Wednesday, August 13

Barbara Michaels: Houses of Stone

A young English Professor finds a battered manuscript in a second hand bookshop which could prove to be the making of her academic career. She recruits the assistance of an historian friend and together they try to trace the provenance of the piece.
Word leaks out about the discovery and soon two academic rivals are dogging her every step attempting to gain possession of the manuscript and anything related to it.
As the professor slowly transcribes the manuscript in a search for clues as to who the author may have been she begins to question whether she is reading a Gothic horror story as she originally thought or if the manuscript might, in fact, be a memoir.
As her research continues the professor becomes the victim of a series of accidents. As events in her life start to mirror those of the manuscript she begins to wonder if the near misses are a result of the unknown author’s attempts to save her in order to get her story told.
I was a little hesitant going into this due to my disappointment in the author’s previous work (Barbara Michaels is Elizabeth Peters). Perhaps it was due to my lowered expectations but I found myself pleasantly surprised by this mystery/romance/modern gothic tale.
The mystery aspect was very well written and while the story wasn’t tied up in a neat package the protagonists discovered enough of what they were seeking to make the end satisfying.
The characters were not the typical romance heroines-one being considerably older and both being described as larger ladies-but both have believable love interests introduced as part of the plot.
The author makes a definite salute to the gothic novels of old in both the structure of the main story and in the extracts of the manuscript being researched.
And there is the odd touch of humour as well (the historian made her fortune writing sex manuals under a pseudonym).
And maybe just a bit too much hard line feminist philosophy for a novel that was otherwise kept quite superficial. Though having said that I did enjoy the quotes at the beginning of each chapter.
A fluid read with an easy to follow plot, this goes someway to redeeming the author in my eyes. I would be interested in reading another of her works to see if my first experience with her was an aberration or if this is.-Lynn

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