Rating: 3 out of 5.
Barbara Michaels 1973

In preparation for a cross-country train trip, I loaded my Kindle with library books – mostly by Barbara Michaels, as it turns out. This is the first of several reviews.

Ellen March, who has spent the last several years raising both her own child and her nephews (together with her brother-in-law), buys an old house that used to belong to a witch, and a modern-day witch hunt ensues. The plot elements are all here: spooky woods, isolated house, hints of witchcraft and ghosts of the human and cat variety, along with the author’s trademark witty dialogue.

I loved Barbara Michaels’ books when I was in my 20’s; the light gothic feel with occasional paranormal elements, along with Michaels’ gift for describing physical surroundings, was right up my alley. I thought I had read all of her books, but this was new to me, and definitely a treat.

Why the 3-star rating? Well – first, three stars is, for me, respectable. I did enjoy the read. However, as others have pointed out, the ending is predictable.

There’s one other sticking point that’s popped up very consistently in Michaels’ other books that I read or listened to while barrelling across the desert. The author consistently depicted annoying characters as physically unattractive, with greasy hair, acne, high body weight, a receding chin, etc.

This isn’t to say that the unattractive person is always – or ever – the murderer, but they’ve been cowardly, unkind, and/or unintelligent without exception so far. This strikes me as lazy and superficial.

That said, if you are a fan of 20th-century gothic mysteries written for women, you will likely enjoy this read. Barbara Michaels could really set a mood.