Mary-Rose Hayes – The Neighbours (Nel, July 1978 edition: Originally Pinnacle Books, 1977, Nel Dec. 1977)
Chetty hated the house in Woodburn Hills the moment she and her parents moved in. There were no other kids to play with, the house smelt and the whole neighbourhood was creepy.
And then when her father left on a business trip and her mother fell mysteriously ill, Chetty began to realise the danger that threatened her.
The sinister old woman in the big house, the uncanny interest the neighbours took in Chetty, the strange forebodings she sensed in those around her –
Chetty knew what was happening, but how could a five-year-old girl control her own stark terror and face the terrible evil of THE NEIGHBOURS?
Looks like this was a popular novel in its day, with three Nel editions in a very short space of time (Steve has two alternative covers on his ‘Nel Horror Review’ thread). Fifty pages down and first impression is – this is gonna be great! The neighbours in question are seemingly auditioning for a part in Desperate Housewives and they are currently attempting to inveigle Frances Driscoll (Chetty’s mother) into their coven or whatever it is, seducing her with cocktail mornings and hot Tupperware parties. The six conspirators are merely doing the bidding of Mrs. Van Raalte, the creepy old bat in the big house. In an inspired cash in on The Shining five year old Chetty has enormous psychic abilities and can read the thoughts of everyone around her. Chances are she’s going to need them.
Yep, they’re a coven alright. It seems AGES since I read a bona fide Black Magic novel.
I mentioned a The Shining influence, and the Dick Halloran of the piece is Liam Driscoll, Jack’s hippyish younger brother and the black sheep of the family. Liam lives in platonic harmony with Clairvoyant Florence, an ex-hooker of pensionable years, similarly gifted. She took him in when his mind-reading powers tortured him to the brink of suicide and their relationship is the stuff of local scandal.
Frances Driscoll is really ill by now. With husband Jack conveniently spirited away on business in Saudi Arabia for a month, the Coven continue their charm offensive. Frances is subjugated by a potent mixture of Dr. Spriggs’ “vitamin” tablets, Gina Bombolini’s trippy fairy cakes and nightly orgies with the disembodied spirit of Bill Koeller, a down-at-heel actor who has the misfortune of conforming to Mrs. Driscoll’s fantasy lover. Consequently the house is fast becoming a slum and Chetty is neglected, fobbed off Mrs. Bombolini’s despised teenage daughter at every available opportunity.
And now its Halloween. Only Liam and Flo can thwart Mrs. Van Raalte’s plan to sacrifice Chetty to Asmodeus in return for eternal youth and beauty. But the festering old timer and her cronies have already demonstrated their willingness and ability to kill any who oppose them …
***I’ve a soft spot for stories like Charle’s Beaumont’s The New People, so The Neighbours was always in with a chance. I found it well gripping. There’s a convincing nastiness to the unctuous Tupperware set and their obliging “it’s no trouble, Mrs. Driscoll!” spouses, and their torment and humiliation of Frances is excessive to say the least. After the killer Black Mass there’s maybe a slight sense of anti-climax in how quickly order is restored but , that minor quibble aside, The Neighbours is another that goes on its way proudly bearing the demonik ‘Recommended!’ rosette.
Thanks to Jerrylad of Vault!