Dust to Dust, by Lillian Stewart Carl

>> Monday, August 09, 2004

Dust to Dust (read the first chapter) is the sequel to Lillian Stewart Carl's Ashes to Ashes, which I read not long ago.

Michael Campbell and Rebecca Reid meet again at the excavation of a medieval priory in Scotland. But before they have time to smooth out the wrinkles in their relationship, Michael's former girlfriend is murdered and he's the prime suspect. Hints of buried treasure, ghostly manifestations, a historical mystery, co-workers with too many secrets (not to mention annoying habits), and a very up-to-date murderer almost succeed in breaking the young couple apart.
This book is actually quite hard to grade. On one hand, there was nothing there I hated, and in fact, lots of elements were wonderful. On the other, it was awfully hard work to read. I've no idea why, the author's writing style wasn't particularly dense, or anything, but I just didn't seem to advance. The first 100 or so pages were especially hard. I think it must have taken me 3 weeks to read that far, because I kept getting bored and leaving it aside. Once I forced myself to actually sit down and go farther than those 100 pages, the going got quicker, but still not my usual speed. It took me quite a few days to finish.

So, all that, added to certain flaws the book had, add up to a C-.

It was quite a shame that this book wasn't better, because so many things had an excellent base, like the romance between Rebecca and Michael. The main conflict between them was one I found fascinating. Rebecca comes from a family in which men are men and women are women, which turns out to mean that women are doormats who must defer to the men. Rebecca doesn't want that kind of relationship, and she fears that if she marries Michael, she'll end up in such a one.

Problem is, it's a bit of a mess, the way this is developed. I had trouble understanding why the characters (especially Rebecca, from whose POV the story was narrated) reacted as they did. Michael would say something I thought was innocuous and Rebecca would turn it into something like "he feels threatened because I have a Ph.D., too, now". My reaction was "huh?". This kept happening.

And it especially was a shame that the development was so unsatisfactory, because the resolution was so nice, with both Rebecca and Michael getting jobs in Scotland and getting married and calling themselves Dr. and Dr. Campbell-Reid. Any romance in which the heroine doesn't automatically take her husband's name when they married gets extra points from me.

The supernatural element was pretty much a mess, too. Like the romance, it could have been very good, because it had quite an interesting story, beneath it all, but the treatment it was given was a bit baffling. I never understood what was going on, and everyone took all the haunting much too for granted. I had the same problem in Ashes to Ashes: the characters jumped to conclusions about what the ghost was and what it wanted, never even exploring other possibilities. Sure, ghosts in themselves are not very scientific, but it wouldn't have killed these people to approach the supernatural a bit more scientifically!

Also on the negative side, secondary characters who often felt pretty cartoon-ish, especially Jeremy, the man in charge of the excavation, and Sheila, Michael's ex girlfriend.

The setting was actually nicely done. It felt very real, but here I had another problem, and it was the language. Now, I've no idea how Scottish people really speak, but the way Michael did, especially, felt over the top. It almost felt as if the author had a dictionary of Scottish slang (or of Scots, it's never really clear) nearby and randomly translated words with it. It just didn't feel natural.

Unlike what I would usually feel after reading a C- book, I'm still up to reading something else by this author. Or maybe it's just that I already have the next book in the series ;-)


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