Allan Colleigh has been partially blind for several months following the death of his father in a house fire and he now suffers from 'hysterical blindness', a possibly temporary condition directly linked to the trauma and one that could possibly be reversed by a similar shocking incident. He lives with his sister Katherine in an old Gothic house near to the university campus where his father lectured and also receives occasionally care and attention from their neighbour Olive. Allan is troubled by a number of occurrences that appear linked to the arrival of a barely glimpsed male student lodger who appears to keep irregular hours, and this triggers his increasing paranoia as he begins to suspect that someone - or something - intends leading him to his doom.
The reader shares Allan's increasing apprehension and growing terror through the first person narration which effectively maintains the level of uncertainty until the final twists. Author Henry Farrell's best known novel - and the one which the cover blurb reminds us of - was Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and this novel similarly features two female characters who may hold the key to unlock the narrative resolution. The blindness metaphor blurs the sense of illusion and reality and similarly obscures the truth from the reader, and the tension is also generally kept at a high level as the author makes the cold, creepy and creaking house with its dark recesses and hidden secrets a forbidden character that seems to possess a life of its own.
Less satisfying is the twist in the tail which relies on aspects of character and appearance not being revealed to Allan throughout the novel. It also includes a lazy plot device involving an inscribed book that is neither satisfactorily nor credibly handled.
VERDICT: Not awful, just average.
AFTERWORD: The author subsequently adapted the novel into a 1970 teleplay which was directed by Curtis Harrington (see Games below) and starred Anthony Perkins as Allan, Julie Harris as Katherine and Joan Hackett as Olive. Given that it jettisons most of the first person perspective save for some blurry scenes where Allan is menaced by person or persons unknown, the narrative takes a far more conventional path. Much of the claustrophobia and chilly tension is dissipated and the brief running time also means it never really works up a head of steam so as to function as an effective psychodrama. However, it is well-played by a surprisingly strong principal cast, although it still can't resolve the unsatisfactory inscribed book plot device. The film appears to be widely available on various budget DVD labels.