Gothic Book Challenge – The Blackwood Cult

Now for my next book in the Gothic Book Challenge!

blackwoodcultThe Blackwood Cult – T.A. Waters

158 pgs

Published 1968

Come Home to Evil

Blackwood was Wendy Markham’s too-well-remembered upstate home town. A town of suspicions, squabbles, hatred and fear. A town, she recalled, that had even cast out poor Katy Campbell as a witch and forced her to live in a deserted church…

Yet Wendy went home again, called for by her family — into a nightmare more terrifying than her blackest memories.

For she finds a weird witchcult has taken over Blackwood. But is Katy Campbell really its leader? Wendy doubts this, but the grave words of a mysterious Dr. Nine increases her dread. SOMEONE is trying to kill her. Can it be either, both…or Todd Raymond, the one man she is forced to trust? At the bizarre church, horror closes in on Wendy when, tracked by a faceless killer, she knows she has no place to hide!

Overview:

Wendy Markham gets a mysterious letter from her aunt, urging her to come home from school in London for the sake of her uncle, but it is not entirely clear why. Wendy does as she is asked, hopping on a boat to travel back to New York. On the ship, she meets a somewhat eccentric young man named Todd, and as the ship gets closer to docking, she finds herself falling in love with him. But there are still truths to face.

Todd works for a mysterious man named Doctor Nine, who is highly educated but it seems his specialty is studying murder. Dr. Nine also seemed to know something of Blackwood and even of Wendy herself. He knows of her, and he knows her uncle.  He doesn’t know why she has been summoned to Blackwood, but he does give her an interesting bit of information:

Her father’s death may not have been an accident, and Katy Campbell might have been involved.

Wendy, orphaned as a young girl, found a kindred spirit in Katy Campbell, who had also lost both of her parents, but there were always whispers about Katy.  Many said she was a witch.  In fact, Wendy originally left Blackwood because of such whispers.  Now they say that Blackwood has been taken over by an unusual group called the Blackwood cult, and Katy may well be the leader of it.

Wendy doesn’t believe any of it. Katy may be strange, but she’s not a dangerous person. But when she arrives, she begins to wonder if her reason for being summoned home is more sinister than she thinks.

Review:

Out of the 27 Gothic books currently in my cache, I chose this one on a whim. I had meant to lay them all out, face down, read over the descriptions and then pick the ones that sounded the most appealing to read first without letting the covers influence me.  Well, after I finished Dark Over Acadia, I was getting ready for work one day, running late, and I realized that I didn’t have anything to read! So I sorted through a couple of books that were at the top of the box and wound up grabbing this one.

Completely random choice. And judging by the description, it was not one I would have chosen by that alone.

But that said, I enjoyed this book – mostly.

Plot: This book was short, so there was not really a lot of building. The introduction of the mystery was immediate. Wendy wonders why she has been called back home, and there is some worrying over her old friend, Katy, who others always claimed to be a witch. It is rumored that there is an entire witchcult in Blackwood now and that Katy is the leader of it, but after all that buildup and some hints of the reasons that Wendy fled from Blackwood in the first place, those things never actually came to light! I was very interested in knowing the events that happened in the past that drove Wendy away, and what exactly her friendship/relationship with Katy was like in the past, but they were only hinted to. That, to me, was a major letdown. I felt like the writer started off really well and then bailed on the story just to finish the book. OR maybe some of that information was cut in the original draft. No way to know, but I felt the story suffered for it.

In the end, this book – like the last – played out like a murder mystery once again instead of what I’d hoped. Though there was a lot of mystery about past events, the main plot centered around a ‘locked room’ murder, which could presumably only be done by someone who could walk through walls.

The book description was not quite accurate either. There was no witchcult, and no one was actually trying to kill Wendy until the end when she found some evidence that would mark the killer.  Her instance of fleeing for her life was very brief.

Setting: There are actually 2 houses and a small chapel in this story. Both houses are large and sprawling, and both seem to have a history – though briefly explored. One is the house Wendy grew up in; the other is Katy Campbell’s mysterious mansion. There were a few creepy instances within the houses, but I had to wait until nearly the end of the book before I really got what I wanted from the dark, ominous setting.

Writing: This book was written in third person. The writing was pretty good, had good pacing and I felt that the writer had control over the words. The characters were brought out well.  Once again, typos (did they not have editors in the 60s???) As the book went on, I think it had more and more mistakes.

Characters: Wendy Markham, the main character, was likeable. She certainly had more of a personality than the female lead in the last book I read. She seemed to have a past instead of being plopped down in the middle of the story for the sake of the plot. She had fears and concerns, relevant suspicions – except with Todd. At the beginning, she meets Todd, and he comes off as a bit strange. I was suspicious of him, but Wendy wasn’t at first. Then, suddenly a few days later, they’re in love! (Go figure) But as the story went on, these characters did have some chemistry and after a while I was on board. Wendy was not a bad character (the others were not quite mind-blowing, but they served their purpose) but her story was not explored as it could have been.

If this was a story that someone had asked me to read for them, I would have told them that they needed to edit, and they should have explored the past a bit more.

Rating: 3

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Hope you enjoyed the review. 🙂 If you want to check out my own rickety house smallerGothic horror story, have a look at The People in the Rickety House, which is available as an ebook and in print!

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