When Emmalynn Remembers

by T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

Amnesia or no, Lock, you’ve got to admit she’s got spunk!

This one had a lot in common with Wherever Lynn Goes. A girl in swinging ‘70s London with a wacky roommate gets drawn into mystery and danger at an isolated old mansion. In both of the books, the loyal gal-pals almost steal the show from the heroines. They insist on schlepping along with them (Lynn and Emmalynn) out of loyalty or love of adventure and take an equal role with the heroine in investigating the mystery. In several instances, they take the lead. Mandy and Billie are both gorgeous party-lovers who are used to having men worshiping at their feet as opposed to our beautiful but sensible heroines. But while they come across as flighty, they are both keenly intelligent. And they both are can-opener challenged:

As I set the table, Mandy tried to open a tin—for her a highly dangerous process which might well result in a surprise appendectomy.

I wondered how long it would take Billie to cook dinner. I privately doubted if she could even open a can without performing a surprise appendectomy…”

But enough about the sidekicks. Our likable heroine witnessed the murder of her former employer in the lonely old mansion, but she has amnesia. The eccentric old woman has left Emmalynn the house, and of course, she must go there. Part of the fun in a T.E. Huff is trying to guess who the romantic interest of our leading lady might be vs. The Killer. In this one, we have three men and a possible long shot. Two of them ruled themselves out pretty quickly as the love interest. One because…

He’s smooth and polished and—I suppose you’d think him handsome. He never did a day’s work in his life, although he piddles with stocks and investments and always managed to run through all the money Henrietta let him get hold of.

Romantic heroes never “piddle” are always responsible with money. The other because…

The pants were a bit too tight, the shirt showed a little too much bronzed muscle, his hair was just a bit too shaggy and sun-streaked. He was a stunningly handsome man, but his good looks were too calculated for my taste.

Plus, they are never conventionally handsome. Once you know who the hero is, you then know who the killer is, because it always is the other one. In this case, we know that neither of these dudes is the hero, so one of them must be the ax murderer. According to the playbook. And yes, Henrietta was decapitated with an ax.

The third guy seemed promising from what we hear about him. He’s a socially conscious doctor who is trying to prove his Dad is not guilty of the crime. And he’s a dog owner. But Emmalynn has almost no interaction with him. We meet him briefly about a third of the way through, and they have a hostile public interaction about halfway through, but then he all but disappears. I admit I was stumped. There has to be a romantic interest in a gothic…doesn’t there? Admittedly T.E. Huff keeps the romance in his novels pretty uneventful, but this was ridiculous.

At a little over halfway through the book an alert reader becomes aware that Emmalynn is keeping something from us. COULD IT BE SHE DOESN’T REALLY HAVE AMNESIA??!!!

This was a solid “3 out of 5”: Not the best Thomas Elmer Huff but very enjoyable with an engaging writing style as always. But the last chapter was so delightful that I am bumping this up to 4 stars (for what it is-a quick, light and entertaining read).

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May 11, 2022

Betrayal at Blackcrest

By T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

I felt like bursting into tears. Instead, I let loose a series of highly descriptive words that were not ordinarily a part of my vocabulary. That relieved me somewhat, but the rain still poured on the roof of the car and I was nowhere nearer a solution to my dilemma. I had a spare tire in the trunk and all the tools necessary to put it on. However, I was wearing my best white heels and a dress of white muslin printed with tiny pink and green flowers, my best, and I would starve to death before getting out in the rain thus attired.

T.E. Huff’s tongue-in-cheek amusing voice shines through despite the over-the-top plot and his most blitheringly idiotic heroine. Deborah Lane, an actress, is concerned about her cousin and roommate Delia, also an actress. The last she heard from her, she was getting married to Derek Hawke the master of an ancient manor/castle/ estate. That was a month ago, and Deborah has not heard from her further. She travels to the village of Hawkestown to find her, make sure she is alright, and have a little vacation. As soon as she meets Derek, who denies, very very plausibly, even knowing Delia, she is convinced that he has murdered her or is holding her prisoner somewhere. It does give her pause for about a second that there is absolutely no credible motive and that there is considerable evidence from the very beginning that Delia was not telling the truth about her romance with Derek. But Deborah mulishly refuses to see sense. Throughout the whole darn book.

She gets a job being a secretary to Derek’s delightfully scatty aunt, meets her ward, a fey “angelic” teenager in love with an unsuitable village boy, and Derek’s black sheep lookalike cousin, an author of violently disturbing mysteries. All proceeds as all Gothics do, but this one has two quite surprising twists near the end. We are also treated to some funny encounters with the eccentric denizens of the village while Deborah is “investigating.” Despite way too much time exploring the hallways, staircases, cellars, and dungeons of Blackcrest with determined Deborah, this one mostly held my attention.

Fans of “Jennifer Wilde’s” early historical romances might recognize the name “Derek Hawke”. Our modern Derek is apparently a descendent of the Derek Hawke who was either a hero or a villain, I’m not sure which, in the popular “Marietta trilogy”. So that’s kind of fun.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 18, 2021

Wherever Lynn Goes

by T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

I was on my own now, and in my purse was a perfectly lovely contract and an even lovelier check signed by Philip Ashton-Croft himself. The Sunday Supplement would have to do without me. Someone else could cover the next axe murder from “the woman’s point of view.”

I am now on a mission to read every Tom E. Huff gothic novel. The mysteries are nothing too special, the heroines sometimes are not too bright and make silly decisions. If you haven’t figured everything all out at least halfway through, you’ve never read a romantic suspense novel written in their heyday of the ’60s and ’70s. But the humor is top-notch and unusual in a gothic and the pace just merrily rolls along. It’s light on the romance and the secondary characters are well-drawn. I particularly enjoyed Lynn’s best friend Mandy who is a hoot and definitely the brains of the operation.

Men found her fascinating, and with her powerful magnetism and individuality she could have been quite successful had she really tried. Mandy was singularly unambitious—rather lazy, in fact, far more interested in being amused than in having a career. Her chief claim to fame thus far was her appearances on the telly as Maisie the Milkmaid in a series of commercials for Delicious Dairy Milk…Flippant, lighthearted, invariably cheerful, she was also shrewdly intelligent—something few of her merry companions ever suspected.

Mandy is in the thick of things every step of the way and even gets her own unlikely love interest. Huff sometimes plays around with the stereotypical characteristics of the romantic hero and the villain so it actually might take the gothic romance devotee an extra page or two to figure out who the true love interest is. Cliches abound but I love the way he obviously does not take the genre too seriously and I like to think he is giving the knowing reader a little wink and a smile. I love the setting of the London scene of the ’70s and the, now in 2020, retro details and attitudes.

If you’re looking for a baffling mystery and heart-melting romance pass this one by. But if you’re looking for a fun nostalgic trip down memory lane this old-timey contemporary gothic will keep you turning the pages and give you some laughs and smiles along the way.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 15, 2020

Come to Castlemore

By T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

“If you carry on this way, no man will have you!” she exclaimed. “I’ll take that risk,” I replied calmly. “Impudent! Always were! You go running off to those moors like this, and you’ll regret it, mark my word! It isn’t decent. Reading about those filthy pagans with their stone circles! I couldn’t hold my head up in public when my own nephew published a book about them—” “I see you read it,” I said.

Even though this was very well written as are all of T. E. Huff’s Gothics, I had to skip through the last half of the book. I just could not stand the character meant to be Kathy’s “surprise” love interest. What a pig! He was over the top controlling and chauvinistic, but worse, Kathy, who was intelligent, strong, and ahead of her time in other ways, was a limp dishrag around him. Totally under his power. This is another book that I strongly suspect was written tongue in cheek. No gothic cliché is left by the wayside. Choosing to read it that way, and also due to a happy twist at the end, I am rounding up to 3 stars. Not sure I’d really recommend it though. I much prefer his contemporary Romantic suspense.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

April 7, 2020

Meet a Dark Stranger

By T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

The pile of dishes in the sink was even higher now. I wondered idly who was going to wash them.

This vintage romantic suspense novel (set in the early ’70s) was as much fun as I remembered it to be. The entertainment lies not in the suspense or the romance, but in the humor and the background. Our heroine Jane is an indolent and very feminine children’s book writer living in London in the swinging 70s. She receives a desperate call for help from her brilliant scientist brother and hopeless and harried father of 3 precocious children. He has been called away for a last-minute emergency meeting (something to do with secret government goings-on) and the latest housekeeper/babysitter has run screaming from the house. Jane must come to his university town of “Abbotsford” (think Oxford) to take care of his children for 2 weeks. On the train, she is hit on by one stranger and rescued by another (before he too hits on her).

Once “Aunt Janie” gets to the Abbotsford train station, she picks up the wrong briefcase whose contents, we learn later, are of great interest to unsavory sinister criminal types and Scotland Yard. We learn of the death of a University student (or is it murder????). Jane just wants her Bennie the Bear manuscript back. We also meet her 2 nieces and nephew. 13-year-old Liz is obsessed with Lola Montez having grown tired of Florence Nightingale. By the end of the book, she will have switched to Joan of Arc.

Yesterday—my God, yesterday I happened to glance out the back window. She was in the garden. She was driving a stake into the ground and piling kindling around it! I might as well admit it, that child worries me—”

Anyway, Liz entertains throughout the narrative:

She broke into an impromptu and quite fiery dance, whirling her body, stomping her heels, making a deafening racket with the castanets. I hadn’t any roses to toss, but I made a mental note to hide the castanets at the first opportunity.

As Ian, her Dad, says, “Let’s hope she doesn’t pick up a biography of Bonnie Parker.”

Becky, the 11-year-old, is a budding detective. Harriet the Spy has nothing on her. She is an integral part of the plot. It is she who, due to her sleuthing, insists that the accident which killed the young student was “a vicious and brutal slaying.”
Ian explaining to Jane:

 In a moment of weakness I bought her a fingerprinting kit. Now she spends all her time dusting for prints, prowling around the neighborhood, peeking into windows, snooping. She wears my old deerstalker cap and carries a magnifying glass.” “It sounds innocent enough,” I remarked. “Not the way Becky goes about it! She spies on people, jots down notes on what she sees. God knows what she’s got in that notebook of hers. It’s a wonder I’m not completely gray.”

And lastly, we have Keith, “sixteen, quiet-spoken, mannerly, unusually poised for one so young. He was a serious lad, extremely intelligent, keeping to himself much of the time and maintaining his calm when the rest of the household was in chaos.” And he likes to build rockets in his workshop.
Janie herself is a very likable slightly quirky heroine, if very much a woman of the ’70s. :

No girl likes to be called stout-hearted, nor does she like to be complimented on her intestinal fortitude. I saw myself as extremely feminine, prey to all the weaknesses attributed to the sex, and the picture of me Stephen Brent presented was hardly in keeping with that image. I wasn’t courageous, nor was I strong and intrepid. If I had acted well “under fire,” as he put it, it was simply because I had had too much common sense to give way to the stark hysteria that had threatened to overwhelm me.

If you’re looking for heart-stopping suspense, mind-boggling twists, or sizzling romance, look elsewhere. But boy is it cute. The good guys, the bad guys, the romance, the clues, and the climax are telegraphed early and often. In fact, I suspect that the author was having a bit of fun with the reader. Except for Jane’s delightful and funny family, the inclusion of which is very unusual in a contemporary gothic, He hits every gothic trope dead on the nose. Speaking of the author, T.E. Huff, with this book he made the interesting choice of using a female narrator to tell his story in the first person, even though he is a male. Sometimes, it results in something slightly “off” in his descriptions and what he chooses to emphasize in the telling. But I loved the audacity.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 9, 2019

Room Beneath the Stairs

A.K.A. T. E. Huff

By T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

I was eleven years old when I first saw Greycliff Island, and I immediately made it my own. I would never be able to go there, of course, but that didn’t matter. It was my private place, safe and secure, removed from all the heartbreak and sadness I had known so often in my short life. It was a symbol, and in my imagination I dwelt there like a storybook child, surrounded by warmth and beauty and the friends I had never known.

And we’re off! This book was meant to be just a placeholder while I waited for a book I really wanted to read to become available at the library. I really enjoyed the trip back in time to the days when Gothic romances were the be-all and end-all. This one was a contemporary, written and set in the ’70s when guys were “with it” and if you had sex before marriage, you were a “swinger”. I loved the short time we are with our heroine in London where she meets the man who will soon become her husband. It was their second encounter, the first being when she was an orphaned young girl living with her relatives in Cornwall. We quickly move to his forbidding mansion on a mysterious island near the coast of her old home. Something sinister and mysterious is going on, and something is wrong with her husband.

As this might as well be a template for the typical gothic, we quickly determine who the hero is. And because we know who the hero is, we also know who the villain has got to be. Hint: gothic heroes are not jovial or idle. All the plot points and set pieces fall into place. Anyone looking for surprises and twists will be disappointed.

Yet T. E. Huff can really write! I was just carried along by the atmosphere and the immediacy of the action. I felt like the author was constantly winking at me as all of the stock characters and obligatory happenings marched across the page. There is very little humor but there is a lot of fun.

Now, it seemed like a scene from a rather pedestrian horror film, wildly far fetched: heroine in darkened hall, paralyzed with fear as chilling sounds rise up from the sinister stairwell. But it had been real, all too real. The wind didn’t make that kind of noise. Neither did cats.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence or a careless anachronism that our modern-day heroine carries a candle down into the basement and not a flashlight. And her silk skirts rustle on the stairs. Because mini-skirts inconveniently don’t rustle.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone in the mood for an old-fashioned gothic.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

July 2, 2019

Danger at Dahlkari

By T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

***only spoilery if you’ve never read a Gothic before**

In all but the heroine, this novel forcibly reminded me of a Madeleine Brent romantic suspense. Exotic locale, deadly adventure, and a mysterious hero who isn’t what he seems and who doesn’t really interact meaningfully with the heroine until over halfway through. And she goes on a long dangerous trek with him. Like “Madeleine”, the romance is on the light side. It also reminded me of many other T.E. Huff (aka at least 3 other female pseudonyms) in its usual tropes. Although we are told Lauren is intelligent, scholarly, headstrong, brave, and sensible but we usually see is naive, hysterical, and silly when it comes to her romantic relationships. Her companion Sally is the force to be reckoned with throughout most of the book. Also, the author employs his usual bait and switch with the heroes. Of course, the real hero is immediately apparent to even a semiconscious reader from his first appearance. So that means we know who the villain is as well. There is an interesting reveal at the end that came as a surprise to me.

Despite going over very well-traveled ground, it is well-written and paced with an engaging semi-humorous voice that T.E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde) is known for and which is virtually indistinguishable from Madeleine Brent’s first-person voice. Readers who liked this book would adore Madeleine Brent And Madeleine Brent devotees would find enough similarities with Madeleine to find much to enjoy in this particular title.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 2, 2020