For the guests at Ruth Bennet's fashionable Georgetwon home, the seance was just a playful diversion . . . until Ruth's niece Sara spoke in a deep guttural voice not her own . . . and the game became frighteningly real.
Overall, it was... fine. Not absolutely amazing, but a decent read. I've read a couple (or is it a few?) of Michaels' other books, and after doing so (and enjoying them to varying degrees), found that reviews indicated (for the most part) that they were not her best work. This one had higher ratings, so maybe my expectations were too high going in... Again, it's fine, and I enjoyed most of the reading experience, but I wasn't especially wowed.
-- The mystery aspect felt predictable, unfortunately. I was hoping there would be something a bit "more" to catch me off my guard, but no, it was pretty much just what I expected. This may have something to do with the book's age. Maybe when it was originally published in the late 1960s it would've been less predictable. Also, there's an aspect of the story that is only hinted at-- possibly because putting any more emphasis on it would've been pushing the envelope too far for the intended audience of relatively "mature" women of the 1960s.
-- Speaking of which, I guess Barbara Michaels specialized in writing gothic mystery romances with "older" heroines. At least, I'm certainly seeing a trend. Writing as a "you're no spring chicken, yourself", 30-something reader, I don't have a problem with that, exactly, but I don't like the emphasis on age... and it's getting a bit repetitive.
-- When one of your characters remarks toward the end of your novel that "this is anticlimactic"... maybe it's time to consider a rewrite. Sorry, but it was anticlimactic.
-- I know, I know. Characters almost have to be a little slow and/or a little foolhardy in order to find themselves in bad situations, but good grief, it gets annoying. How many times did they neglect to notice that it was getting dark?
-- These characters drink more than characters in soap operas! Of course, near the end, Michaels acknowledges this fact through one of her characters-- but she attributes it to the stress they've all been under. I beg to differ; I noticed the copious references to hock, wine, brandy, sherry, vodka, and the generic "drink" well before the real drama kicked in.
-- The choice of the name "Bruce" feels extremely dated. That's not a complaint; just an observation. When's the last time you heard of a young man named "Bruce"? It makes me think of Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) and this Monty Python sketch.
-- It always makes me smile when I find the inevitable "hidden" reference to Egyptology. This time we got "the secret of the Great Pyramid".
-- Maybe I'm being overly critical, but this love scene makes me shudder: "...wherever his hands and lips had touched she felt stripped, not only of clothing but of skin, as if the skillful fingers manipulated the nerves themselves." Stripped of skin? Fingers manipulating the (bare) nerves? That is so totally not romantic. Probably the creepiest thing in the whole darn book, if you ask me-- and unintentionally so, I think.
-- References to The Three Faces of Eve (seen the film, don't think I've read the book) and Shirley Jackson's novel, The Bird's Nest (never read it).
-- Oh, boy; it's another book in which most of the characters obviously don't hold religion in very high regard. They're too modern and intellectually advanced for that, I guess. On the other hand, one character talks about "the mumbo jumbo of psychiatry", so there's some balance... It makes me curious about the author's personal beliefs, since these things seem to come up in so many of her books. I suppose it's almost unavoidable, when you're writing about ghostly things, but I got tired of the two male characters debating one another when there were bigger fish to fry.
-- "'We seem to spend half our time eating and/or drinking, under the most peculiar conditions.'" Well, at least the characters themselves have noticed it, too.
-- There are three novels loosely (?) based around some of these characters and/or the house. I read the second one (Shattered Silk) before I realized that fact. I don't think it made a shred of difference-- but from what I understand, some of the characters from this book reappear more significantly in the third novel (Stitches in Time).
-- On the plus side, most of the main characters are multi-dimensional, and they do change through the course of the novel (though it often seems that Sara is a drowsy do-nothing who spends the whole novel lying on the floor-- when she's not being "overshadowed"). They are generally likeable. The novel moves along at a decent pace and is always readable. There's suspense, and it's a little creepy at times, but not keep-you-awake-at-night creepy. (One reviewer sums it up it as "cozy gothic", which is a perfect descriptor, I think.)
So, final word? It's a pretty good novel of its type. A fine example of a "cozy gothic"-- but I'm not sure I'd rate it as highly as most Amazon readers have. Still, I'm sure I'll continue reading more of Michaels' gothic novels, so she obviously did something right. ;o)