Catherine Gaskin penned a selection of fabulously gothic and thrilling novels in the fifties, sixties and seventies, and you only have to check out the brilliant covers I’ve included in this post to know these are books begging to be read :) She was known as “The Queen of Storytellers” and “The Girl with the Golden Pen”, and began writing her first novel at the age of 15, apparently getting up every day at 4am and writing for a couple of hours before school, and so showing a true writer’s dedication from an early age. That first novel was accepted by a publisher when Gaskin was 17, and became a bestseller. After that, she wrote pretty much a book a year, and sold more than 40 million novels in her lifetime. Wow!
Catherine Gaskin’s having a bit of a well-deserved revival at the moment. Publishers Corazon Books have just released the first ever ebook edition of one of her novels, The Property of a Gentleman, which I’ve just finished reading. And what a gripping read it was! The publishers describe it as “an absorbing tale of history, intrigue and romance, set among unspoilt Cumbrian nature and the sophisticated world of a major London auction house.”
Basically, the story is about an antiques’ dealer, Jo Roswell, who travels with her boss to the Earl of Askew’s isolated country house in the Lake District, to evaluate some antiques for him. Here she encounters a fake Rembrandt, a missing El Greco, a fabulous and cursed diamond called La Española, a ghostly wolfhound and the weird daughter of the family’s servant. The tragic and mysterious death the ‘Spanish Lady’, teenage wife to the fifteenth century Earl, is also part of the fabric of the family, and that of their faithful retainers.
So you can see, The Property of a Gentleman has all the elements of a gothic and romantic drama, and it doesn’t disappoint. There are some parts of the story telling that might seem a little old-fashioned (the novel was first published in the early seventies), and of course the actual plot is completely fantastic and over the top, but I loved it. And the thing I loved most about it was the author’s atmospheric descriptions. The part where Jo is driving her boss’s Jag in the lonely fells at night-time is really well done, and when they arrive at the Earl’s gloomy country house in the pitch black, the door opens, spilling out a beam of light along with eight enormous Irish wolfhounds, who surround the car ‘with a silent, deadly kind of speed…We didn’t attempt to move, and the dogs remained motionless and uncannily quiet, those eyes under bushy brows fixed intently on us.’
What a great introduction to the lonely house of mystery! I really loved the descriptions of the house and the fells, and I loved the way that, as Jo begins to fall in love with the house and with the Earl’s heir, the descriptions become less forbidding and more about the remote beauty of the location.
The Earl’s country house in The Property of a Gentleman is probably based on the real Elizabethan Leven’s Hall in Cumbria, which is owned by the Historic Houses Association. The HHA, in conjunction with Corazon Publishers, is running a short story competition at the moment, inviting people to submit a short story set in or inspired by a historic house. You can find the details here. The winning stories will be published as an anthology by Corazon, and I look forward to reading them!
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Have you ever read any Catherine Gaskin? Or any novels inspired by a historic house? And do you like this sort of gothic, romantic suspense as much as I do? If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!