In 1969, Peter O´Donnell was asked by Souvenir Press to write a gothic novel – but, being a man of his time, he was reluctant to write anything too ‘feminine’, as many considered the gothic romance genre to be.
So, he decided to write under the female alias ‘Madeleine Brent’, a name that shares the initials of his legendary thriller heroine ‘Modesty Blaise’. Madeleine Brent’s real identity was one of publishing’s best kept secrets, not revealed even when O’Donnell won the Romantic Novelist of the Year award in 1978 for Merlin’s Keep.
Madeleine Brent’s nine romance novels brought an element of adventure and mystery into the romance novel. They depict feisty heroines during the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign in exotic locations, from a circus troupe touring Hungary to the Hindu Kush, who must unravel the secrets of their birth and overcome great odds to be with the men they love.
Madeleine Brent’s first novel Tregaron’s Daughter is set in Cornwall at the turn of the twentieth-century and follows the fortunes of Cadi Tregaron, a sixteen year-old fisherman’s daughter. Happy in the small community of the coastal village where she has spent her life, the only hint of disquiet has been a recurring dream – of a great house standing in water and of a faceless man who awaits her there – a dream which is sometimes wonderful and sometimes terrifying.
By a cruel blow Cadi is left alone in the world, but she is taken into a wealthy family where she lives like a lady with servants to wait upon her and is treated as one of the family. Too self-reliant to be spoilt by this change in her fortunes, she is perhaps too self-reliant for her own good, for at Meadhaven she finds mystery, danger and a hidden enemy. Is it the wayward young Richard Morton? Or the grey-eyed stranger who is forever watching her? Or is it Lucian Farrel, her benefactor’s maverick nephew, whose face now becomes the one to haunt her dream.
“One of the best romantic thrillers I have read in years.” Annabel
But the dream turns to nightmare, for she finds that the house standing in water is a reality and that she is bound to it by a freak of ancestry. Here, in the house of her dream and far from her own country, Cadi comes to know heartbreak and grief, and learns the frightening truth about herself and the hidden enemy who threatens her life.
Merlin’s Keep opens in the remote regions of the Himalayas, where the strange and lovely heroine, Jani, has been brought up by a runaway English soldier on the borders of Tibet, and moves on to encompass the rich and ancient mythology of bygone Britain.
Both Jani’s past and that of her soldier protector are shrouded in a mystery that grows ever deeper for Jani when the foreign demon on a black horse comes from the south to take her away to a new and frightening world – a London orphanage.
“It has half-a-dozen novels’ worth of drama, colour, exotic settings and romantic characters. For heaven’s sake, read it!” The Times
Later, when she moves on and finds the Woman in Red, Jani becomes one of the family in a Hampshire household. And it is here that her past is gradually uncovered, and she becomes locked in a macabre struggle, long prophesied by the High Lama of her Tibetan days, against the strange and terrifying powers of the Silver Man.
Madeleine Brent’s story of love and loyalty, of mystery and danger, moves on to a startling climax back amid the mountains on the roof of the world, where it all began. One of her most enthralling novels, it reveals all her talents for combining excitement with the unravelling of a secret, amid the drama of an exotic setting. For anyone in need of a mid-week Poldark fix, follow the links below to pick up a Madeleine Brent novel now!