Help A Bitch Out

HaBO: Death Masks on the Plantation

Serena writes with this sentimental request:

Can you help a Bitch out? My grandmother gave me a book when I was a teen -
part of her romance collection from the 70’s or 80’s. The plot:

Wealthy young woman from a southern family (in Louisiana?) in the early
1800s is at a ball, forced to dance with this dark, brooding fellow (I think
he has some sort of ugly scar), and then he threatens to kill her feckless
fiance (who is also her cousin) if she won’t marry him. So she does and she
goes to live at his plantation where strange things start happening, she
thinks it’s ghosts or something. There’s a mean aunt involved who ends up
trying to poison her with laudanum (this aunt also wears a hair shirt for a
reason I don’t remember), the brooding fellow has a brother/cousin that he
maybe killed out of jealousy (the brooding fellow has a temper – typical
70’s alpha male type). Now that I think about it, the aunt may be trying to
kill the young bride out of revenge for the scarred fellow killing her son.
I seem to remember something about death masks too – the creepy/crazy aunt
had one from her dead husband?

The cover featured a woman in a (red?) cape running away from a plantation
in the background at night.

Any ideas? It was a silly book, but I realized the other day that it was the
only book my grandmother ever shared with me, so I’d like to find it -
sentimental value, you know?

Southern plantation gothic, with laudanum! Anyone remember this book?



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  1. 1
    Phyllis says:

    There’s a series with old New Orleans sword fighters. I read one or two of them and they were along these lines, though from the 80’s I think.

    By… ummm… Someone who is still writing and is pretty successful. I want to say Mary Jo Putney or someone like that, who’s been writing for a while. I’m pretty sure it’s not Putney, but am blanking…

  2. 2
    Missy Ann says:

    @Phyllis are you thinking of Jennifer Blake? But I think her sword series is too young.

    My first thought was the HABO sounds like a Rosemary Rogers, but I’ll be damned if I know which one.

  3. 3
    Beth says:

    I think I remember my grandma having this one,too.  Maybe a kathleen woodweiss?  But she had a white cape.

  4. 4
    Barb says:

    Well, I am afraid that my help is of the “well it isn’t so and so but somebody like them” variety.  When I read the synopsis, the first thought that crossed my mind was Gothic!  But I can’t find one by Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney or Jane Aiken Hodge which seems to have all the points mentioned.  Though it sure does sound like a Victoria Holt!!  And that cover description is Classic Gothic all the way—flowing cape mandatory!

    I don’t think It is a Rosemary Rogers or a Woodiwiss—I read all of theirs back in the day and this doesn’t sound like one.  But then, my memory is like a sieve these days…

    spamword—cause45:  i can’t remember ‘cause I am older than 45!

  5. 5
    Kelley says:

    Sounds like Shirlee Busbee Southern, some mysticism, weird family members… Busbee

  6. 6

    It sounds like one of the older Jennifer Blakes—where is my old collection when I need them?  Maybe “Bride of a Stranger”?  Or is that one too recent?

  7. 7
    Becca says:

    Definitely sounds like Jennifer Blake’s Bride of a Stranger

    Product Description
    Claire is too innocent to suspect that her marriage is a cruel farce, believing instead that the dangerous accidents that keep appearing in her path are just thataccidents. She wedded Justin Leroux suddenly and silently. He was the tall dark stranger of her girlhood dreams, and had finally come to take her away. She returns with him to Sans Songe, the Leroux family plantation in Louisiana. A near-fatal accident on the road to the plantation does not bode well for her future there. And indeed, many nasty surprises await her at the plantation itself. Voodoo magic, poisoned food, and a murder mystery force Claire into a stalemate. She ishelpless within the bosom of her frigid and isolating new family, while her husband has yet to come to her bed. He may even be hoping for her destruction, as she is drawn into an ever more tangled web of passion and intrigue. In a harsh world where love means danger, Claire struggles just to survive.

  8. 8
    Serena says:

    You guys are amazing!  It is indeed ‘Bride of a Stranger’!  According to, my version was the 1977 edition with a busty lady running from a castle in a red dress!  Thanks so much for helping me find it again!

  9. 9
    Deb says:

    Darn!  I knew this one—and someone beat me to it.  It’s definitely BRIDE OF A STRANGER.  It might be so old that it was originally published under Jennifer Blake’s “real” name, Patricia Maxwell.

    The Blake books from the 1970s are interesting because you see her writing in the gothic genre with themes that she later developed in her romance novels.

  10. 10
    Lora says:

    You people are so cool.

    I was fascinated because i’ve read zillions of books in which a young woman runs in a billowing cape from a creepy mansion. Never read this one though.

  11. 11
    beggar1015 says:

    I recall reading somewhere, perhaps right here at Bitches, where a publisher said they sold more copies of a book if the cover showed a young woman outside of a spooky castle/mansion with one lone light shining through a window.

    Catchword: again44
    I prefer again29, year after year after year…

  12. 12
    Phyllis says:

    I was on the right track! And I was thinking of Jennifer Blake. But I don’t actually get any credit because I had no idea of her name.

    I’m also really awful with actors’ names…

  13. 13
    Rani says:

    You guys are so awesome. I love that this site exists.

  14. 14
    teshara says:

    I’m downloading the first chapter on my kindle :) It looks like fun!

  15. 15
    Jenn says:

    When I was a teen I was addicted to gothic romance.  Now that I’m pushing 40 I’m drawn to it again, so I am going to have to check this out. I mean a damsel in distress—in a cape, creepy house….can’t pass that up!

  16. 16
    wanda flanagan says:

    Sounds like a great read will have to be on the look out at the used bookstore

  17. 17
    dreadpiraterachel says:

    Despite the old skoolness of it, I’m intrigued. I do love me a good gothic novel; I might just have to buy this one!

  18. 18
    Serena says:

    I’m really interested in seeing if I’m as entertained at 30 as I was at 13.  I remember my mom was hesitant to let me have it – she’s not big on romance novels, and she wasn’t sure if it was appropriate for a 13-year-old.  She wasn’t really concerned about possible sex scenes – she was more concerned that I would be in for a big let-down when I started dating!  My grandmother sneaked the book to me anyway….and I loved it!  For the next 5 years, I was racing through all the romance novels I could find at the library.

    My mom was kind of right though – after all those great books, real boys were pretty disappointing.

  19. 19
    Leslie H. says:

    Lol MY Grandmother was a Fabio fiend.

    One year i picked up his calendar during lunch and the ladies I worked with were stunned that it was for my Grandma. I told them, “She IS still alive!”

    Lol security word ‘are79’ That would be about how old she was at the time.

  20. 20
    EbonyMcKenna says:

    I love the HABO posts, the Bitchery comes to the rescue once again!

  21. 21
    harliey_nick says:

    Ohhhh I read this book a long, long time ago!That’s why it sounded so familiar. I remember feeling a sense of unfinished, like this book should have end better. Hehe, I also agree with the bodice-reaper comment! This book fits well into that category ^^. I’m re-reading this again, thanks!

  22. 22
    Willa says:

    This is a first for me but after reading this post and learning the title, I actually looked this book up on Amazon and ordered a copy of the mass market original. Jennifer Blake’s early books were some of my faves, but I never read this one. What could be better than Southern Historical Gothic! Thanks!

  23. 23
    Daisy says:

    I recall reading somewhere, perhaps right here at Bitches, where a publisher said they sold more copies of a book if the cover showed a young woman outside of a spooky castle/mansion with one lone light shining through a window.

    That was such a cliche for romance books.  One friend had a good explanation: the heroine wakes up in the middle of the night and needs a toilet but there’s only one in the castle, and someone’s in it, so she has to go outside.

    working47: yep I’m working, and was 47 not so long ago.

  24. 24
    Lorena says:

    If anyone is interested in reading an online preview of this book, Google Books has quite a few chapters available for reading (the first six and the ninth chapter). Just search “Bride of a Stranger by Jennifer Blake” to find it. Enjoy!

  25. 25
    Lorena says:

    Quick note: the online preview features excerpts from those chapters, not necessarily the full chapters.

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