When I first dove into the world of gothic suspense paperbacks, I was half-drunk after a bath and in need to buy something. I stumbled over ebay and hastily spent 12 of my hard-earned Canadian dollars on this glorious paperback, complete with a glorious holographic title. It became the first book in what will hopefully be my amazing collection of gothic paperbacks.
So let’s review The House of Fand by Anne Maybury. This one is considered a “romantic suspense”, which I figured was a good place to start, considering that I was hoping to read about a sexy yet unsavoury dude. The back cover promises this and more:
A YOUNG BRIDE FINDS HERSELF ON A TERRIFYING HONEYMOON OF DANGER AND DECEIT!
Karen Fand should have been happy. She was embarking on her honeymoon with Philip Dugald, who had wooed—and won—her in a lighting-fast blaze of intense attention.
Too late Karen realizes how little she knows of the stranger who is her husband. Too late she finds herself suffocating in a quicksand of menace. There in her ancestral home Karen comes face-to-face with evil: someone wants to destroy all living links with the past. Fear becomes Karen’s companion as she fights desperately to outwit Death.
Judging the Cover
I have to because that’s essentially why I decided to start this entire “Trashy Gothic Suspense” review series. This one’s got the standard mansion with its single-lit window. The colours really drew me in. I love the cool blue and green hues with the dark house and trees.
The woman dons a rather lovely dress by my standards. I quite like a good 70s maxi with a high neck. This dress is a simple pretty cream with a high neck, tight wrist with Victorian-inspired ruffles. 10 out of 10 would buy if I could get my hands on one. I also love that the woman’s got some pretty copper hair, which contrasts with the cool tones of the background in that very modern theatrical filtered look that is so hot right now.
This book was published in 1966, and its cover features so much aesthetic from the era (or at least, what I know to be the aesthetic from my Mad Men viewing). I love the title font and the fact that it’s also holographic silver, triggering that V.C. Andrews aesthetic appreciation.
The House of Fand: The “Gothic Trash” Review
We start things off in Rome, where our leading lady Karen packs her backs after her honeymoon with her new husband, Philip, a young doctor from Australia that she met in Nice, France. Karen was in Nice to open a salon for her grandmother’s beauty company, which has the same name as the book’s title, The House of Fand. While there, she ate dinner, only to receive a call from her grandmother (and badass boss bitch), Rowena Fand.
This being a time before cell phones, Karen had to get up to take the call at the hotel’s admin desk, only to knock over her martini in the process. Upon returning, she found that Philip had cleaned the spill and purchased her a new drink. They talk. They fall in love. Then they get married a literal week later, and as she packs to return to England, Karen stumbles upon a letter that her grandmother’s written, which pretty much scorns her for marrying a man she just met.
Normally, I’d put a gif of Elsa from the “You can’t marry a man you just met” scene in Frozen, but apparanetly Disney likes to copyright all their shit and I can’t find an embeddable gif of that for the life of me!
Enter the Dark and Brooding Husband
Philip enters the room while Karen’s reading and she quickly shoves the letter under one of her blouses. What follows is a pretty enticing first interaction between the two, which pretty much solidifies the entire dynamic of their relationship:
“What’s the secret?”
“Secret?” I tried to make my voice sound innocent.
His chin rested on top of my head, his eyes fixed on the suitcase. “Whatever it was you pushed in there so that I wouldn’t see?”
“A skeleton,” I said lightly and scrambled to my feet. “The one I keep in my cupboard.”
Quickly he bent down and felt between the silk folds of my blouse.
My hand shot out, reaching for the letter. “Please don’t read it,” I begged.
He loosened my fingers. “I am a jealous man,” he said, still smiling. His eyes were a deep gold in the evening light. He waved the sheet of notepaper a little above my head, eyebrows lifted in question.
“It’s from my grandmother,” I explained, “and it is my letter, Philip.”
He turned it over and looked at the signature. Then he tossed it back onto the yellow blouse and drew me close. “I don’t want to read it.” His tone was laconic. “I can guess what your grandmother says. She hates me on principle, doesn’t she?”page 9
I love this passage. I love everything about it. This passage is my jam and everything I want in a story with a devious dude in it. Karen also mentions having a dream about a “faceless stranger” who was chasing her, and then spends the rest of the chapter feeling awful about betraying her position in her grandmother’s company to marry Philip. It’s foreshadowing AF, but the dialogue sequences between Karen and Philip are pretty good decent writing, IMO.
Back to England
Karen and Philip fly to England and meet Karen’s younger sister Suzy at the airport. Immediately, Suzy mentions that “Max is back.” This shocks Karen, as she was not warned of this in her grandmother’s letter. Max is Karen’s old sweetheart and also a trusted part of The House of Fand. He married a few years back to a horrible woman named Polly and then moved with her to Canada to oversee a bunch of foreign company stuff for Rowena.
But then Polly died and now Max is back in England. Suzy takes Karen and Philip back to their childhood home, Lyonnesse Terrace. Again, Karen is shocked with the new revelation that her grandmother bought the dead neighbour’s house and has made some kind of adjoining door to the two homes. Now, Max lives in the neighbour’s house and has access to Rowena’s place.
Rowena also has a new gardener named Hannibal. Now, this book predates Thomas Harris’s Hannibal but even Karen gets all wary about the gardener’s name while the family reunites. Then Karen introduces her boss bitch grandmother to Philip. It goes better than expected, as Rowena invites Philip to tour the facility of a competing beauty brand, Tara’s, that Rowena is interested in purchasing. Philip goes and immediately returns with the suggestion that he join the business.
Karen Receives A Call
Later on, while in their room, Karen gets a phone call from a mysterious stranger with a soft voice:
The stranger suggests that Karen’s “beautiful rich world is about to collapse around [her]”. There’s a bit more sinister Scream-style banter between them. Karen loses her wits, but eventually, the man hangs up. Philip enters the room and Karen relays the events, only for him to insist that she isn’t alone and that he’s her husband and he can take care of everything.
Later, when the family is out on the terrace again, the new servant Greta spots Max and goes cold. She locks herself in her room and refuses to come out. The next morning, she leaves a letter:
I couldn’t stay once I saw him. I was too scared. I can’t say who because I know how mad he’d get if I said I know him. Please don’t find out where I am because he mustn’t know.
Yours very truly,page 51
This is where Karen starts to do some sleuthing. First, she goes out for lunch with Max, asking him if he knows Greta. He claims he doesn’t, but later, when Karen relays her new information to Philip, all Philip can do is wonder about Max, (who we’ll get to later, because, as Philip said earlier, he is a jealous man). Karen manages to find Greta’s house and knocks, only to be confronted by Greta’s mother, who tells Karen to leave Greta the hell alone and that Karen might as well worry about “her own troubles”.
Two Untrustworthy Dudes
One thing I love about The House of Fand is that there are two dudes for Karen to pine after. Of course, we have Philip, who remains sketchy AF but oddly horny. The first third of the book shows a few scenes where Philip attempts to bone Karen, only for somebody to enter the room and give him major blue balls. and
Then, we have Max, who Karen keeps insisting just loves minding the family business. Philip keeps asking Karen why in the world he would return to England when he had a great post in Canada, but Karen doesn’t budge on her assumptions of Max, even after all the Greta stuff.
Later, Max goes on a few dates with Suzy (Karen’s younger sister). Karen likes the idea of the two getting married, but then it’s later revealed that Suzy’s been dating her friend Darius, an artist with no money who forces Suzy to beg Karen to ask Rowena to fund an art exhibition for his shitty sculptures (of which we never get a good description of!). Midway into the novel, Suzy calls to say that Darius has hit her and won’t let her leave the house. Karen and Max team up to save her, and in the fiasco, this happens:
[Darius] looked at me and then at Max. “You’re having a fine time, aren’t you, taking it out on me because you made a mess of things?”
Max turned slowly around. The look in his eyes was dangerous.
Darius picked up a piece of wood and began slapping the palm of his hand with it. “Oh, don’t think your affairs are so secret. I know all about them. You see, Suzy talks.”
“I’m glad. I didn’t think she was dumb.”
“You had your eye on the other one, didn’t you? On Karen? Only you, unfortunately, had a wife. And now, just because you came back to England and found the girl you wanted married to someone else, you poke your nose into other men’s affairs through pique. What’s behind it? Are you hoping that, having lost one girl, you think you can catch her sister by doing a rescue act? And does the girl matter as much as what she stands for? Could it be perhaps a—er—take-over bid? Suzy Fand—and big business?”
Max did not put all his power behind his punch. He just shot his fist out, touched Darius’s jaw and down he went, sprawling in the grey dust.page 121
Oh yeah. A dude we can’t gauge, especially when, after this, Max goes on a couple dates with Suzy. This delights Karen to a degree, even though Philip spends the rest of his time with her theorizing that Max is hoping to steal the business somehow and Karen keeps relenting that hE jUsT lOvEs WoRkInG fOr RoWeNa!
Phone Calls Keep on Coming
Eventually, Ghostface calls Karen again, stating that he has some crazy shit to spill:
A lot of this shit went over head a bit because it’s all about copyright ownership and such, but essentially it boils down to the fact that Karen’s grandfather was working in some lab with his friend, Hanz Zeitmann on some special perfume formula. But then the lab burst into flames, killing Zeitmann! Ghostface accuses the grandfather of fleeing with the formula for what would later become The House of Fand’s bestselling fragrance, “The Essense of Sheba”. Then WWII started and those details got sort of forgotten in the absolute mess of that period of history.
Ghostface plans to send Karen a package containing a newspaper article that he demands she to read to Rowena. He wants Rowena Fand to resign as president of The House of Fand, which would then put the business up for public sale or whatever?
“This is blackmail.”
“Not in the accepted sense of the word. I am not demanding money from you—I don’t need to. I am just threatening to publish a truth. It is retribution, Mrs. Dugald.”
I knew what it was like to feel turned to stone.
“You heard me, didn’t you?” The softness had gone from the man’s voice. “And you’ll think it over between now and when the postman rings in the morning. Believe me, you’d better….”page 69
So there’s three devious dudes. This book gives. I don’t care if the plot kind of skips and that Karen only ever talks hysterics about what to do because she’s scared of what her grandmother might say and that Philip just keeps telling her that she doesn’t need to worry because she has him or whatever. The fact that I can’t trust any of these men in the safety of the narrative is all good times.
The letter arrives. Karen shares it with Philip. They quickly identify that it was written on a typewriter where a couple of the letters are askew, and so Philip vows to search through all The House of Fand offices and facilities for the same messed-up typewriter.
Rowena Takes a Turn
Making things even easier for Karen to avoid doing what the mysterious caller told her to do is Rowena’s heart attack. Turns out she has angina. A doctor is called and he prescribes that Rowena come under no further stresses. But then one of The House of Fand warehouses gets set aflame. The managers claim it to be an accident, but both Karen and Philip know the truth.
While Philip searches for the broken typewriter, Karen shares some details of the mysterious sexy soft-voiced caller with Max, but then Philip returns gets all jealous and we get the occasional “enticingly dangerous” scene like this one:
“Oh, Karen.” He swept me into his arms, “I think what I love most about you”—his face was buried in my neck, his lips against my throat—“is that your self-confidence is only superficial. Underneath, you’re very young. Women shouldn’t have to cope with problems outside home-making. I don’t want you to have to. That’s the man’s job. It’s mine from now on.”
“You talk like a Victorian.” My voice shook with doubtful laughter. “Is that what you advise patients out in Australia to do? It’s a whole century outdated, darling. And you’re too sophisticated not to know it.”
He pressed me back against the cushions of the settee and leaned over me. His hands were about my face, holding it firm while he kissed me between words. “I’m a mixture, sweet. I like a woman to look and talk like a modern, but that’s where their independence should cease. I want to possess a woman—I want nothing hidden from me. And I take all the responsibility.”page 80
Now, normally this would be the part of the book where I’d be like:
…but this is a trashy gothic thriller and I’m pretty sure Karen’s gonna be a-okay by the end, so inside I was like, OH HECK YES, KAREN, LET’S SEE HOW CRAZY HE GETS.
The Plot…Doesn’t Thicken
Most of the plot revolves around Karen and Philip trying to figure out who the caller is. But when Philip is out doing The House of Fand business for Rowena, Karen remains at home with nobody to speak up. Every single time she ends up relaying the same info to Max, who also promises to help, but in a pretty detached way.
For the most part, Max isn’t much of a character in the story, except to Suzy. She ends up staying over at his house a couple of times, and the two go over all the old Victorian stuff that the house’s previous owner left behind. In the remains, she finds a piece of hand-written sheet music titled “Appassionata” that she falls in love with and wants to sell. However, Max believes the music to be of sentimental value to the dead dude and insists that it be kept secret or given back to the family. But Suzy just loves the music sOoOoOo mUcH that she wants to play it over and over.
Things Get Dicey
Rowena gets better, and eventually Karen spills the beans about the Ghostface calls and the threat he plans on making. Rowena just…doesn’t care? She intends to fight but then has another heart attack (off the pages) and yet still manages to pull through. Honestly, the whole “Rowena is feeble and can’t handle shit” act that Karen puts on throughout the whole book really amounts to nothing.
Throughout the entire book, Karen doesn’t really do much of anything, other than pry into Greta’s actions while somewhat falling for Philip’s suspicions of Max. At one point, Rowena informs Karen that Max is going to Paris for The House of Fand business, but when Karen tries to phone Max’s hotel and discovers that he isn’t there, she ventures out and finds him at Greta’s house:
They came out of the house together. Max was carrying a small suitcase. I knew perfectly well it wasn’t his. Even from a distance I could see that this was shoddy and of a harsh cheap blue.
Greta hesitated for a moment before getting into the car, Max had his hand on her arm. He ent and said something to her; then he literally pushes her along the front seat, got in beside her and slammed the door.”page 173
Karen gives chase in her Aston Martin but eventually loses him. She then drives back to Greta’s house and confronts Greta’s mother, who indicated that yes, Max took Greta, that Greta was terrified but had no other choice but to go.
Ghostface releases the newspaper article to the press and rumours begin to spread from some smaller newspapers. Journalists start calling the house, and even Phlip begins to worry that Rowena can’t handle things.
The Deal with Max
While Philip’s out, Max corners Karen in the house and then drags her to his car:
I couldn’t tell was Max’s mood was, but it was certainly not one of gentleness. Without losing his grip on my wrist, he got into the car on the passenger side, eased himself over to the driving seat and dragged me in after him with such haste that I stumbled and grazed my ankle.
“Have a thought for my nylons.”
He didn’t say he was sorry.page 217
As ridiculous as this is, I love it. I care very much about my nylons and I feel seen, Karen. I don’t think you’re vapid at all, but if you lived in modern times, you’d fare pretty well in a pair of Sheertex.
Anyway, Max drives to some cottage in the middle of nowhere and tries to explain that he knows what’s going on without actually explaining what’s going on at all. He does, however, finally profess his undying love to Karen in the car. It amounts to literally nothing, however, because then he goes into the cottage and gets Greta. Then they drive back to the house, where everyone’s gathered and listening to a tape recording of Suzy playing the “Appassionata”.
They all listen with little regard, but then the recording picks up on a conversation between two men discussing a street address and room number, which is the exact location where The House of Fand plant was set aflame.
Philip immediately grabs the tape and runs.
We Were Right Not to Trust Philip
I’ve heard that some gothic paperbacks give off the impression that the romantic lead isn’t’ to be trusted but that some books pull off the whole “hE’s JuSt MiSuNdErStOoD!” plot twist. Not so in The House of Fand! I never trusted Philip because he was hardly ever romantic with Karen, just brooding and bossy and hardly ever had the time to apologize. He took the swing of Rowena’s demands of him far to easily.
So when he grabbed the tape recording, I was like YESSSSSSSS, let’s get to this final act because I am STOKED.
Karen chases after her husband, piecing together that one of the voices on the tape was Philip’s. The other, she can’t yet pinpoint, but she follows Philip to the pier where a boat they suspect to belong to Hannibal the gardener is docked. She wanders into the boat, only for the engine to start and the boat to sail off into the river. Then she approaches her husband at the wheel.
I asked carefully, “Why did you want that tape? Why did you come here? Why didn’t you wait for me—you knew I was right behind you?”
“You ask too many questions, darling.”page 229
Fortunately, he does eventually give some answers. Turns out that Ghostface was Hannibal, who pretended to be a gardener. Karen asks how Philip found out this information, but he refuses to tell. Instead, he spills all the details in that “thriller climax seedy plan exposition” way that you all know I fucking hate. Turns out “Hannibal” wandered Europe and befriended Zeitmann’s widow, who was sure that the formula to the Sheba perfume had been stolen, only she was too old to do anything about it.
Then Hannibal managed to find a newspaper article about the missing Sheba formula and went to seek Rupert Marlowe, who turned out to be Rowena Fand’s husband. Turns out “Fand” isn’t actually the family name and that Rowena had changed it at some point.
The Staircase Scene
Karen senses that something is off, but then it starts raining and she complains to Philip that she’s cold. And hey, we get this AMAZING couple’s quarrel that is just one of the best things to ever happen in the thriller climax, quite honestly:
“I can’t go on like this.” My voice came shrilly. “Pull up somewhere or I’ll jump overboard and swim. Do you hear? Philip”—my voice dropped from the wilderness to a whisper—“where are we going?”
He turned to me. A lurid fluorescent street light tinged his skin tone. “Perhaps”—the grin he gave me was wide, without mirth—“I’m taking you on a joy ride…”
“Don’t be silly.”
“…to the devil,” he added and his laugh was excited.
“For heaven’s sake don’t try to be funny,” I shouted at him. “Where are we going?”
“You’ve just asked me that one.”
“And you just gave me a silly answer. Don’t joke—please don’t!” I put the sweater over my wet head. “Philip…”
“Go below,” he said.
“How can I when there’s so much I’ve got to be told?”
“Then sit down! You make me nervous standing there swaying and hurling questions at me.”
“How do you think I feel. Philip…” I grabbed his arm.
We were passing a Canal barge. Our small craft swerved towards it.
“For God’s sake.” He shook me off. “Do you want an accident?”
“I don’t know where we’ll eventually get to,” I said wildly, “but we can’t just g on and on.” I waited. Then, a vague new alarm seized me. “Do you know where’s you’re going?”
“I’ve already told you, haven’t I, sweet?”page 232
Don’t get me wrong, the jarred writing does take from the intensity of this scene, but I very much appreciate the dialogue because it makes these two seem as though they’ve been unhappily married for YEARS. I also love that Philip makes shitty jokes but also just shrugs off Karen’s response to them. It’s weirdly enthralling. Psychopath, much?
Philip explains that Greta is Hannibal’s wife. Turns out she was looking at Hannibal and not Max, and has recently attempted to escape him after he committed a robbery and feared that she would be considered an accessory to the crime. Karen then explains that she went with Max to get Greta and that Greta is back at the house, and then Philip shoves her back down the cabin steps.
Karen breaks her ankle at the bottom of the steps, but Philip continues driving the boat through the storm, only to crash into a barge as the police surround him. Karen passes in an out of consciousness. Then Philip throws himself down the cabin steps after Karen, but then kicks her and tries to get her to stand.
I cried out.
“And stop that! All right, stay there! But listen. I’ve already told you the truth—about Greta; about that bastard you call Hannibal—about the whole damned lot. The truth. Are you listening?”
I heard, but I was beyond speech.
“There’ll be denials, of course, and lies told. But we’ll scotch those between us. You and I know, the truth. This is Hannibal’s crime.”page 236
Karen tells Philip that Max already knows the truth, that he knows everything. She tries to explain this to Philip, but then she conveniently passes out.
The Most Lackluster Bow Wraps it all Up
Karen wakes up in the hospital with Rowena sitting at her bedside. Rowena explains that Philip was arrested and that Hannibal is his brother. Turns out that when Max when to Paris that he actually found Zeitmann’s son, who explained that the formula for The Essense of Sheba did belong to Rowena’s husband. He tried to sell it to Zeitmann but the sale never went though or some shit… none of this really matters because it’s all convoluted copyright stuff.
At the end of the day, Max and Rowena figured out what was going on and stupidly never told Karen that she was married to a criminal.
Karen falls asleep. Max kisses her in her sleep and that’s literally all we get of their “lover’s reunion”. Then, when Karen wakes later, she learns that Philip killed himself in prison. Karen goes into full hysterics over all the realizations that she somehow missed. The last scene shows Rowena giving Karen a hug, telling her about what love actually is or whatever.
It failed to satisfy me.
The House of Fand: My Final Thoughts
I didn’t find this book all that “goth”. It felt a lot more like a modern mainstream thriller, but set in the 60s-70s. Sexy dudes and fancy clothes and fast cars and just a touch of danger. It’s not a lot but I enjoyed this ride to a degree.
As for goth elements, we had some spooky phone calls and maybe one or two night scenes in the house where Karen stalked around and was spooked. Otherwise, it failed to really hold up to some of the more mainstream gothic tropes.
I thought this was a very fun and easy read to start things off. I loved Philip but felt like we didn’t quite get enough to him. After the truth of his motives is revealed to Karen, she doesn’t really feel much about him. That’s my main problem with this book, is that their relationship never really gets explored beyond Philip’s jealousy of her closeness with Max.
And Max, well, we don’t really get any scenes between he and Karen that show they had any real feelings for each other. Karen denies having feelings for him not just in her conversations with Philip, but also in her exposition to the reader. She constantly calls him her “first love” because she was naive and inexperienced. But she barely learns anything new even after she learns the truth about Philip. As fun as she was at times, she proved a pretty underdeveloped protagonist.
The House of Fand
- I was totes down for Philip in all of his scenes.
- Modern vapid thriller vibes, but set in the 70s.
- Some fun back and forth dialogue in this one!
- Max was a pretty lackluster love interest.
- Just corporate crimes here, baby. Not very goth.
- The lamest ending ever.
- Other than the rainy boat chase, there was little goth aesthetic.