Although known as a western and historical writer, Paul Dayton Bailey managed to turn out one genuine over-the-top creepy novel in 1946, Deliver Me from Eva. It’s listed on the 100 Best Modern Horror Novels collection. Forrest (Famous Monsters) Ackerman listed it as his favorite novel. Long out of print, it’s finally seen the light of day in two new editions. Time-wise, the book postdates the shudder pulps by a few years, but the influences can be felt.
Mark Allard, a young Los Angeles lawyer, has just married Eva Craner. He’s only known her for a few days, but his love is so intense he decides to make it legal. It doesn’t matter Allard belongs to a successful law firm. Nor does he seem to care about his former engagement to one of the senior partner’s daughters. Eva, beautiful and brilliant, is the only woman for him.
Before the marriage is few days old, Allard agrees to visit Eva’s family estate outside Pasadena. Although his new bride insists he’ll move there to be with her family, Allard declares his intent to take her back to LA after getting to know her father and brother. He’s a 20th Century man and doesn’t need any meddling relatives from the wife’s side.
At the estate Allard meets Castleman, a creepy butler; Eva’s brother Osman; and Insa, a maid. There’s also another, older, woman named Margot who seems to be some sort of cook/housekeeper. But strangest of all is Eva’s father, Dr. Craner, a surgeon: he’s legless and lacks ears, having been born that way. Locomotion is provided for him by a cart. He hears by using a set of earphones and microphone which he designed.
There are two main buildings on the property. “Thalamus”, which was designed by Eva herself. This seems to be where Eva and her brother live. The other is “The Cradle of Light” and is reserved for Dr. Craner. The Cradle comes complete with it’s own surgery theater.
And this is where the book becomes very strange. Dr. Cramer has developed some kind of new therapy involving manipulation of the cranial plates to heighten human intelligence and spirituality. Both Eva and her brother are the results of long-term experiments to produce an Uber-race. Naturally, Allard wants nothing to do with Dr. Craner’s plans for humanity. He demands to leave and take Eva with him.
Except he soon discovers he can’t leave. Even after witnessing Dr. Cranmer’s mad experiments up close, Allard finds himself under the pull of the handicapped surgeon. It’s never explained why he can’t leave, but hypnosis is suggested.
One of the major problems of the book is loose ends. You never know exactly what the mad doctor does to create this state of heightened intelligence, although some kind of mental chiropractic treatment is suggested. Everyone in the compound seems to be part of a New World Order plot, but how the doctor keeps them under control is never spelled out. So you have to decipher a lot of the back story on your own. It’s all told from the viewpoint of Allard.
And when the action begins, Eva is very grotesque. Not to give a lot of the plot away, but plenty of severed heads figure into the story. There’s also underground cremation chambers to get rid of the evidence.
Still, this is a significant book in the history of horror literature. I’m sure Bailey’s religious background (he was a devout Mormon) kept him from returning to the horror genre.