by Barbara Michaels
The last of an ancient Cornish clan, Carla Tregellas has inherited her historic ancestral home: a massive mansion looming high up on the jagged cliffs of Cornwall. From the moment Carla takes possession of the grand manor she feels right at home, warmly welcomed by everyone-- except the strange and secretive housekeeper, Mrs. Pendennis, who warns the new owner of the tragic, inevitable fate that will surely befall her if she does not depart at once. But Carla cannot leave, for the unseen bonds of a dark family curse are beginning to tighten . . . and a demon lover waits.
It was... fine. Entertaining. Or at least entertaining enough.
This author spins a pretty good tale-- the epitome of the light mystery/suspense/mildly romantic gothic romance. She knows how to write the sort of novel that it is easy to keep reading. However, there's generally not much to make you sit up in amazement. If you've read one of these types of books, you've kind of read them all. The setting and cast of characters may vary, but the gist of the stories all seem much the same. I don't mind that, honestly. I'm the sort of person who finds repetition comforting and can rewatch and reread the same few things in relatively short order without feeling bored. As long as the book is pleasant to read, I don't always require something new and startling and mind-boggling.
(Potentially SPOILERy) Specific Notes:
-- Golly. This was published in 1978! It's older than I am. ;o) I sometimes forget that some of Barbara Michaels' novels were written in the 60s and 70s. Some of them do have a certain... slightly dated feeling, in spots... but for whatever reason, I think of them as all being from the 80s.
-- As far as I can remember-- based on the books I've read so far-- I seem to have a problem with most of Barbara Michaels' heroines. She usually takes care to present them as thoroughly modern young women... and while I don't mind that, I do mind that her version of a modern young woman is really, really irritating. This heroine, Carla, is a fine example of the annoying type.
--"In her youth" (though she's pretty young still!) Carla "had been a fiery radical, waving placards and demanding social justice". Hm. I'm not particularly impressed by fiery young radicals.
-- When Carla meets what's-her-name... Elizabeth?... for the first time, she describes her as a "nonentity". Well, ok, so maybe my own forgetfulness of the character's name suggests that she was right, but still! It seemed that Carla was being pretty catty and judgmental of a woman she'd only just met. Just because Elizabeth was poorly dressed and shy?! Yeah, well maybe some people are just different from you. It doesn't make them nonentities. Ever think of that, you beast? (Ahem. I... I really didn't like Carla much. I don't think I would've minded, truthfully, if the sea demon dude had come and taken her away... ;o))
-- Why in heck is every man of breeding age so infatuated with/interested in Carla? She's supposed to be physically attractive, and I guess that's all it takes. Seriously, though! There's Michael (the dancer), his ugly American friend (as in physically ugly, not with arrogant "ugly American" habits) Tim, the White-Haired Vicar (aka John), and Goldenboy (Simon)... Oh! and the lawyer, Allen (or was it Allan?). Even her dry, old lawyer in Boston seemed to be getting dazzled by her during their brief interview. Well, they all fall for her with amazing speed. One of them-- Allen, I think-- within hours of meeting her, can't keep his hands off her and tells her, "You're a remarkable woman, Carla." Oh, barf! First, how would you know? You've only just met her! Second, no, she's really not that remarkable. (Of course, later we learn that Allen had ulterior motives, so...)
-- So, the hero's a dancer. ...I'm sorry for stereotyping, but a male ballet dancer... It's just not an ideal career for a hero-- not when he could have had any other career in the world. It wasn't really important to the plot that he be a dancer. I guess Michaels was trying to be interesting... different... a real stereotype-smasher. (Or maybe she had a specific hunky, masculine dancer in mind. I know they exist... It's just not my personal ideal. (g) Yes, I'm dreadfully conventional.) But seriously, why not just make him a male flight attendant and have done with it?
-- Later on, Carla wonders if Mrs. Pendennis "doesn't approve of [Michael's] profession. A lot of ignorant people think male ballet dancers are queer, or effete, or just plain useless." Ignorant people, eh? Well, Ms. Judgypants, it's not a particularly masculine or "useful" job, is it? It's also certainly no reason for a grandmother to treat her grandson coldly, but I'm pretty confident that wasn't the problem between them, anyway.
-- That reminds me... Did we ever learn why Michael's grandmother was so distant with him? ...Or whether he was the father of Elizabeth's unborn child? I assumed he wasn't, but if not, who was? (Simon?) I suppose that rumor might account for the coolness between Michael and his grandmother... Or maybe she never had an abortion at all. We know by the end of the book that Elizabeth is addicted to heroin, and that alone might have accounted for her problems. I guess the only one who tells Carla about the supposed abortion was Allen himself. Strange that it was never really addressed, though. (Unless I missed it, somehow.)
-- Carla-- who is not a ballet aficionado-- just happened to have read a review of one of Michael's performances. Yow! My willingness to pretend that this is likely is stretched painfully taut.
-- "I think archaeologists are rather too prone to claim an object has a religious function when they can't think of any other purpose for it." I didn't notice any references to Egypt this time (maybe I simply missed it), but there was archaeology, at least.
-- Upon reading Caroline's (amazingly convenient) diary-- er, "record of her last year on earth"-- Carla notes that "the domestic details were rather interesting. Caroline had had a normal, healthy feminine interest in fashion." Ah, 'scuse me just a minute here, but aren't you the same character who was being all judgmental just a while back about people who thought male ballet dancers were likely to be "effete"? ...And now you're talking about "normal, healthy feminine interest in fashion"? Am I'm getting that right? Uh-huh. So... if I, as a woman, have no special interest in fashion and would rather wear jeans every day than skirts and dresses, is that somehow... unhealthy? Abnormal? ...Well? Just trying to get things straight in my addlepated mind. We ignorant people need help, sometimes, you know. *smug smirk* (I don't like this character.)
-- How weird that Carla, after miraculously stumbling upon this old diary (in her own bed-chamber, of all places), doesn't bother reading or at least skimming through it in short order! No, she gives it a little look, then sets it aside for a couple of days! I'd be reading the whole thing immediately.
-- One time I did like Carla-- or rather, liked the author-- was when she's listing all the eligible attractive bachelors (and enumerating their individual charms) and suddenly breaks off. "It sounds like a soap opera, she thought irritably." Ha! Yes, it does. Thank you for acknowledging it.
-- Typos aren't that rare-- especially in the e-books I've been reading lately-- but I was surprised by a couple of errors in this book. First, there's one place where something Carla says is attributed to "Caroline"-- the ancestress who's been dead for a couple hundred years. Then there are two times that someone is said to have "poured" or be "pouring" over a book or set of records. Eek. That's a bad 'un, and to see it twice in the same book...
-- "The wind tugged at her skirt and tangled her lashes." Wow. She must have eyelashes to die for, if they're long enough to get tangled by the wind!
-- Alan (so that's how he spelled it) tells Carla that his sister, Elizabeth, has had an abortion at some point in the past few years. Carla is surprised by his manner after he brings it up. "Alan had not struck her as a prude, but perhaps a man felt different about his sister..." Alan then describes the supposed father of the child as his sister's "seducer" and "betrayer"-- and Carla is "taken aback" by the terminology. "He sounded like an Old Testament Fundamentalist, or a Victorian father." ...A bit later, she finds that she can't "quite empathize with Elizabeth's [mental] illness, not if it was really caused by what modern society regarded as a minor misdemeanor." ...Well, really, Carla, who are you to determine what should and should not be sufficient cause for a mental breakdown? Even if "modern society" is fine with abortion, there's nothing saying that feelings of guilt subsequent to having her own baby killed in utero couldn't possibly be enough to cause a woman's mental instability. Just because you're "down wit dat" doesn't mean it's a perfectly natural process with no negative results.
-- I know that all of these anti-Carla comments must make one wonder why I even kept reading the book, if it was so irritating, but I'm just having my
-- Carla can't find a pair of gloves that fit, so she prunes the roses barehanded. That alone is... well, kind of stupid. Work gloves need not fit like... gloves... in order to be worn. (I speak from experience.) But then it gets weird. She comes into the house with thorns still in her hands?! "Michael insisted on operating. She was squirming by the time he had extracted the last thorn and painted the hole with iodine." What kind of roses and thorns are these? My roses (and briars) all have thorns that are plenty large enough to see and remove right away. Who leaves thorns in their skin to remove later?! You feel a thorn lodged in your skin? Unless you're being chased by a wild animal, a serial killer, or a group of zombies, you should then stop what you're doing and remove it-- not leave it in to fester and cause unnecessary pain. Duh! (Gosh, this Carla character is an absolute idiot. But she's a remarkable idiot.)
-- Simon apparently has (or had) a very dark side that he's kept hidden from everyone except Michael-- whom he used to beat up every day, when they were kids. ...I guess it's possible. We know there are criminals who manage to lead double lives for years, if not decades. But if he wasn't able to hide it from Michael, when he was a kid, it seems strange that no-one else in town had a clue that he wasn't such a nice guy. And why didn't Michael tell anyone about it-- either as a child or as an adult? It's a little too convenient.
-- Carla protests, when all is explained, "It's the most complicated thing I ever heard of." The reply? "He had a complicated mind." Um, well... okay. I guess that takes care of that.
-- The story seems to end very quickly. It's definitely a weaker ending than beginning.