21. Houses of Stone: Barbara Michaels

Barbara Michaels Houses of StoneIt is not often that I come to a book with absolutely no prior knowledge of its content or have never heard of the author. I even had trouble getting hold of it, there being no copies in any Swansea library so I had to buy it from AbeBooks. So it was with some trepidation that I embarked on Houses of Stone. I did so because it was a friend’s choice for February’s book group.

I suppose you could call it an adventure story, though a rather tame one. Think Indiana Jones but with less peril and with slightly older, female academics searching for the identity of a previously unknown American woman author in a small town in the South. Karen Holloway, much to the chagrin of two rival academics, gets hold of an unpublished manuscript written under the pseudonym Ismene. It is an early example of a classic Gothic novel (revealed to us in fragments throughout the book), with an orphaned heroine, potential ghosts and two suitors. Karen, with the help of her unconventional friend Peggy, attempts to track down who Ismene was running into problems from the locals and what seem to be attempts on her life. She too has two potential suitors to choose between as there are echoes of the novel in ‘real life’.

Its a straightforward easy read. I’m not an expert on Gothic literature so some of the inferences, although they are spelt out pretty obviously throughout, were maybe a bit lost on me. I found the characters a little flat and predictable, as were some of the plot ‘twists’. I think if you want adventure with women leads Kate Mosse’s books are much better. To me Houses of Stone reads like a slightly better written Dan Brown novel, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because I did quite enjoy The Da Vinci Code in an escapist, clearly-not-literature-at-all sort of way. And I suppose I felt similarly about this.

2.5 stars

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