Boy, the gaps I'm discovering in my memory is kind of scary. Gaping holes, more like. So many authors whose books influenced me have been lost in the mists of time in my brain and it's only through the better memories of other writers that I've been reminded of their existence. And these are authors with large bodies of work, most of which I made an effort to track down once I got a taste for their writing. Some were good, some were bad, some were filled with cliches and some were always witty, original and fun. Some ended up as fodder for the scripts we used in Murder for Hire (the actual mystery oriented theatrical group which led to the murderous impulses later benevolently channeled into MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon). All had a part in shaping the type of stuff I would continue read and then later write.
Victoria Holt. Dorothy Eden. Phyllis A. Whitney. Mary Stewart. The grand dames of gothic and romantic suspense. Worlds populated by disturbed children, odd nannies, bitchy rivals, and emotionally unavailable, sometimes borderline sociopathic heroes.
Mary Stewart had less of the above elements than the others. To me she was more of a Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters with less humor inherent in the narrative. And her Merlin trilogy xremains high on my list of favorite books ever. Ever read AIRS ABOVE GROUND? The scene where the heroine is being chased around the parapets of a castle by the villain (who happens to be an acrobat) is one of my favorite suspenseful pursuit scenes ever.
Phyllis A. Whitney I remember with fondness and exasperation. She definitely was queen of the troubled child and bitchy rivals. I ate these books up as a kid and young teenager. She also wrote mysteries for young adults like THE TREMBLING HILLS. I made it a point to hunt down all of her books.
Victoria Holt was another favorite author, but I remember thinking she wasn't very good even as I read her books one after another. They were fun - THE SHIVERING SANDS was a particular favorite 'cause it had quicksand in it and I've always been morbidly attracted to natural disasters and deathtraps - but they seemed lacking in emotion. That being said, HERE LIES OUR SOVEREIGN LORD, written under her Jean Plaidy nom de plume is one of my favorite books ever. It's the story of Nell Gwyn, the orange girl who won the heart of King Charles II, and I read and reread this book over and over again.
Dorothy Eden wrote one of my favorite gothics ever: RAVENSCROFT. Set in Victorian England, it starts with two sisters, Bella and Lally, recently orphaned who run afoul of a ring of white slavers in London and are rescued by Guy, a handsome aristocrat who wants to use them as a cause to help his bid for a seat on Parliament. He ends up forced to marry Bella (Lally is his first choice as she is the eldest and of a more biddable temperament than the fiery Bella) when tongues start wagging and his plan backfires, a marriage that initially brings happiness to either partner. Lally suffers a nervous breakdown, the slavers want revenge, and gothic hijinks ensue. Loved this book. I read others by Dorothy Eden, but this was the standout.
Another author, one who never reached the level of fame she deserves, is Marlys Millhiser. WILLING HOSTAGE is another one of those books I've read multiple times. WILLING HOSTAGE has my favorite hero, Glade Wyndham (it sounds like an air freshener, thinks heroine Leah Harper) who is not only sexy, dangerous, and environmentally conscientious, but a cat lover. He kidnaps Leah, mistaking her for an operative on his trail, leading her and a fat Siamese cat named Goodyear, through rugged wilderness trying to escape the bad guys. No more details 'cause if you haven't read this, I don't want to spoil the read. Some of her other books, THE MIRROR, MICHAEL'S WIFE and NELLA WAITS, are equally engrossing and she also has a relatively recent mystery series with somewhat psychic heroine, Charlie Greene. If you haven't heard of Marlys Millhiser, look for her books. She's definitely worth it.
Sigh. Writing this has caused a massive blast of nostalgia here. I think a trip to the library or used bookstore is in order 'cause most of these books are no longer available new. They're worth the trip.