Wait for What Will Come by Barbara Michaels: B-

Book description:
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.

I’m not sure what it is, but sometimes I just crave something by Barbara Michaels.

Like most of the books by Michaels that I have read, Wait for What Will Come features a plucky heroine and an old house. Carla Tregellas, a math teacher from Boston, is surprised to inherit a somewhat decrepit mansion from a distant relation in Cornwall. Her initial impulse is to sell the place, but once she sees a photo, she’s smitten and decides to at least pay a visit before putting it up on the market.

Upon practically the moment of her arrival, Carla is acquainted with the family legend, which says that every 200 years a young woman of the family is claimed by some sort of sea demon. The last occurrence was exactly 200 years ago and, wouldn’t you know it, Carla looks a great deal like her ancestor who went missing at that time. Carla’s an unimaginative and practical sort and discounts the myth, but strange things start happening—seaweed in her room, a distorted portrait—that soon have her on edge.

A bevy of attractive men happens to be handy, and most of them have the hots for Carla (the exception being the vicar, who probably has the vicarly equivalent). The fellows help her look into the origins of the legend and execute timely rescues, but most seem to want to get her out of town in a hurry. After the characters spend most of the book sightseeing, socializing, and/or engaging in lackadaisical research, all of a sudden they’re confessing to dastardly deeds and revealing unconvincing romantic inclinations, and it all seems to come out of nowhere.

In retrospect, the plot’s pretty thin, but I liked the setting and the characters enough that I enjoyed their interactions, until Michaels realized she’d better wrap things up and everything went a little crazy. Still, the final resolution is satisfying enough and I’m happy that a cat got to be a hero, in its way. This isn’t the best by Michaels that I’ve read, but it was sufficiently diverting.

Vanish with the Rose by Barbara Michaels: B+

From the back cover:
Diana Reed has much to hide when she arrives at the Nicholsons’ 18th-century estate. Masquerading as a landscape architect specializing in “ancient” roses, she’s hired by the eccentric couple to restore the gardens, but her real interest lies in the manor’s more recent history.

Sinister scenarios ensue at the Nicholsons’ estate. Ghostly music echoes in the halls. The smell of roses haunts empty rooms. Diana must hurry if she is to solve her highly personal mystery before she becomes another of the garden’s well-kept secrets.

While I definitely enjoyed reading Vanish with the Rose, it was quite a slow read for me. At first, all we know about Diana Reed is that she’s pretending to be an expert on roses in order to gain access to property newly acquired by a pair of lottery winners, Emily and Charles Nicholson. Her true agenda is not mentioned for some time, but it eventually comes out after she befriends the Nicholsons’ housekeeper, Mary Jo, and all of a sudden things change quite a bit.

As it turns out, Diana is there investigating the disappearance of her brother, Brad, who had worked for the previous owner, an old woman notorious for her ornery disposition. The handling of this revelation is interesting in that several members of the cast, whom we’ve already met without suspicion, are suddenly revealed as potential suspects. Meanwhile, ghostly music disturbs Diana’s sleep and she experiences several visions from what seems to be someone else’s perspective. After the Nicholsons head off on vacation while landscaping work proceeds, Diana, Mary Jo, Walt (the head landscaper), and Andy (Emily’s son) remain at the centuries-old home where they look for leads on Brad and try to avoid Mary Jo’s abusive ex-husband, Larry.

So, essentially what we have here is a supernatural cozy mystery, with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure. As I said, I enjoyed reading the book, but the narrative would meander something awful. Things do come together tidily enough at the end, with some fun misleads and twists along the way, but I can’t help but feel some liberal editing would’ve produced a tighter story.

I have no complaints at all about the characters, though, since I liked them all quite a lot. Diana has a lot of baggage from her parents, and takes some time coming out of her shell, but her new friendships help her to achieve this. Walt is gruff and sensible, Mary Jo is “determinedly rational,” and Andy is one of those fellows who appears glib and irresponsible, but is actually dependable in a pinch. The interplay between them is amusing, and while Diana has chemistry with both the guys, I’m quite happy about how things ultimately turn out in this regard.

Even though the story drags in places, Vanish with the Rose is a solidly entertaining tale, and definitely one worth reading.

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters: B

From the back cover:
Amelia Peabody, that indomitable product of the Victorian age, embarks on her debut Egyptian adventure armed with unshakable self-confidence, a journal to record her thoughts, and, of course, a sturdy umbrella. On her way to Cairo, Amelia rescues young Evelyn Barton-Forbes, who has been abandoned by her scoundrel lover. Together the two women sail up the Nile to an archeological site run by the Emerson brothers—the irascible but dashing Radcliffe and the amiable Walter.

Soon their little party is increased by one—one mummy, that is, and a singularly lively example of the species. Strange visitations, suspicious accidents, and a botched kidnapping convince Amelia that there is a plot afoot to harm Evelyn. Now Amelia finds herself up against an unknown enemy—and perilous forces that threaten to make her first Egyptian trip also her last…

Amelia Peabody is a proud and independent 32-year-old spinster who has decided to put her inheritance to use by doing some traveling. After coming to the rescue of Evelyn, a young woman who’d collapsed in the streets of Rome, the two of them travel to Egypt where they meet the Emerson brothers, do some excavating, and are harassed by a supernatural menace.

While I liked most of the characters as well as Amelia’s blindness to her growing feelings for the elder Emerson brother and Evelyn’s amused awareness of same (You’ve heard of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Well, this is Pride and Prejudice and Mummies), I found the mystery plot of the novel to be incredibly obvious. In fact, very early on I predicted to a friend (who’d already read it) not only the identity of the culprit but some of his/her specific nefarious deeds. Later on, Amelia herself confirmed my impression by saying, “The plot now seemed so obvious I felt a child ought to have detected it.”

Still, the flaws in the plot have not dissuaded me from continuing with the rest of the Amelia Peabody books. The first volumes of mystery series are seldom the strongest, so I assume some improvement is in order. And besides that, I simply want to read more about Amelia and Emerson and their love, which seems to be equal parts withering scorn and impassioned smooching.

Be Buried in the Rain by Barbara Michaels: B-

From the back cover:
There are secrets buried at Maidenwood—dark secrets that span generations. Medical student Julie Newcomb, who once spent four miserable childhood years at this rundown Virginia plantation, would rather not resurrect ancient memories, or face her own fears.

Yet Julie cannot refuse her relatives’ plea that she spend her summer caring for the bedridden—but still malevolent—family matriarch. Reluctantly, Julie agrees, praying that life at Maidenwood will not be as bleak as before. From the first, though, Julie finds Maidenwood a haunted place, not merely echoing with grim reminders, but filled with dark secrets that will become part of her life even today.

Med student Julie isn’t thrilled when she’s asked to spend her summer caring for the cruel grandmother with whom she spent four dismal years—years that are strangely blank in her memory. She complies to spare her mother the thankless task, and ends up in the middle of a local mystery. Shortly before her arrival, the skeletons of a woman and infant were found on a road cutting through the family property, known as Maidenwood, and Julie and her family are besieged by reporters, archaeologists, and psychic anthropologists who are interested in the story.

Although I enjoyed reading Be Buried in the Rain, there are several things about the way that it’s written that puzzle me. For example, nothing really happens for about 80% of the book. It registers about a two on the suspense-o-meter. Oh, little things occur that do turn out to be important later, but mostly it’s Julie coping with her hateful grandmother, complaining (rather bitchily) about a co-helper’s cooking, caring for a stray dog, and bantering with and/or eventually rekindling a romance with her ex-boyfriend, an archaeologist who’s been given permission to dig at Maidenwood in an attempt to locate the burial site from which the skeletons were presumably exhumed. Things finally start to move near the end after Julie begins work on reconstructing the face of the adult skeleton based on the skull—apparently someone doesn’t want an identification to be made.

The ending leaves rather a lot to be desired, though. One question is not answered particularly well—how the kooky psychic manages to unearth a genuine archaeological find—and a couple of others not at all, including how the skeletons wound up in the middle of the road. Although the book is grounded in reality throughout, at the very end, Michaels throws in a random dollop of supernatural hijinks, with Julie believing she’s been in communion with the dead woman’s spirit and putting forth the theory that each year, the skeletons pop up again and have to be reburied by the party responsible for their deaths. I’d more easily buy this explanation if there were any notion of supernatural doings anywhere other than the final ten pages or so of the novel.

Still, though I have my complaints I still found Be Buried in the Rain to be reasonably entertaining and expect that I shall read more by Barbara Michaels in future.

Someone in the House by Barbara Michaels: B+

Book description:
An English Gothic mansion, transported stone by stone to the isolated Pennsylvania hills, Grayhaven Manor calls to Anne and Kevin. Here is the ideal summer retreat—a perfect location from which to write the book they have long planned together. But there are distractions in the halls and shadows of the looming architectural wonder luring them from their work—for they are not alone. Something lives on here from Grayhaven’s shocking past—something beautiful, powerful, and eerily seductive—unlocking the doors of human desire, of fear… and unearthly passion.

Someone in the House was a recommendation of sorts from Margaret, not coming from her personally but from an archival index. It’s the first book I’ve read by Barbara Michaels, who also writes under the name Elizabeth Peters.

When Anne arrives at Grayhaven, her intention is to work on a literature textbook with her coworker, Kevin, but a feeling of complacency seems to settle in, and little work actually gets accomplished. This air of contentment lingers even after Kevin’s Aunt Bea notices strange noises coming from her nephew’s room which lead into an investigation into possible spiritual phenomena within the house. The ensuing investigation is pretty interesting, at least at first, with plenty of nifty cameras, crypts, and brittle old documents. It does drag a little in spots, though, and by the end, when Anne keeps talking about how she’s figured it out but yet doesn’t divulge the answer, the result is irritating rather than riveting.

Anne herself is an interesting character. Fiercely feminist, she bristles at the notion that she might wish to cancel her own career-minded summer plans in order to accompany her current boyfriend on a trip overseas. Her ardent independence and lack of concern for his opinion of her actions are refreshing. After occasionally enduring weak-willed female protagonists that make me want to scream, Anne is a welcome change. I also like that she’s a feminist without being portrayed as the extreme, man-hating variety.

The rest of the characters, though, are not very interesting. Anne’s coworker and eventual love interest, Kevin, hasn’t got much of a personality and I never bought the romance that develops between them, though the reasons for that are made evident by the end of the book. The conclusion itself could’ve been more climactic, but it does provide a new light with which to see the events of the book, so I suppose that technically qualifies as a twist.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. It was fun and not too long and I’d probably read more by Michaels in this vein.