by Barbara Michaels
Ada and Harriet don't know what to expect when they meet their new guardian, Mr. Wolfson. Here is a strangely magnetic, darkly amusing man confined to a wheelchair and flanked by a pair of fierce, dangerous dogs—an enigmatic benefactor, at once welcoming and intimidating. Even more unsettling to the girls are Wolfson's two sons, Julian and Francis. One of them is warm and good-natured, the other is pure malevolence. But young Harriet is about to discover a frightening truth: that evil runs rampant throughout their mysterious new home, Abbey Manor, and the surrounding moors—especially when the moon comes out . . .
Nineteenth-century England! The mystery of the moors! Local legends of werewolves! Spoooooky!
Well, not really that spooky at all, actually. The story's formulaic and therefore predictable. The title and blurb (and to a lesser degree, even the cover) are somewhat misleading; if you're expecting a supernatural element, you'll be disappointed. But somehow I still found it enjoyable. This isn't one of the author's strongest books, in my humble opinion, but it's not bad, if you like the genre. (And I do, it seems...) Whatever its weaknesses, the story kept me interested, and it was always easy to slip into the book and forget the real world for a while. I love authors who can consistently provide that kind of escape!
Specifics (with SPOILERS):
-- The fairly frequent "dog/canine/wolf" references made me laugh. For instance, early in the book, Julian's smile "is so melancholy in its charm that it makes [Harriet] want to pat his head". Like a dog, you mean?
-- Harriet's name. I can't see/read/hear the name "Harriet" without thinking of Harriet Olesen-- specifically as portrayed in the TV version of Little House on the Prairie. (g) ...I probably need not add that it is not one of my favorite names. Ranks right up there with "Hortense" and "Agatha"... and "Ursula". Not that there's anything wrong with any of those names (I feel obligated to add). They're just not my personal favorites.
-- "'I know you well enough, I believe, to sense that the silly nothings of a woman's day do not amuse you. You prefer activities that have some meaning, some use.' 'I could embroider you a pair of slippers,' I said daringly, 'with pansies or a sprig of mignonette.' He threw back his head and laughed resoundingly. 'That's precisely what I mean. Embroidery, sketching, music-- activities for empty-headed dolls of young ladies.'" Why so harsh? What's wrong with embroidery, sketching, and music as pass-times?
-- I was beginning to think this would be the single Barbara Michaels novel without some slight reference to Egypt, mummies, etc.-- but no! "I must be more desperate for society than I realized, so to anticipate seeing a band of dusty, disreputable Egyptians!" ...and then the old gypsy woman says that her crystal ball was given to her "by the pharaohs long ago". Incidentally, I've never heard of gypsies being from Egypt... Ok, gave it a quick look-up. Interesting history... It seems that at some point(s) in the past, Europeans thought gypsies were from Egypt-- and that lead to the word "gypsy", in fact-- but these days, it is believed (maybe even proven) that they originated in India.
-- It's always funny (in an exasperating way) when these supposedly intelligent, "strong-minded" heroines fail to see what is right before their eyes. When Wolfson tells Harriet some of his evil plans, why would she still assume that the wicked son who'll possibly force himself on Ada would be Francis instead of Julian? It makes no sense! If Francis was the one working with Wolfson, why would there have been such animosity between the two? To be fair, there was animosity among all three of the men, but it did seem to focus on Francis.
-- I was honestly shocked that David didn't turn out to be the young gentleman that Wolfson had stolen from. Maybe he was too old for it to be him... and I'm not sure how it would have been explained, but I felt confident that he'd turn out to be "eligible". Though the whole Ada/David aspect of the story bored me, I was happily surprised that Ada was "allowed" to marry a common stable boy and that they were going to be farmers.
-- I did try not to nitpick too much, but the diary format, while it worked pretty well for most of the book, felt a little unnatural once the situation became urgent and things were happening quickly. Writing about what she sees at one window... then hurrying to the other... Why would she waste precious time pausing to write about all that?
-- Though I enjoyed it as a whole, there were a few embarrassing moments in this book. Some of the things Wolfson says to Harriet (about her charms-- especially compared to Ada's)... ~cringe~ Also, I think this was the closest thing to an actual bodice-ripper that I've ever read. (g) I mean, the bodice of Harriet's dress is literally ripped by the villain. It made me laugh a little, I'm afraid. Nothing "serious" happens, of course, and there's not much more than a few kisses and innuendos-- but a bodice was actually ripped! I was stunned.
-- What with the wheelchair-bound "master of the house" (and villain) and the strained father-son relationship, this book reminded me a little of Nine Coaches Waiting. That was the better book of the two, I think.