by Barbara Michaels
Lucy Cartwright placed her life and future into the hands of the dashing Baron Clare, despite the rumors of his dark, unsavory past. Trusting his kind words and gentle manner, she agreed to be his wife and followed the enigmatic lord to Greygallows, his sprawling country estate. But mystery, deception, betrayal, and danger surround the magnificent manor—a ghostly secret charges the atmosphere and terror reigns in its shadowed hallways. Lucy entered Greygallows willingly . . . and now she may never leave.
Though this novel was a little slow to start, I found myself enjoying it, once it picked up speed. For connoisseurs of the genre, Greygallows is a decently engaging read-- an excellent "light" Gothic mystery-thriller. That's not to say that it's flawless-- nor a favorite-- but it serves its purpose (providing mental escape from the real, modern world) to satisfaction.
Specifics (including some SPOILERS):
-- I know that some readers love this sort of thing, but I don't particularly enjoy a focus on "social justice" in my casual, escapist reading. It's especially annoying in historical novels, where authors give their precious heroes and heroines all the modern, enlightened attitudes, while making sure that the villain falls squarely on the "wrong side of history". I can't stomach much of that sort of thing. In some cases, it spoils the flavor of the whole book. Fortunately, there was enough "other stuff" to balance the depressing history lesson aspects of this novel.
-- I think this is the second historical work of Barbara Michaels' that I've read. The first was Black Rainbow. By comparison to that, this is a veritable masterpiece! Seriously, though, if you have a choice between the two of them, take Greygallows.
-- There were certain things that made me laugh-- like Lucy's pathetic little "romance" with her faux Italian music teacher-- and I wasn't sure if I was supposed to find them funny or not... But a laugh's a laugh, whether you're laughing with the author or at her. (g)
-- I was surprised that Lucy couldn't even understand the speech of some of the less educated villagers. Would that really have been an issue? ...I guess there are some people whose English I'd have a hard time understanding, unless they spoke slowly-- but it still feels like such a difficult accent/dialect within one's own country would be a rarity. Of course, this is in many ways a different world; much of the old regional uniqueness of language and speech has been flattened out and homogenized by easy travel and mass audio-visual media.
-- The reference to Brontë (for surely it was she to whom Miss Fleetwood referred) was mildly amusing-- especially her condemnation of "that unwomanly creature", considering what we later learn about Miss Fleetwood herself.
-- As is so often the case when reading this author's books, I find myself noticing a certain "reverse double standard" when it comes to... I guess you'd call it gender stereotypes. On the one hand, she's very sensitive to women being undervalued or restricted by men and society in general. (Overly sensitive, some might say. It's one thing to recognize it when it's there, another to be so obsessed that you see it everywhere-- even in places where it may not really exist-- and feel compelled to comment on it each and every time.)
But on the other hand, she makes (usually humorless) jokes at the expense of male characters, if they're not "traditionally masculine" enough-- or sometimes even if they're too "macho"/male. In this novel, there are at least a few references (toward the end) to a (villainous, of course) character's "womanish shrieks" and "screaming" in the face of danger. In the same scene, the heroine's noises of distress are described as "cries", while the hero gives way to more manly "shouts".
...Am I nit-picking? Maybe, but this irks me. It's not that I like the idea of a man giving a "womanish shriek"-- far from it; I prefer men to sound and act like men, to be completely honest, traditionalist that I am-- but I find this type of thing strange from an author who likes her female leads to be strong-minded and defiant of gender stereotypes.
-- I had strong suspicions of the plot-twist villain-- (who was just too angelic to be true and was "given away" by Mrs. Andrews' tales of how he could always talk his way out of any trouble as a child)-- but other aspects of the novel kept me guessing and interested until the end.
-- For a while, I wondered if it would turn out that Clare had a romantic attachment not to Miss Fleetwood but to her brother. I couldn't really believe this author would choose that angle in a 1970s Gothic romance/mystery-- and it would possibly make Clare's two most "physical" encounters with Lucy a little difficult to explain-- but I really, really wondered. That would've been a major twist, at least.
-- Speaking of romance, this was lacking in that department. Lucy has a flirtation-- is wooed-- is wed-- and then falls in love with her soulmate. And somehow she manages to do so with a minimum of vicarious thrills for the reader. Oh well! (It's been so long since I read a truly romantic novel. Most of these are so skimpy in flutters and thrills!)