Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

This is one of my favorite horror novels and movies. It’s one of those stories that takes a seemingly ordinary situation and turns it topsy-turvy and perfectly captures the real life hell of being caught up in an unbelievable, seemingly impossible, situation that would make any normal person, as well as the world at large, question their sanity.

The story begins in New York in 1965. Rosemary Woodhouse is a happy young housewife, married to a handsome actor. They've just moved into their dream apartment, in the elite, Victorian apartment house known as The Bramford, and are looking forward to starting a family.

Rosemary and Guy choose to ignore the warnings of a friend that The Bramford has a rather unsavory reputation with a higher incidence of suicides that other apartment buildings. Stories about the Trench Sisters, a pair of proper Victorian spinster cannibals who ate several young children, and Satanist Adrian Marcato, who was attacked by an angry mob after he claimed to have conjured up the living devil, fail to scare them off.

They move in and Rosemary blissfully begins redecorating while Guy pursues his acting career. An elderly couple, the Castevets, who live next door, are quick to befriend the young couple. Guy is enthralled by Roman’s tales of great actors and actresses of bygone days, and Minnie is a loud-mouthed, nosy, but seemingly harmless old lady.

But happiness soon turns to horror. It turns out their neighbors are part of a satanic coven, many of whom reside in The Bramford. Guy, in exchange for a little otherworldly assistance in furthering his career, joins them. Curses are put on all who oppose or stand in the coven’s way—a well-meaning friend of Rosemary’s who grows suspicious falls into an inexplicable coma, and an actor who lands the role Guy covet’s suddenly goes blind. And, to pay for his success, Guy gives something in return—his wife. The chocolate mousse Rosemary is given for dessert is drugged and she is given to Satan, to become the mother of his living son. The drugs, at first, make it all seem like a really weird dream, but as the novel progresses, at it’s brisk, highly readable pace, Rosemary gradually wakes up to the bizarre and horrific reality.

Although it all sounds rather far fetched  the novel, and the movie it inspired are so well done, that you can suspend disbelief and sympathize with poor Rosemary as her dream of happy married life and motherhood becomes a living, and all too real, nightmare.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Where’s Evelyn? The 1953 Babysitter’s Kidnapping That Shook The Nation by Susan T. Hessel

In 1953 La Crosse, Wisconsin was like the setting on one of the era’s popular sitcoms, like “Father Knows Best” or “Ozzie and Harriet.” It was a world of freshly painted houses, neat lawns, stay at home moms, and church on Sundays, people didn’t lock their doors, and kids rode their bikes to the malt shop or movie dates, and football and basketball games. The rock and roll craze hadn’t hit La Crosse yet and the bogey man was anyone who had ever been a member of the Communist Party. Girls earned their spending money by babysitting and guys by pumping gas at the local station. It was a Norman Rockwell world of innocence, and it was about to be shattered.

On October 24, 1953 Viggo Rasmusen, a college professor, and his wife were eager to attend the Homecoming game. They needed a babysitter. But the girl they usually called was unavailable. But Evelyn Hartley, the mature and responsible daughter of their neighbor, biology professor, Richard Hartley, was free. The fifteen-year-old straight A student, a fresh-faced, blue-eyed, brunette in a white blouse and red denim pants, arrived promptly with her spectacles on and her schoolbooks in hand, ready to study while the Rasmusens’ baby daughter, Janice, slept. Everyone knew “you could always rely on Evelyn.” She was a quiet, studious girl, with no boyfriend who went on very few dates. She loved music and the outdoors.

Everything seemed fine. Until 8:30 p.m. when Evelyn failed to call. She always called her parents promptly at 8:30 p.m. whenever she was babysitting. When her parents dialed the Rasumsens’ number the phone rang and rang, no one ever answered. Finally Mr. Hartley decided to go find out why. He found the lights on, the doors locked, and music playing on the radio inside. He rang the doorbell but Evelyn never came. He found the basement window was unlocked, the metal frame was warped, and the screen had been removed and propped against the wall. In the basement he found one of Evelyn’s shoes lying at the foot of the basement stairs, and upstairs he found its mate lying on the living room floor with Evelyn’s glasses amidst scattered schoolbooks and other signs suggesting a struggle.

Baby Janice was safe, asleep in her crib; she had slept through whatever had happened to Evelyn, that may have saved her life. As for Evelyn, she was never seen again. “She was an ordinary girl in an ordinary home and someone someone had come in and taken her,” as the news would soon report.

The police would later find blood, Type A, the same as Evelyn’s, which was all that could be determined in this era long before DNA, a few feet from the basement window on the dark side of the house and some tennis shoe prints in the window box, and matching clumps of dirt on the living room carpet. A trail of blood on the side of a neighboring house, presumably left as the kidnapper or kidnappers were taking Evelyn away, indicated significant blood loss and led the Hartleys to believe their daughter was dead.

The police did everything that was humanly possible to find Evelyn Hartley. Police in neighboring states offered their full cooperation. The case was well publicized. They canvassed the neighborhood and stopped cars and even searched parked ones, looking for a girl without shoes on who fit Evelyn’s description. They rounded up known sex offenders and suspicious charactes. Bloodhounds followed the trail of blood and Evelyn’s scent through adjacent years to the street where Evelyn must have been put into a car and driven away.  Thousands of volunteers, including forty troops of Boy Scouts, helped conduct widespread searches of the woodlands, highways, sewers, and gullys, and any other likely locations for concealing a body. There were also aerial searches, lakes were dragged, and divers explored the Mississippi River. Fresh graves were even opened to make sure Evelyn’s body had not been deposited on top of the deceased.

Despite some later criticisms, all evidence suggests they worked very hard and gave the investigation their best in this era of limited technology, in spite of the interference of the press, some of whom even went so far as to impersonate police, replete with fake badges, in their quest for scoops to fill their newspapers. Even as late as the 1990s police were still following up any tips they received about the case.

One eyewitness came forward to say that around 7:15 p.m. he had seen a girl, staggering, semi-conscious (he thought perhaps she was drunk) in the company of two men, walking between the Rasmusens’ house and the neighbor’s, where blood was later found on the wall. He saw them again later the same evening in a two-tone green Buick with the girl slumped in the backseat. But he didn’t know anyone was missing at the time and merely assumed they were just people getting a head start on celebrating the Homecoming game.

On October 28, 1953 a bra and panties of the same size and type worn by Evelyn were found near an underpass on Highway 14, two miles south of the city limits. Type A blood, the same as Evelyn’s, was found on the panties (Evelyn had her period at the time she disappeared.)  A few days later, on October 31, another search party found a pair of men’s size eleven tennis shoes along the same highway. Tests would later confirm that these had probably been worn by the kidnapper. A bloodstained denim jacket was also found nearby. The shoes and jacket were displayed in nearby communities in the hope that someone would recognize them. A reward was offered but no one ever came forward to claim it.

To this day questions abound, but answers are lacking. Was it a burglary gone wrong or an intended sex crime all along? Was Evelyn the intended victim or randomly chosen? Did she know her abductor(s)? If it was planned, was the Rasmusens’ regular babysitter the target? Was Evelyn merely in the wrong place at the wrong time?

This book gives a thorough account of the investigation, all the leads and clues are explored, including the theory that the notorious killer Ed Gein, one of the inspirations for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” may have kidnapped and killed Evelyn, as well as the inevitable cruel hoaxes and confessions that form a part of any missing person’s case. It also covers what may be an intriguing clue or just another dead end, an old reel-to-reel tape recorded in a bar in 1969 came to light in 2004 that claims to reveal what really happened to Evelyn. But no one knows if it is real or just bar talk and drunken boasting.

In missing person and murder cases, time is the enemy. A case that is well publicized at the time may fade from human memory. People die and people forget. It’s been a long time since October 24, 1953. Let’s pause to remember Evelyn Hartley wherever she may be.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Breed by Chase Novak

Alex and Leslie Twisden seem to lead the picture perfect life together. They have a passionate marriage, both have great jobs, and they live in a luxurious Manhattan townhouse furnished with antiques. The only thing that is missing is a child.

They've tried every fertility treatment they can find, but nothing has worked. In one last desperate attempt to start a family, they travel to Solevenia, to see the mysterious Dr. Kis and submit a painful new procedure involving injections and drinking vials of mysterious bright pink liquid.

Leslie soon discovers that she is pregnant, but the side-effects are not what she expected. And they are not just affecting Leslie, Alex is suffering from them too. Both experience the accelerated grown of thick dark hair on their bodies and faces, and mood swings that seem to exceed the typical hormonal changes associated with pregnancy. For example, when Leslie, unable to go to work or out in public because of the hair growth, seeks the help of a dermatologist, she bites the doctor. Alex’s toenails grow so fast, he can’t keep himself in socks. And they both experience a disturbing verbal confusion, where they forget or leave out words or say the wrong ones.

But they get the baby they longed for—two of them in fact. Leslie gives birth to twins they name Adam and Alice.

Fast forward ten years. Things still aren't back to normal, in fact they've gotten worse. Why are the twins locked in their rooms every night? What are the strange and terrifying sounds they hear coming from their parents’ bedroom? Why do family pets disappear? No one in the family has any friends or a social life; invitations are something to be dreaded. Their parents have forsaken their jobs. Alex and Leslie eat meat so rare it practically swims in blood and their beautiful townhouse that has been in Alex’s family for generations has fallen into ruin and many of the beautiful antiques have been sold.

In desperation, the twins embark on a quest to discover the truth about their strange lives and their parents’ bizarre behavior. But will it be worse than what they already know? I recommend you read this gripping all-nighter to find out.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Updated Author Page with Subscribe to New Books Feature at Kensington Books Website

My publisher, Kensington Books, has recently updated my author page and biography on their website, they now have a feature where you can enter your email address and be notified when my latest books are available. Check it out at 

The Bad Seed by William March

The Bad Seed by William March

This is one of favorite classic movies, so I was very curious to read the novel and see how it compared. Originally published in 1954, this novel became a bestseller, a successful play, and a popular movie.

Devious little devil disguised as an angel, Rhoda Penmark, age eight, is the epitome of “Little Miss Perfect” in her red and white Swiss dotted dress and pigtails on the day of the annual school picnic when all the other children are wearing playsuits and coveralls, but inside she is burning with fury, all because Claude Daigle, a thin, timid boy, has won the gold penmanship medal.

When Claude dies at the picnic, the tragic victim of what was apparently an accidental drowning, despite some curious bruises on his head and hands, and the mysterious absence of the medal he so proudly wore pinned to his shirt, it soon comes to light that Rhoda had been hounding the poor boy all day, following him around trying to badger him into letting her hold the medal.

This is not the first time death has come so close to Rhoda. Her puppy fell out of a window shortly after Rhoda made the unpleasant discovery that it was her responsibility to take care of it. And an old lady who had promised to leave Rhoda the opal pendant she admired so much when she died fell down a flight of stairs and broke her neck.

When Christine Penmark, Rhoda’s mother, discovered the penmanship medal hidden in Rhoda’s room, she is forced to confront the terrifying and uncomfortable truth about her daughter and her own past.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and the movie adheres very closely to it, although the ending was changed for the film, so if you've seen it and enjoyed it you might want to give the book a try too.