by Barbara Michaels
From the moment she arrived on King's Island, Joanne McMullen knew that her sister's grief over losing her child had driven her dangerously close to madness. But when Joanne heard the same child's voice that her sister had heard wailing in the woods, she knew something terrible was happening!
This is typical Barbara Michaels "cozy gothic" fare. There's a beautiful old mansion, some mildly spooky occurrences (with a mystery to unravel), and a side-story romance (which in most cases is very sparsely sketched). If you like her other gothic novels, you'll probably like this, too. It seems about on par with the several others I've already read.
I found it rather blandly enjoyable, but there were also some of the same irritations I almost always find in this author's works. The overtly old-school feminist angle gets old, for instance. (More on the annoyances below, in the spoiler section.)
So... It was okay. Neither bad nor great. I'll probably keep reading these books, every so often, because some of them are better than others (and maybe my mood and other factors come into play, too). If you want something to (more or less) pleasantly pass a little time without requiring much concentration or emotional investment, this will do.
Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--At least in this book there wasn't a heavy reliance on the word "chauvinist", but there were still things like this: "I just stood there and thought of that poor woman; only a girl, really, when she got involved with Hezekiah. Yet she wasn't so much his victim as she was a victim of the times, times which condemned women to a single role in society and damned them for eternity if they accepted the role without the magic scrap of paper which legitimized it. If there could be such a thing as a psychotic ghost, she was it-- caught in the vicious trap of the guilt her culture had brainwashed her into accepting." Not to say that there's no truth to any of that, but it's so heavy-handed! I came here looking for an escape, not a lecture on the bad old days...
--These books so often have such an odd attitude toward religion. It annoys me when the same character who has witnessed and acknowledged and accepted paranormal phenomena still acts like Christianity (or any religion, probably) is suspect and not to be taken too seriously. Um, so ghosts/spiritual manifestations are completely real, but the Bible just isn't plausible? ...Okay, then. Silly of me to have expected a little more open-mindedness from characters who've just gone through a series of events that challenged so many other preconceived notions.
--One of the two openly religious characters says things like this: "I'm not saying our kind of faith was a purely good thing. It can be awfully narrow and cruel." *eyeroll* No obnoxious stereotyping here, no siree.
--"I don't know what you think about the soul, or survival after death, or anything like that; the important thing is what Mary believes. I know how she feels because I have the same weaknesses."
...Weaknesses? Is she saying it's a weakness to believe in any sort of afterlife? Why is that "weak", exactly? Seems like an odd choice of words, no matter what you believe.
--"Somebody started praying. It was me. The prayer was a hodgepodge, bits of the 'Our Father' and 'Hail Mary' and miscellaneous lines from the ritual. I'm not claiming that the words themselves had any particular value. Maybe the multiplication table would have been just as effective-- anything mechanical, learned by rote, to focus the mind and wrench it back to independent thought."
Keep in mind, this takes place during the dramatic climax of the novel, when the characters come face to face with not one, but two ghostly presences-- and yet our heroine still has to carefully question the possibility that her instinctive reaching back to her religious upbringing was really any more helpful than reciting something from math class would have been. ...Well, alright, if you say so, lady-- but why the insistence on questioning or undercutting religious belief every time it comes up in the story?
--"'Take the Book with you,' Mrs. Willard said calmly. I had an insane desire to laugh. 'What good is that going to do?' I demanded." ...I'm not saying that I think a Bible is likely to protect anyone from ghosts (which I don't believe in, anyway, but that's another issue)-- but that was kind of rude, wasn't it? And honestly, how in the world would Jo know if the Bible is any protection or not?! Ugh! Just shut up, Jo.
--This was strange: "She was thoroughly doped; her face had an almost oriental tranquility, but she was thinking rationally." ...What? I assume we're meant to think of statues of Buddha, but "an almost oriental tranquility" still seems a weird turn of phrase.
--"There have been no manifestations since that night. Opinions differ as to what did the trick. ... I am convinced that my courage and sensitivity in communicating with "Miss Smith" gave her the strength to [blah blah blah]." Ha ha ha!! Such modesty!
--The closest they come to a consensus is Jed's belief that in order to dismiss the wandering spirits, "all we had to do was find out the truth". Very convenient. But why did these spirits care so much that a mere handful of people finally learn the truth? Because, honestly, people already did know the truth, back when the original events took place. Maybe not many people knew back then, but it's not like the story has been spread far and wide at the end of the book, either. Talk about a facile explanation!
--Maybe the most obvious sign that this is an older book is all the cigarettes.