This Dark Shadows audio drama on CD picks up where The House of Despair leaves off: Quentin Collins has returned to Collinsport to find his family home haunted and abandoned, and his family mysteriously gone; he’s summoned up Angelique, who in turn has resurrected Barnabas Collins in a new body (to match his new voice).
While this long-lived and supernatural trio are up at Collinwood trying to figure out what happened to the rest of the Collinses, Maggie Evans, now proprietor of the Collinsport Inn, looks after traumatized Willie Loomis.
Willie had a rough time up at Collinwood due to his own part in driving out the evil entity that occupied the house. For one reason or another, it became necessary for the newly restored Barnabas to bite him again, so Willie’s back where he was as far as playing Renfield.
Not that Maggie knows this. She’s forgotten that she ever knew Barnabas was a vampire, and certainly doesn’t know that he’s alive again.
Willie has said something to the effect that “he wants me back” at Collinwood. Maggie assumes that “he” refers to Quentin and heads up to the house to find out what happened to Willie there and why he wakes up screaming.
At the house, she meets the new Barnabas, who introduces himself–not as the Barnabas she used to know, you understand, but another member of the Collins family with that same name who’s come to help Quentin. He doesn’t claim to be a relative from England, but he sounds more British than Johnathan Frid did.
While she’s at Collinwood, Maggie is lured into a room in the servants’ quarters by a whispered woman’s voice. She thinks it’s Angelique, whom she met as an “associate” of Quentin’s when she first came in, and who was jealously catty to her because of that Barnabas / Josette thing two whole centuries ago.
Maggie discovers an old journal written by a maid named Charlotte Howell and reads the opening passages, which are dated April 16, 1926. Charlotte writes that the Collinses have made her work hard but they’ve been kind to her, more kind than her previous employers. But they have a weird habit of locking the servants up in their rooms every night. There’s a touch of romance concerning a young man Charlotte met at the Blue Whale.
It doesn’t sound like much, but this is where the trouble for Maggie really begins, for this journal is the Book of Temptation mentioned in the audio-play’s title. Once you start reading it, you can’t stop.
Charlotte’s story takes an ominous turn; she writes of others, the spirits of those who have gone before, and how she will join them in an attempt to save them. Quentin describes this as a “suicide note” and, sensing something supernatural going on with the book, tries to stop Maggie at that point.
On these audio dramas, I always listen for interesting use of sound beyond the actors’ line and the music. What’s good here is the ghost voices that develop as the book is read: Charlotte’s voice sounds normal, but there are other voices too, whispered, altered to echo or sound harsh and raspy. They grow stronger and louder as Maggie continues.
These spirits are visible too to the people at Collinwood. Seeing them, Barnabas insists that Maggie go on over Quentin’s objections. The spirits fall silent and presumably vanish when Maggie reads the name “Collins” aloud in a sentence, but no one believes that’s the end of it.
“We’ve unleashed something powerful that we can’t contain,” says Quentin. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
After consulting with Angelique, they decide to perform an exorcism. It wouldn’t be the first one of those at Collinwood either.
The foursome goes to the maid’s room where Maggie found the book, since it seems the best place to start exorcising the spirits. The ghost of Charlotte Howell is there and ready to talk. When Quentin asks her about what she’s written in her journal, she tells him, “I didn’t write it–I read it.”
April 26, 1927, it turns out, was the date on which Charlotte found and read the book. She’s been trapped since then, along with all the previous readers. Anyone who reads the last entry becomes the newest “edition,” so to speak.
The journal itself is much older than the 1920s, at least 200 years old according to Barnabas’s eye for antiques. There were plenty of other readers before Charlotte, and it’s their voices we hear.
Maggie will be next if she goes on reading. The pages she’s already read are now blank, waiting to be filled with her own story once she finishes.
When her friends realize that Maggie’s got hold of something truly dangerous, they respond in typical Collins-fashion: They lock her up in one of those basement cells the family likes to keep for whatever reason, instead of hiding the book where she can’t get at it.
They can’t destroy the book. It’s a long-standing Dark Shadows trope that evil objects always comes back once they’ve been thrown over the cliff or tossed into the drawing-room fire. Once Maggie is locked up, Quentin does in fact tear out and burn the last page, which rouses the ghosts of the trapped readers to fury. Realizing that he can’t keep Maggie shut up forever, he and Barnabas eventually do end up hiding the book after all… in the same room where Maggie found it. They nail the door shut. Yeah, she’ll never think to look for it there.
Meanwhile, Angelique has let Maggie out–as Quentin asked her to do–and gives her a cup of tea–which is the witchy woman’s own idea.
“I’m more of a coffee woman,” says Maggie, but she winds up under Angelique’s spell just the same, mesmerized by the steam rising from the cup.
Angelique tells Maggie that she cannot rest until she finds out what happened to Charlotte Howell and solves the mystery of the book, no matter who gets in her way.
At the beginning of House of Despair, it seemed like a good many years had passed between the end of the Dark Shadows series and Quentin’s return to Collinsport, ten years or more. But throughout Book of Temptation, everyone at Collinwood refers to Maggie as a girl. I never got her exact age during the show, but I assumed she was about the same age as Victoria Winters–that is, about 20 when we first met her in 1966 and therefore 24-ish when she left in 1970. Of course, Angelique, Barnabas, Quentin, and all the ghostly readers trapped by the book are much, much older than Maggie by decades if not centuries, but would they consistently be calling her “girl” if she were over 30? Until I hear some definite date, I’m guessing that this is set about 5 years after the show’s end, in the mid ’70s.
On the other hand, Maggie has grown up quite a lot since she was last seen on Dark Shadows. She spent so much of the later series whimpering, sobbing, or gaping in horror at the inexplicable happenings at Collinwood that I began to feel embarrassed for my 2-out-of-3 namesake having to play such a wuss. I’d seen that Maggie Evans had a stubbornness that became a real strength when she was faced with dire situations; I liked her best when she clung to her own identity while Barnabas was trying to make her into his Josette, and when she sat glowering at Willie for three days and turning him into a nervous wreck even though he was the one who had locked her up. Toward the end of this drama, she not shows some of her old spirit, but goes further. She tells Quentin off when he’s off-handedly mysterious and condescending instead of answering her questions about what the hell is going on. When faced with the ghosts of people who have already been sucked into the book and want her to join them to save them, she stands up to them too; she says she’s not putting up with this and refuses to submit to something she doesn’t understand just because she’s frightened. You go, Girl.
Maggie wins this round, but is “scarred” (as Angelique puts it) by the experience. Who knows if she’ll be drawn back to finish the book one day?
None of this, however, explains what happened to the Collins family. They aren’t trapped in the book and we’ve been told they aren’t dead, so where are they?
The search continues…