikingly underdeveloped moral sense; everyone is super judgmental, but about all the wrong things.
And for pete’s sake, why does Barnabas go to the Blue Whale for takeout, when he knows that the humans are already suspicious of him doing exactly the thing that he’s doing? PBL Barnabas is incredibly bold/stupid. Thank goodness nobody around him has any respect for human life.
At dinner, Dalton is still babbling on about etheric bodies and astral traveling. “It’s standard spiritualistic teaching,” he explains. “When the cord is cut, the spiritual body lives on. Many spirits at first wear similar clothes to those worn in earthly life. Later they don spiritual robes for extra comfort.” And so on.
The point is that he’s still convinced that his terrible daughter is possessed by the evil spirit of Harriet Barnes, and a seance is the only way to fix her. Roger’s response: “My answer is that I consider everything you’ve said a lot of mumbo-jumbo!”
Which it is, Roger is absolutely correct, but the sad fact of the matter is that nobody’s getting out of this book until they have a seance. The more Roger puts it off, the longer it’s going to be before we reach the ridiculous climax, and the inevitable unmasking of whoever’s behind all this, which is pretty obviously the corpulent Dr. Moore. So Roger’s a speed bump, standing in the way between the audience and the only thing we care about.
There’s another 44 pages of book left, so let’s get rid of Quentin. Carolyn decides that she doesn’t trust Martin, and she advises Celia to cut him loose. Enraged, Martin tells Carolyn “You are my enemy,” and he stalks off into the underbrush, and then before you know it, there’s another mysterious wolf attack.
From nearby there came a low, ominous growl. The sound of an animal. An animal on the offensive. She gave a startled cry. The growling became louder, ending in a snarl, and from the shadows there sprang a fierce wolflike creature. She dodged and stumbled backwards as the thing sprang toward her, close enough for her to smell and feel the heat of its fetid breath!
She raced toward the old house with the snarling thing after her. It was hopeless! When the thing sprang again, it would be on her!
And then Barnabas comes along, obviously, and unsheaths his sword cane, which I had no idea he had one. They have a vampire vs werewolf swordfight which ends with Barnabas stabbing the wolf, and then it runs off, end of action sequence.
Barnabas takes Carolyn back to the Old House to recover from her experience, and she tells him that she’d had a fight with Martin just before the animal attack.
“Are you prepared for a story so preposterous you won’t believe it?” he asks, and sure, why stop now?
“Have you ever heard of a member of the family named Quentin Collins?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“I’m not surprised,” Barnabas said. “Because of his evil reputation, he is rarely mentioned. I wouldn’t be surprised if Roger told you there was no such person.”
“But there is?”
“Yes,” Barnabas said. “He’s in such bad repute with the family just now that he wouldn’t dare come here under his real name.”
So again, this concept of bad repute and disgrace, which is the only law. Quentin turns into a wild beast that feasts on the populace, and nobody calls animal control. They just decide to shun him, which appears to work, so maybe they’ve got a point. I mean, it could be worse; he could be a vicious werewolf that also writes books about spiritualism.
Anyway, Carolyn engages her self-delusion subroutine, and refuses to believe anything that Barnabas is saying.
His smile was mocking. “You see? I told you that you’d find it impossible to accept. But through the years there have been recorded accounts of men with the ability to make themselves seem like wolves. Quentin Collins is said to be one of these werewolves. That is why he’s not welcome at Collinwood.”
“Do you think it’s true?”
His serious eyes met hers. “A year ago, could you have pictured men from earth walking on the moon? Such a thing still escapes the minds of most people. They’re not able to cope with such a fantastic happening. It’s the same when you ask people to accept things as beyond the normal as werewolves.”
So that’s amazing. People walked on the moon, therefore: werewolves. The thing that I love about that assertion is that it actually proves the opposite of whatever he’s saying. “Such a thing still escapes the minds of most people?” No, it doesn’t, people watched it on TV and got really excited about it. What are you talking about?
The conversation gets progressively more fraught; Barnabas decides to just cut loose and confess everything. Using the portrait of Angelique as a visual aid, he reveals that he’s the ancestor.
“I am that Barnabas who was doomed to wander down the years as one of the living dead — part of me in this world and part of me lost in the shadows.”
“And that’s why you attacked those girls in the village. You needed blood from them?”
“Or else I would die myself,” he said. “I meant them no harm. And I did them no lasting harm.”
Right, except for the sexual assault. And yes, of course it is; if the vampire bite is just a casual snack and not a metaphor for serial rape, then why does he never bite dudes? Oh, and then get this next part.
“Why have you never taken blood from me?” Carolyn asked in wonder.
“My feelings for you would not allow it,” he said. “Even a lost soul like myself has limits beyond which there is no trespass.”
ummmm I thought you just said there was no harm.
Finally, Carolyn shakes her head and says, “This is all a fantastic story you’re making up! I don’t believe any of it!” so that’s that.
Carolyn returns to Collinwood, and guess what she finds in the study.
The scene that met her eyes almost caused her to faint. Roger Collins was slumped over his desk with a rough-looking knife handle protruding from his back and a dark stain of blood spreading around it. Standing in the far corner of the book-lined study was a demented-looking Celia, giggling and sobbing alternately.
Great, Celia strikes again. It turns out to be a paring knife so it’s not that bad, but Roger bleeds a lot and they really ought to draw the line at this point. Nurse Bell looks at the victim, weltering in gore, and recommends they call the doctor. Then she takes Celia back to her bedroom.
Dr. Moore finally comes over and gives Roger a sedative, so hooray, that fixes everything, and then everyone sits around and talks about how this really isn’t anybody’s fault.
Nurse Bell’s double chins bobbed with indignation. “She pretended to be asleep. I watched her for the longest while. Then I went to make myself some instant coffee. By the time I returned a few minutes later she was gone.”
“Typical of that kind of patient,” Dr. Moore said with a sigh.
Yeah, everyone knows that dangerous lunatics don’t like instant coffee; this whole incident was just one big misunderstanding. Dr. Moore points out that Celia should be in a mental hospital, which obviously she should.
“It’s much easier to cope with such mental cases in a hospital designed for that purpose.”
Carolyn protested. “She was so well again until tonight. And she is terribly afraid of mental hospitals.”
The doctor shrugged. “It’s up to you. How much are you people prepared to stand? This is the third attack made on members of your family.”
So it’s obvious by now that Dr. Moore and Nurse Bell are the villains here — riling up Celia, handing her monogrammed murder weapons, and shoving her in the direction of her next victim — and even they can’t believe how stupid the Collins family is. You’re — really? You’re just going to let her stay in your house?
So now we’re getting down to the real problem with Paperback Library civilization: the insistence that bad manners are unforgivable, while actual crimes are hardly worth discussing.
Dr. Moore sighed. “I agree with you that up until now I felt the young woman was on the road to recovery.”
Carolyn said, “This could be only a temporary setback.”
“You would be charitable indeed to take that view,” Dr. Moore said bleakly. “If you decide to allow her to remain on as before, I’m willing to continue treating her, but I can make no promises.”
“I understand that. I suppose it will be whatever my uncle decides.”
“Yes, Dr. Moore agreed. “He should be well enough to discuss it in the morning. Ordinarily something like this should be reported to the police, but I assume you would prefer privacy.”
Carolyn nodded. “I’m sure of that. After all, it’s not a criminal case. At the worst, Celia is a very ill girl.”
Who says it’s not a criminal case? How is Carolyn qualified to make these kinds of decisions? I mean, granted, she lives in Collinwood and therefore witnesses two or three murder attempts every summer, but still, the insane recklessness of these people. They set themselves up as arbiters of right and wrong, and apparently nothing qualifies as punishable except rudeness.
The knife has HB written on it, by the way, because murderesses always put their initials on everything. This is proof that Celia is possessed by Harriet Barnes.
“You could be right,” says the devious Nurse Bell. “I can’t think of anything but a ghost that would be able to play such tricks on me!”
Then Dr. Moore wraps up the knife in a handkerchief and puts it in his doctor’s bag, and says that he’ll ask Celia if she remembers where she found it. Do the police even exist in this universe?
The crazy continues in the morning, when Roger has recovered enough to host a family meeting, where they discuss whether they should evict the houseguests who have literally tried to murder each of them.
Reviewing the case, Carolyn points out that no one has ever witnessed Celia attacking anyone. She’s always there, gibbering on the scene, but nobody’s seen her with a weapon in her hand.
“Who else could it be?” Elizabeth demanded. “She’s always been at the scene of the attack; she has to be the one.”
“Isn’t that called circumstantial evidence?” Carolyn said quietly. “And isn’t it often responsible for mistakes in justice?”
But all of you are responsible for mistakes in justice. This is the point in every Dark Shadows novel when I’m just yelling at the characters. What the hell?
Elizabeth shook her head. “I say we should have the Daltons leave here as soon as possible. I was the one most responsible for having them come here, and I’ll admit it was a dreadful error.”
Carolyn looked at her very directly. “If we let them go as things are now it will always be a mystery. We’ll never find out the truth.”
Roger Collins gave a deep sigh. “I dislike admitting it but I believe Carolyn is right.” He raised a hand for patience. “Give me a day or two to think it over. In the meantime, see that the Daltons stay here. They may be anxious to leave, after what Celia did last night.”
Seriously? What is the matter with everyone?
Events continue to unravel. Carolyn goes to the inn, and finds that Martin Wainwright has skipped town without paying his bill. He left bloodstains on the bed, so obviously he turned into a wolf and got stabbed with a sword. Just more felonies to add to the list of things that nobody feels like telling the police about.
Back at the house, Edward Dalton thanks Carolyn for not reporting his daughter’s crime spree. Carolyn says, “I think what we have done is best for all,” because she is the arbiter.
So the seance is coming down the track; we only need to get through one more chapter to attain the Scooby-Doo ending we’re all waiting for. It’s obvious at this point that the villain is Dr. Moore; he’s the one who keeps coming up with all the crazy Harriet Barnes information, and we know that he was on Harriet’s side in the trial. His confederate is Nurse Bell, who’s probably two gorillas in a trenchcoat. And then there’s more crazy talk from Dalton.
With a broad gesture of a bony hand, he told her, “Knowledge of spiritualism and belief in black magic is as old as man himself.”
“It’s only lately I’ve given much thought to it.”
“And from a Biblical standpoint, witchcraft and black magic date back to Eden,” he said. “Rocail, the younger brother of Seth, who was the son of Adam, dabbled in sorcery. The legend is that he built a palace and peopled it with statues that performed functions of human beings.”
There’s no response to an assertion like that. It’s a bit late in the game to start introducing Rocail into the situation.
We finally arrive at chapter 12, almost done but not quite. Carolyn drifts around from person to person, getting live coverage of their feelings as they wait for the big event; it’s like Dancing with the Stars, where you have to watch all the rehearsal videos. Roger is resigned, Celia is concerned, Barnabas disapproves. Dr. Moore has some language about how distasteful it is to raise Harriet’s spirit.
“She wasn’t insane,” he says, “and the jury didn’t want to accept that she was. The circumstantial evidence was too strong against her. And so she was convicted. But the case could have been appealed, and she might have gotten off if she hadn’t killed herself.”
So that still kind of seems like her fault, and I thought Dr. Moore testified that Harriet was insane. But fine, you’re about to be unmasked, so you have to reiterate the reason why you became a Scooby-Doo villain.
Anyway, they finally do the seance, lots of incense and mumbling in the dark, and it concludes with Carolyn getting the life choked out of her. But Barnabas arrives and heroically switches on the lights, and it’s Nurse Bell!
“We have found your evil spirit!” Barnabas pointed to the crouched figure of Nurse Marie Bell, who had been caught there behind Carolyn’s chair when the lights came on suddenly.
The woman’s broad face contorted with anger and she cries, “It’s not me you want! It’s him!” And she indicated Dr. Moore.
The portly man slowly got to his feet with an angry expression on his florid face. “You’re surely not going to listen to that madwoman and would-be murderess!”
“You’re the one who hired me to do it,” Nurse Bell went on screaming at him. “You gave me the drugs and told me I had no choice!”
Everyone is yelling and crying, and finally, at long last, somebody calls the police.
The coming of the police and the charging of Dr. Moore and Nurse Bell came almost as an anti-climax. It was a grim story. Nurse Bell was a drug addict completely enslaved to the wily doctor. And under his instructions she had been regularly giving Celia injections of LSD and other hallucinating drugs.
So it turns out LSD was to blame! I figured it must be something like that. Dr. Moore was infatuated with Harriet, which is hard to believe, but I guess a woman who murders her husbands is pretty irresistible, in this town.
The Daltons didn’t actually plot to murder anybody, so their recklessness and stupidity is basically fine. “Better to bring it all out in the open,” Roger says. “Otherwise he might have found another and more successful method to kill us off.”
While everyone’s in a good mood, Dalton asks, “Would it be of any value for me to stage another seance, and see if we can really get in touch with Harriet Barnes?” They tell him to go fuck himself.
Tomorrow: Elegy for the Truly Two.
In the next Paperback Library post, we read
Barnabas, Quentin and the Witch’s Curse in
Episode 1159: This First Unhappy Experience
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Yaeger’s unplugged the phone in the foyer and in the drawing room, so everybody has to go to the Old House to use the telephone. Those are the only working phones in the whole mansion?
When Liz and Hoffman enter the drawing room to find that Yaeger’s gone through the window, the boom mic appears for a moment at the top of the doorway.
Barnabas asks Liz, “Did you know that Yaeger once threatened Maggie Collins?” as if they both know a dozen Maggies, and he has to be specific.
In the drawing room scene, when Liz is standing in the foreground with Barnabas behind her, they just can’t get her in focus. It looks like they try a couple different times, but can’t manage it.
Barnabas tells Liz, “Perhaps they’ve got Yaeger, and if they have, I must tell the police… that his… well, that he feels like he does, towards Maggie.”
Barnabas instantly recognizes Maggie’s brush. How does he know what it looks like?
Behind the Scenes:
The Policeman is played by Phillip R. Allen, in his only episode. This was an early appearance for Allen, who went on to appear in a lot of TV shows, including Police Story, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Bionic Woman, Kojak, The Bad News Bears, Lou Grant, Mork & Mindy, Matlock, 21 Jump Street, Designing Women and A Very Brady Christmas. He also played a Pepsi Executive in Mommie Dearest, and Captain Esteban in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
Sabrina’s body appears for a split-second in the teaser, lying on the drawing room floor. I think it’s a mannequin.
Also, a bit of Dark Shadows trivia. There are only two episodes where we see a phone in the Old House: today, and episode 1051.
Tomorrow: Elegy for the Truly Two.
In the next Paperback Library post, we read
Barnabas, Quentin and the Witch’s Curse in
Episode 1159: This First Unhappy Experience
— Danny Horn