Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Houses of Stone by Barbara Michaels

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

When young professor of English Karen Holloway happens on a privately printed volume of verse dating from the early nineteenth century, it's all in a day's work.  But when a battered manuscript bearing the same mysterious attribution, "Ismene", turn ups, Karen realizes that it is an important discovery that could be the makin of her academic career.

Karen immerses herelf in a headlong search for the true identity of the unknown author, tracking the provenance of the manuscript to Virginia's historic Tidewater region.  She is not alone in her quest; academic rivals shadow her steps, trying to gain possession of the valuable manuscript, and the locals are more inquisitive about her activities that seems natural.

Fortunately, Karen has the help of her eccentric and able mentor, Peggy, whos historical expertise proves to be invaluable.  And, as she painstakingly deciphers the crabbed, charred pages, she begins to wonder whether she has the assistance of Ismene herself.  Is the tale of Gothic horror that Ismene tells not a novel but a memoir, the very possession of which may jeopardize Karen's life?  Ismene's legacy calls out from the past, form an eerie world fraught with terrifying impressions of fire and ice that will not die until the painful truths that inhabit the houses of stone are revealed.

This was my first Barbara Michaels book and I'm so mad at myself for not reading her earlier.  This book hit all the right notes as far as atmosphere and character development.  While I was reading the book I found myself getting lost in the serach for Ismene's real identity.  I found myself jumping at the wailing heard in the woods, my heart started to beat a little faster when Karen's aparment caught fire and she had to jump for it.  I anticipated every clue that Karen dug up about Ismene and her life and I cheered when she finally solved the identity of the author.

Barbara Michaels is a wonderfuly descriptive writer who manages to capture every nuance of a rundown manor house, the cut throat world of academia, and the all too difficult paths that two people can take to find eachother.  The only quibble I have is that I found the ending rather rushed as if the author ran out of space to fully flesh it out.  Overall though I found this to be a wonderfuly written mystery and I'm now a Barbara Michaels fan for life.

This will qualify for the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge 2010 sponsored by Carolyn of Book Chick City.


ninefly said...

ohhh, an academic thriller(?)
I'm actually quite interested in reading about a female scholar as protagonist, and Peggy sounds awesome by the "eccentric" alone lol
thanks for reviewing this =)

Michelle Stockard Miller said...

I have never heard of Barbara Michaels. Is that even possible?! This sounds like a really great read. I'll be watching for her books at my book sales from now on...per your recommendation! Nice review =O)

Simcha said...

Great review. I'm finding myself actually being tempted to read this despite my lifelong avoidance my mystery books

Stephanie said...

A thriller set in the cut-throat world of academia? That definitely sounds intriguing. Thanks for the great review.

Staci said...

The world of academia can be ruthless and this book sounds like a great read!! I've never read this author either so I just may have to pick up one of her books!! Loved your thoughts on this!

Anonymous said...

Oooh - I love books ... about old books. Too bad the cover doesn't match the story (matches the title, though).

Dulcinea said...

'Barbara Michaels' is also 'Elizabeth Peters', but her real name is Barbara Mertz. I guess she writes gothic and supernatural novels as Michaels, and mysteries (including one of my favorite series, about Amelia Peabody) as Peters. What I didn't realize is that she is American; I had always assumed she was British.

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

Oohhh, this sounds like a wonderful read. I love that the book had such great suspense that you felt like you where there worrying and searching too. Great Review!

Heidenkind said...

I grew up reading Barbara Michaels. You're in luck because her back catalog is ginormous--it'll take you years to get through all her books, especially if you add in the books she writes as Elizabeth Peters.

My favorite MPM (Michaels/Peters/Mertz) books are Wait for What Will Come, Stitches in Time, Wings of the Falcon, The Sea King's Daughter, Into the Darkness, plus the Vicky Bliss mysteries and the Jacqueline Kirby mysteries.