There are some authors who have a special something that’s hard to put your finger on, an indefinable quality that’s impossible to deny yet just as difficult to describe. Barbara Michaels is one of those authors, not necessarily a horror writer, but one who possesses instead a more gothic style that’s rich with mystery, legend, and history. I have read most of her books, and am ashamed to say I haven’t reviewed one until now. Turning over a new leaf, I figured I’d start with my more recent re-read there’s something about Michaels that is easily re-readable Someone in the House.
As is characteristic with almost all her books under this pen name (she writes under three), Someone in the House centers around an old house. Anne, an average looking, young school teacher, accompanies her friend Kevin to his parent’s new house, a place bought from lottery winnings Grayhaven Manor. The elderly couple is on vacation for the summer and need someone to watch the place for them. The two figure this peace and quiet would be the perfect opportunity to work on their co-authored textbook together, but of course work never really gets done. Once they arrive at the beautiful, English Gothic mansion, strange things ensue quickly. Aunt Bea comes to stay with the young couple after a recent divorce, and with her new boyfriend Roger, all four of them veer off into different paths surrounding the mysteries of the old house.
First it’s noticed that Kevin seems to have a ‘night time guest’, someone he’s sleeping with but that’s never seen. They can tell by, err, noises coming from the room, unmistakable indications of what act they’re involved in. Strange thing is, he never has a memory of it the next morning. The other three, unbeknownst to Kevin, begin to investigate the history of the house, and what they find is as chilling as it is strange. The plot plays the revolving door game throughout, keeping things interesting, all the while drenched in Michaels’ trademark lethargic, relaxed pacing. All her books are on the slower side, but this makes them more interesting, and she somehow manages to slip into your head almost instantly. It’s impossible to put the book down, yet it’s definitely not action thrillers most people are used to.
On the gore and horror side, there’s not much here. Nothing gruesome, and not much overtly frightening. Instead, it’s bleak and gothic, mysterious and captivating. Don’t go into this one expecting too many frightening moments, because there aren’t any and the book doesn’t apologize for it. The characters are richly written, with their own quirks, personalities, and sense of humors. I cared what happened to each when they experienced trials, my heart ached with them, and when they succeeded and met victory, I cheered them on. Anne especially was great, as she wasn’t the typical main character/heroine you’d expect. She’s as human as all of us, with weaknesses that fit into the plot nicely, but then surprised me by opposing them.
You can never tell what would happen next a sense of suspense does exist. The pacing, while slow, is even and never bores. The atmosphere is sunny and at the same time bleak and psychologically strong. In the end, the reader can be left with a bitter feeling from the events, something that made me feel a little empty (this was the intended purpose, though), and it made me think long after the last page was closed, what every good book should seek to accomplish. On the downside, it could have been a little more interesting in parts, especially compared to her other works, and Kevin wasn’t focused on much until the middle toward the end, something I feel harmed the book slightly.
Barbara Michaels really is an amazing writer. This isn’t her best book out there, but it’s a great one and a good place to start for an introduction to the author. If you enjoy mysteries with your horror, haunted houses, or gothic style writing, this one’s right up your alley, because no one does it as good as Michaels.