By Paul Bailey (Bruin Books; 1946/2011)
Contrary to what you might have heard, this recently interred pulp relic is not a very good book, much less the “neglected classic” some have proclaimed it, but it is engagingly nutty. A fast moving and often (intentionally?) funny account of medical madness in a creepy California mansion, DELIVER ME FROM EVA reads like a transcription of a Stuart Gordon movie set within a 1940s-era pulp fiction framework.
Mark Allard is a young lawyer who’s found blissful happiness (or so he thinks!) in his marriage with the seductive Eva. He’s a little nonplussed, however, when Eva announces on their honeymoon that they’ll be living at Thalamus, her father’s Pasadena estate. After Mark discovers Eva has some unique talents he had no idea she possessed–she’s a virtuoso pianist and knows a hell of a lot about art and literature–the two head out to that estate.
Thalamus turns out to be an odd sort of place, and its inhabitants even odder. Those inhabitants include Eva’s muscle-bound brother Osman, a demented maid named Insa and the mysterious seductress Margot. All are presided over by Dr. Craner, a legless and ear less dwarf who has found that by manipulating the bones of peoples’ spines he can untap all manner of latent human potential (which explains the inexplicable genius displayed by Eva). Before long Mark is having to contend with a weird “cycle” experienced by Eva during which she leaves the Earthly plain, and an unholy brain experiment carried out by Dr. Craner, whose subject just happens to be Mark.
All this is diverting enough, and culminates in a memorably gruesome finale that leaves behind several corpses and no less than two severed heads. The book, alas, never stretches much beyond its modest pulp framework. The behavioral changes undergone by Mark as a result of Dr. Craner’s experiments should be far more dramatic and impacting than they are, as should Eva’s so-called cycle, and the proceedings are further burdened with a villain, the “pint-sized devil” Dr. Craner, who isn’t very menacing or compelling–and anyway he’s killed off far too quickly!