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The Prisoner

Novel by James Darke (England) 1983.

First in Laurence James's pseudonymous The Witches series, to be followed by The Trial (1983), The Torture (1983), The Escape (1984), The Meeting (1985), The Killing (1985), The Feud (1986) and The Plague (1986).

John Ferris is set for a good life. Pensioned off from his captaincy in the New Model Army, in England's Civil War in 1645, he has a thousand guineas of inheritance and a beautiful girlfriend who plans to be his wife. But bitter neighbours in Ferris' home town of Hertford are spreading vicious rumours about his parents. Worried but not overly concerned, Ferris returns home from Cambridge to find that Robert Monk, witchfinder, and his entourage have visited the town, and consequently discovers his house destroyed, his parents tortured and hanged, and his beloved a prisoner of Monk. Ferris swears vengeance and sets off to find and kill the witchfinder.

Exploitation fiction at its most blatant, this is first in "a Sphere adult series", all eight of which feature semi-naked women on their respective covers. In reality, they are not as 'adult' as a reader might expect, with less graphic sex or violence than an average Guy Smith novel of the same period, a comparison that makes more sense when you read further on in the series. Smith's books are also mostly exploitation fare, written for whichever market was strong at the time - occult, series, big books, the animal rampage novels that became his trademark - but they are usually much better written than this one. And more honest too, as the Witches series combines a low page count with a large typeface, resulting in much lower wordage than a potential buyer would realise. Obviously quickly written, these are to be recommended only to fans of the low-budget exploitation genre. But, to be fair to Laurence James, the series does improve tremendously as it continues.

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