Heiress of Collinwood (2016) is the fourth DARK SHADOWS novel written by Lara Parker, who happens to have been an original cast member on the gothic horror soap opera Dark Shadows, which ran on American television from 1966 – 1971 and has inspired a large number of tie-in novels. (Ms. Parker starred in the role of Angélique Bouchard Collins, in addition to a few other characters.) Contrary to the comedic tone of Tim Burton’s 2012 film based on the show, the original soap opera was quite serious and melodramatic, and Heiress of Collinwood follows that same vein.
Our tale begins in Collinsport, Maine, in the distant year of 1797. The Collins family’s young governess, Victoria Winters, previously became unstuck in time, shaken loose from the swinging 1970s and sent back two centuries in order to remain with the man she loves, a lawyer named Peter. Her modern sensibilities and independence are difficult to let go of, however, and Victoria finds herself drawn away from gossiping villagers in favor of the traveling Roma caravan which has set up camp near town. Something about the gypsies appeals to Victoria in a way she can’t identify, but while she is in the midst of an impromptu dance circle, an angry villager violently assaults her; the man is Edward Wicks, whose sister Phyllis mysteriously died in Victoria’s stead when she was put on trial for witchcraft (a plot point from season two of Dark Shadows). Peter and Edward duel over Victoria’s honor, and when it goes badly, Victoria takes a lethal dose of poison.
Instead of permanently dying, however, she is sent back to her own time and an unfamiliar life as an investigative television journalist in Bangor, Maine, in the year 1972. Apparently, Victoria’s specialty is gruesome and mysterious deaths, and it seems her investigative skills have even aided the police in closing previously unsolved crimes. She receives a strange letter directing her to come to Collinsport with all haste, in order to resolve an urgent issue concerning the Collins family. Naturally, she makes the trip, only to discover that the Great House is empty, the family and staff have vanished, and if she cannot prove a legitimate claim to the ancestral property, it will be sold to condominium developers. Victoria, knowing nothing about her true parentage or personal history beyond her early life in an orphanage, sets out to solve both mysteries while simultaneously coping with nightly glimpses of a cloaked figure at the Old House and the romantic advances of Stephon, an Austrian man with an uncanny resemblance to Victoria’s husband Peter.
If you’re at all familiar with the Dark Shadows soap opera, you’ll see immediately that Heiress of Collinwood is extremely faithful to the plot arcs and character development explored within the show, as well as some character details that were hinted at but never resolved on screen. Familiarity with the TV show, however, isn’t necessary in order to understand the setting or the behavior of any characters in the novel; Parker does an excellent job of incorporating details from Dark Shadows into the story, ensuring that readers are completely up-to-speed on who these people are and what motivates them. Additionally, Parker fully embraces the influence of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre on the character of Victoria Winters, incorporating an awareness of elements of that novel and titular character within Heiress of Collinwood.
Supernatural elements abound; there’s the aforementioned time travel, the vampire Barnabas Collins, ghosts and spectres flitting through drafty corridors, an ominous gathering of crows, and much more. It’s all perfectly in keeping with the Gothic themes of the larger Dark Shadows universe, and though there are a few coincidences that strain credulity, the overall effect is appropriately gloomy and mysterious. Victoria’s inexperience and innocence occasionally drift into frustratingly daft, especially when she ignores obvious warning signs and repeatedly puts herself in unnecessary danger. Parker relies a little too often on knocking her narrator unconscious in order to move the plot forward: Victoria so often faints, or is drugged, or falls into a time-wandering fugue state, that I began to wonder if this young woman should be trusted to walk around without supervision. This commonly-used plot device on screen becomes repetitive with overuse on the page, and turns an inquisitive and intelligent narrator into a bit of a bumbler.
That said, Heiress of Collinwood is fun to read, with plenty of romance and intrigue, and if this fourth installment is any indication, I’d say that Parker’s previous DARK SHADOWS novels — Angélique’s Descent (1998), The Salem Branch (2006), and Wolf Moon Rising (2012) — are an excellent companion for Dark Shadows rewatches, expanding upon and embodying everything fans have enjoyed about the show for decades. It’s great to see a beloved television property take on new life in a different medium, and Parker is clearly the right person to steer this ship.