Diana Carter – The Ghost Writer (Nel MEWS, 1976: originally Cassell, 1974)
A Haunting Novel of the Supernatural in the Tradition of ‘The Exorcist’
Carey Arnold had been an enormously successful author of thrillers before his unexplained death. And the air of mystery around him only increased when another manuscript, unmistakably his work, was delivered to his literary agent.
And at The Old Rectory where his widow and small son lived there were still stranger things happening. The cloying smell of snuff in the rooms. The sinister grandfather clock. And the written messages which apparently came from another world
The answers to this scaring puzzle lay both in this world – and the next!
“All this, you have to remember, was at the start of the Swinging Sixties. And Carey was one of the first swingers. We’re used, now, to seeing people in outlandish costumes, doing their own thing. But in those days, a man with shoulder-length hair, who turned up at a Royal Command Performance clad in a canary-yellow dinner-jacket, escorting a busty starlet wearing next to nothing, was bound to attract a lot of attention”.
I’m not so sure about the “in the Tradition of ‘The Exorcist'” line, because, if anything, this potboiler owes more to Conan-Doyle’s The Final Problem. In 1968, Carey Arnold, author of the ‘Xavier White’ spy series, fell from a cliff at Beachy Head while suffering a writers block induced depression. Arnold had identified a little too strongly with his hero, spending a fortune on converting a Rolls Royce into a gadget-laden supercar and even marrying a woman because she was the living image of heroine Minka (fed to piranha fish in Cash On Delivery). He’s survived by American wife Andrea and six year old son Peter. Living with them at the Old Rectory is Queenie Kingdom, Arnold’s fiercely loyal secretary who has insisted that his room is left as it was, a macabre shrine to his ‘genius’ (there’s a neat scene when a character enters Arnold’s room for the first time to be met with a photo of Ian Fleming stuck to a dartboard with three arrows sticking through him – you’ve already guessed where.)
Everything starts taking a turn for the weird when Queenie winds the old grandfather clock and finds herself writing a new Xavier White versus the Grey Eminence masterpiece, Dearest Possession, which she insists has been dictated to her from beyond the grave. At about the same time, Peter, a troubled child takes to playing evil tricks and torturing animals – or so it seems. He maintains his innocence, blaming a friend, ‘Bubbles’ who nobody else can see. When Queenie submits the finished manuscript to Richard Pullen, Arnold’s agent, the publisher seeks the assistance of the likable and determined Paul Strachey of the Society for Psychic Research. Their seances suggest that the author may be responsible for this posthumous pulp until a rather ruffled gent, Ray Jupp bursts in on the action, claiming that he wrote all the Xavier White stories as a means of financing his life work, a biography of Gilles De Rais. Who to believe? And where does the grandfather clock fit into this? And what’s all this business with bloody ‘Bubbles’?