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The Witching Night

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Bantam, New York, 1974
first published 1952
(price: $1.50; 248 pages)

The blurb on the back:

A mysterious cult prescribes the death of a man. Hundreds of miles away, Colin Jones dies in unbearable agony of no apparent cause. Where was the answer -
In some books on demonology the victim left behind?
In a Black Host used only in the most forbidden of Black Magic rituals?
Or in the eyes of Abbie, a woman of incredible beauty, of perfect evil?
The Witching Night by C.S. Cody - A terrifying journey into the occult.

A Chicago doctor finds himself consulted by an old friend exhibiting inexplicable symptoms: agonizing headaches and insomnia with no apparent physical cause. When the man then dies, the doctor inherits the bulk of his estate, including a cottage located in the dunes of Indiana. It is when he takes possession of this cottage that he encounters the Dune Dwellers, who purport to be a residents' association but actually seem to be mixed up in some kind of black magic.

First published in 1952, and reissued in the post-Exorcist world of 1974, The Witching Hour is way in advance of the more popular novels of the modern period, and is thoroughly recommended. The tone owes something to the brittle cynicism of Chandler, but with a world-weariness exacerbated by the apparent blandness of life after the War.

Avoiding the temptation to throw in random snatches of Satanic lore to impress and confuse the reader, Cody instead presents magic as just one more misguided attempt by humanity to achieve freedom from the banality of modern life. From its early, more derivative chapters, the novel develops into an extended treatment of the twin themes of oppression and liberty. Magic is used as a symbol of both, illustrating how the drive for freedom can be distorted into an instrument of violence against others as it fights for survival in a hostile world. The doctor who narrates the tale is pitted against the forces of occult belief, but is not entirely unsympathetic to them, and it is he who finally places them in the context of a rebellion against 'the unreasoning, blind, unplanned misery of life'.

This is a fine book that deserves both a new edition and a movie. As far as I know it's been out of print for years in America, and was last published in Britain four decades ago, but if you get a chance, grab hold of a copy. You don't have to be a horror enthusiast - or even mystery fan - to enjoy this one.

CS Cody was a pseudonym for Leslie Waller, whose work spans nearly six decades and includes Dog Day Afternoon (under the name Patrick Mann) and the novelization of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I am indebted to Sandy Lasley for this information and for directing me to Mr Waller's website (see below).

The only other novel published under the name CS Cody was Lie Like A Lady. The following scan comes from a site dedicated to the publishing catalogue of the Ace imprint. My thanks to them.

Lie Like a Lady


visit Leslie Waller's website