Book Review: Shadow of Evil by Greye La Spina

Direct from my aunt’s paperback collection, it’s the story of Portia Differdale and her aunt Sophie!

The time is the 1920s.  Sophie has come to Brooklyn, in order to live with the recently widowed Portia.  Portia, unfortunately, is having some issues with her neighbors.  Portia’s late husband was an occultist and, now that he’s died (more or less a victim of his profession), she’s decided to continue on his work.  Needless to say, the local gossips aren’t particularly happy about that.  Personally, I would love to live next door to an occultist, just because I would always some place to send any spirits who showed up in my house.  “Really, you’re undead?” I would say, “Head on next door.”  Sadly, I guess that’s just not the ways things were done in Brooklyn back in the day.

Anyway, Portia is lucky enough to have a potential new suitor.  His name is Owen and Sophie thinks that he would be the perfect new husband for Portia!  Portia, for her part, agrees.  However, it turns out that someone else has her eyes on Owen, as well.  Princess Irma Andreyevna Tchernova is wealthy, beautiful, and charming.  The uninhibited and flirtatious Princess Tchernova soon appears to have all the men in the community under her spell, including Owen!  None of them seem to find it odd that the Princess has an oddly silent servant or that she owns several wolves.  Not even the fact that the Princess eats nothing but meat strikes anyone as odd….

Except, of course, for Portia.  It doesn’t take long for Portia to figure out that there’s something sinister about the Princess but will she be able to save Owen from her grasp?  Read the book to find out!

Greye La Spina was born in 1880 and stared writing horror fiction in the early 20th century, at a time when it was considered somewhat scandalous for a woman to even write fiction, much less horror.  Shadow of Evil was originally published over the course of three issues of Weird Tales in 1925.  It was then reprinted, in paperback form, in 1966.  The cover at the top of this post (and which my sister shared earlier this month) is from the 1966 edition.  Since that time, the book has been occasionally reprinted.

It’s a fun read.  La Spina was a lively and entertaining writer and she tells this tale with the right mix of melodrama and satire.  La Spina obviously loves her unconventional characters and the story is as much about their desire to be independent from the conventions of society as it is about any paranormal activity.  It’s got everything — intrigue, romance,humor, scares, thrills, and a wonderful atmosphere.  It’s an enjoyable story and, if you can track down a copy, one that’s worth reading.

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