I remember coming across these in Paperbacks from Hell and immediately writing them off because 7 books seemed like a big commitment and an initial search showed them to be fairly scarce. I took a closer look a few months later and realised I’d have to read them.
Like many of the books featured in Paperbacks from Hell, these titles are very tricky to track down, but these particular books were already scarce when PFH came out. These are erotic novels, and they feature a specific kink. I found a link on Will Errickson’s blog, and it might have something to do with why these books are so hard to find. This webpage is a list of JR Parz’s favourite erotic mind control novels, and it has been online for well over 20 years. The Martin books have been listed at the top of it since it was first posted. Erotic mind control seems like a fairly specific kink, and I’d imagine that the erotic mind control online community is pretty closely knit. Yep, I would be willing to bet that more of the copies of Martin’s books still in existence are sitting shelves of mind control perverts than on the shelves of regular horror fans.
There’s a paragraph on these books in Paperbacks From Hell and an essay in Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s about how Martin’s novels reflect the early 1980’s fear of Satanism, but neither of these sources offer any information on Russell W. Martin, the mysterious pervert who wrote these strange books. The internet isn’t much better. The only online source on Martin I could find was his ISFDB page. That page says he was born in 1933 and that his full name is Russell White Martin, but it also says he cowrote a book about space and drew some pictures for a 1992 science fiction novel called A Fire Upon the Deep. I got hold of both of these books, and I can confirm that the space book was written by a different Russ Martin, and the art in A Fire Upon the Deep was created by Elissa Mitchell. I don’t know if we can believe the other information from ISFDB either.
The only reliable information I could find on Martin is on the inside cover of my copy of Chains. Chains is the UK version of Rhea. This information is not included in the Playboy edition of Rhea, published one year later.
In Paperbacks from Hell, Grady Hendrix claims that Martin wrote 7 novels about the Satanic Organization, but that’s not true, and anyone who has read these books will understand why (details below). Also, Alison Natasi omits Rhea and Candy Sterling from the bibliography to her essay. This might be because one was written in the 70s and the other doesn’t quite fit in with the theme of the essay, but it might also be because Candy Sterling is almost impossible to get hold of. Apart from JR Parz, I am not convinced that I know of anyone who has actually read all 7 of these books.
Hard to find, rarely read, trashy novels about horny Satanists? Hell yes.
Due to the relative scarcity of these books, I am providing summaries of each. If you’re actually planning on reading these, maybe skip to the last 2 paragraphs and then come back once you’re done. (I wrote these reviews as I was reading the books, so I end up answering some of the questions I ask later on in the post.)
Ermine – 1978
Playboy Press – 1980
Futura Publications – 1979
A girl born in the 1700s spends her birthday money on a mysterious old book called Liber de Malo from the back of a merchant’s van. She is a gifted child, and at 5 years of age uses her schooling in Latin to summon a demon. Once she hits puberty, she starts using demons to help her gain complete sexual subordination from anyone she fancies. She does this for about 200 years and then meets Phillip Stafford, a wealthy movie executive.
She gains control over this Phillip guy, but things start to get really nasty once his wife finds out. Philip hires a private detective to figure out Rhea’s game, and it’s through his sleuthing that many of the details of Rhea’s past lives are revealed. The chapters are not in chronological order, and each one offers the perspective of a different character. I was very impressed with how well the plot was crafted. This is sexy, satanic horror fiction, but Russ Martin put some serious work into organising this story.
This isn’t porn though, even if it was published by Playboy. The characters have lots of sex, but there’s barely any graphic sex scenes. The most lurid scene appears towards the end of the novel, and it is anything but sexy.
Parts of the book are scary too. Rhea is proper bad. She’s not just mean and selfish. She’s evil.
Honestly, I was really surprised by how much I liked this one. I don’t know why it hasn’t been reissued since 1980. It felt like a proper gothic novel.
The Desecration of Susan Browning
Playboy Paperbacks – 1981
An up-and-coming film maker rescues a woman named Wanda Carmichael from getting raped. Turns out that Wanda’s in league with the devil, and she decides she wants the lad who saved her, so she puts a mind control spell on him. Susan, his wife, isn’t too pleased, so one of Wanda’s associates puts a love spell on her too. Both Susan and her husband are drawn towards people they absolutely hate by an insurmountable force of evil. Susan finds some reprieve when she meets Al Crabbe, a handsome priest who stows her away in a convent, but even he can’t stop the Devil’s powers. The novel ends with a mass gathering of Devil worshippers gathering for a Satanic baptism. Instead of being anointed with holy water, the baby, and probably Antichrist, is anointed with blood from a fresh castration wound. Fr. Crabbe sneaks into this ritual, and although he doesn’t manage to save Susan, he does wreck the party and make off with the baby. The novel ends with Fr. Crabbe looking at the baby and questioning his faith.
The Desecration of Susan Browning wasn’t as impressive a novel as Rhea in terms of plotting but it was still an enjoyable read. There’s less exposition here. While Rhea told the story of how the titular character fell in league with the devil, there’s not as much backstory to Wanda Carmichael. We don’t find out exactly how she has gotten to where she is today. While Rhea felt like a gothic mystery, The Desecration of Susan Browning is more of a thriller.
One of the few things we do find out about the novel’s antagonist is that she is a trans woman. This trashy horror novel was written in 1981, so this isn’t dealt with in particularly a sensitive manner.
There’s also a scene where a Satanist refers to Jesus as a “suckass”. LOL.
The Devil and Lisa Black
Playboy Press – 1982
I’ve seen this described as both a sequel and prequel to Susan Browning, but I think the more appropriate way to describe this book would be as an appendix to its predecessor. Lisa Black is a minor character in The Desecration of Susan Browning. She’s an informant who has had a curse put on her that makes her think she’s hideously ugly. She’s an intriguing character, and if I hadn’t known she that she was going to show up again in a different book, I would have wondered why Martin introduced her.
About half of The Devil and Lisa Black is taken up with Lisa’s backstory. It’s pretty much what I’ve come to expect at this point. A beautiful young girl is bewitched and drawn into a circle of horny Satanists.
The other half of this book deals with Al Crabbe (the priest from the last book). He has abandoned the priesthood and is still looking after the baby he kidnapped from the Satanists (the baby whose high ranking Satanist mom was designated male at birth). Al’s luck takes a turn for the better, and he very quickly ends up with a high paying job, a nice house and several attractive sex slaves, one of whom is Lisa Black. Things get a bit weird for him after he starts seeing the ghosts of Susan Browning. I didn’t expect a happy ending from this one, and I didn’t get one.
It’s a bit of an odd book. The two strands share one character, but Lisa doesn’t really do much in the Al Crabbe part of the story. I mentioned above that I was impressed with how Martin strung the different threads of Rhea together into a cohesive whole and that I thought The Desecration of Susan Browning fell a little short of its predecessor. After reading The Devil and Lisa Black, I think that Russ Martin may have originally intended the the Lisa Black parts of this novel to be part of The Desecration of Susan Browning. They all take place before the events in that book, and they would make her inclusion there more understandable. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Martin’s publisher had convinced him to cut that stuff out and put it into another novel. I reckon the Al Crabbe stuff here was added on to fill up space.
While this is definitely the worst novel so far, it might also have been the sexiest. I’m pretty sure there’s more boobs in this one anyways. It also contains the greatest line in sleaze fiction history:
“I’ll make a deal with you, Mr. Crabbe,” she whispered. “I won’t ever call you Al in public. And you don’t ever call me a lady in private.“
The Possession of Jessica Young
Tor – 1982/1988
This is the first of Martin’s books to be published by Tor.
While the 3 previous books featured relatively small cabals of Satanists, the Satanists in The Possession of Jessica Young are part of an international network referred to as The Organization. The Organization aims to bring about the reign of Satan on Earth. One of the highest ranking members in the Organization is a guy called Stephen Abbott. Part of his job is seeking out psychics who may somehow obstruct the Organization. The exact nature of how these psychics will do this is never really addressed.
Jessica Young is young and beautiful. She’s also the most powerful psychic the Organization have ever come across. She can kill people without touching them. At first Stephen Abbott does the ol’ mind control spell on her and gets her to kill her own family. Unfortunately for Abbott, her powers are so strong that she breaks the spell herself. Abbott is left with little choice but to lobotomise her. The lobotomy scene is pretty degrading and gross.
This book felt distinctly more mean spirited than its predecessors. This is less a novel about dashed hopes. It’s more a novel about suffering. Jessica has already killed her family by the time the book begins, and we’ve already come to understand that Martin’s books end in a worse place than where they began. Sure, the bad guys are Satanists and Jessica is psychic, but the occultism that kept Rhea exciting is entirely gone. This felt more like a book written for dudes who like the idea of having complete control over a woman. There’s a slight reprieve of misery at the very end of the book, but it doesn’t make up for what’s happened.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just reading through these too quickly and I’m getting a bit tired of them, but I didn’t really enjoy this one very much.
The Obsession of Sally Wing
Tor – 1983/1988*
This is a direct sequel to The Possession of Jessica Young. Half the book won’t make sense unless you’ve read that book beforehand.
The plot is a bit of a mess at this stage.
Jessica Young was lobotomised at the end of the last novel, but her soul fled into her sisters body and took over. Her sister is obsessed by Stephen Abbott (the main man from the Organization), so this is tricky business. If Jessica gives her sister any control over her own body, she will turn themself in for a chance to see her loverboy. Half the novel tells the story of Jessica trying to gain access to Stephen Abbott, but when she gets close enough to kill him, she changes her mind and has a brief affair with him.
The other half of the novel is about a former child prostitute named Sally Wing. The Organization turns her into a vampire, and she kills a bunch of children. After she kills a child that the Organization had turned into an adult, the Organization loses its patience and has Sally raped and murdered. The Sally Wing part of the story has absolutely no overlap with the Jessica young part.
Sally feeds on fear rather than blood, and there’s one part where she does a really good job at scaring a little girl that I did not enjoy reading.
I was pretty surprised with how this one ended. There’s no revenge, but Jessica Young is not dead or evil yet.
*(I’m not sure about the publication date of the second version pictured above. Will Errickson and ISFDB say it’s from 1988, but my copy says first edition on the inside cover. This is extra confusing as it also lists The Education of Jennifer Parrish in the “Other titles by this author” section. That book wasn’t published until 1984 though… Probably just an error.)
The Education of Jennifer Parrish
Tor – 1984*
*(This cover is from 1988. I don’t know if there was ever a different cover for this one. There were alternate covers for the other 2 Tor novels.)
Like The Obsession of Sally Wing, this book has two almost entirely separate storylines. This is the third book dealing with the saga of Jessica Young and Stephen Abbott. It also introduces a brand new scenario and cast of characters.
Jennifer Parrish, a teenager, tries to kill a rapist, so she’s forced into a military-style boarding school that’s owned by the Satanic Organization. Why would Satanists run a school? Well, when a high ranking Satanist gets old, they visit the school, pick out an attractive student and then forcibly trade bodies with them. The procedure doesn’t initially work on Jennifer because she’s a virgin, but the Organization figures out a way to remedy this.
Stephen Abbott’s failure to subdue Jessica Young by the end of the previous book has got him in big trouble with the Organization. He is told that if he doesn’t get her under his control, he will be obsessed by a sadistic woman that he hates. He manages to have sex with Jessica at least once more, but despite his pleas, she runs away and allows him to become obsessed.
Jennifer Parrish dies, but she only took up half a book. Jessica Young escapes, and her tormentor from the first book in this trilogy is in a far worse position than her. Martin doesn’t tell us where Jessica is going to go or what she’s going to do next, and Abbott is obsessed, but Jessica has the power to cancel an obsession, so although the ending to this book is tidier than its predecessors, it does not rule out a continuation of the story. Unfortunately, no further books in this series were ever published.
The Resurrection of Candy Sterling
Playboy Press – 1982
This is by far the hardest Russ Martin novel to find. Some of the others go for ridiculous prices, but I have never even seen a copy of this for sale online. I left it till last because I taught it was written last, but it turns out that this was actually published 2 months after The Devil and Lisa Black. This was Martin’s last novel on Playboy Press, and this publisher shut down shortly after it was released, so there were probably fewer copies of this printed than the others.
If you are reading Martin’ books due to an interest in Satanism in literature, you can skip this one. This deals with a cult, but nothing Satanic. Let me tell you, it’s easier to stomach sadism if the perpetrator is supposed to be a worshipper of evil. Having normal people perform acts of brutal sexual violence makes it much nastier.
Candy Sterling is a stupid prostitute. I don’t mean to imply that prostitutes are stupid. Candy is both a prostitute and an imbecile. She joins a cult led by a mysterious figure known as “The Prophet”. This Prophet guy convinces rich people to give him all their money and then spend the rest of their lives working on his farm or, if they are beautiful teenage girls, working in his mansion.
This is where the commonality with Martin’s other books shines through. The Prophet has absolute control over his followers. They will do anything he tells them to. Candy is mugged while in his service, but she refuses to give his money to the mugger even after he brutally assaults her. The mugger is so impressed with her fortitude that he joins the cult himself. (His reasoning here is never fully explained.)
Soon enough, Candy and her mugger are married and given the special job of murdering apostates of the cult. It quickly becomes apparent that Candy is the more unstable of the two when she tortures a family of rape victims to death. She later leads her husband back to the the scene of this murder and then shoots him in the head while he is performing cunnilingus on her.
Honestly, if sexual violence isn’t your thing, avoid this book. It was surprisingly extreme.
Having read Martin’s other novels, there’s something disquieting about the focus on brainwashing and power relations in here. You don’t write 7 erotic novels heavily featuring the same kind of kink if you’re not into that kink yourself. But Candy Sterling is not the kind of story you should be wanking too. This is a grim read, and the sincerity of the eroticism made me feel a bit dirty. Even JR Parz gave this one a negative review.
Ok, so if you haven’t been paying attention, let me sum up the sequence of these books. Rhea and The Resurrection of Candy Sterling are standalone texts. The Desecration of Susan Browning and The Devil and Lisa Black are a pair. The Possession of Jessica Young, The Obsession of Sandy Wing, and The Education of Jennifer Parrish are the first three books in an unfinished series.
These are novels about Satanists and black magicians, but most of the occult rituals occur behind closed doors. The Satanism on display is of the trashy horror novel variety. The essay in Satanic Panic about these novels is probably a better place to look if you want some commentary on how they reflect the social values of when they were written. I read them for enjoyment, and they got the job done. Rhea was definitely the best; if you’re going to read any of them, make it that one. The others are varying degrees of ok, definitely not worth the prices that some sellers are asking for them.
Phew, I think this might be the longest post I’ve written. I hope it was entertaining/elucidating. If anyone has any information about Russ Martin, please leave a comment or email me.