Other Worlds, by Barbara Michaels

>> Friday, September 09, 2005

Barbara Michaels's Other Worlds was a HUGE disappointment when I read it right after it came out. It was her first Barbara Michaels book since The Dancing Floor, so I had been eagerly awaiting it, and when it arrived it just didn't read like a B. Michaels!

I've never known if it was really a bad book or if it was just an expectations problem, so I decided to give it a reread with an open mind, ignoring the fact that it pisses me off that the author is writing only Amelia Peabody books now, as much as I like those.

One foggy evening, the most famous crime specialists in the world meet in an exclusive club, their minds on mystery. On the agenda, two tantalizing, unsolved cases of ghostly terror.

New York Times bestselling author and unsurpassed mater of suspense Barbara Michaels delivers a fireside page-turner in the grand tradition with her latest book, Other Worlds.

The smoky room glows with a mix of cigars, brandy, and genius. Those present include Harry Houdini, king of illusion; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, father of the modern detective novel; Dr. Nandor Fodor, a psychoanalyst of international acclaim; and an elegant writer who can rival them all with her sleuthing talent.

These maters of mystery put their minds to a pair of gripping storiesof families beset by poltergeistly pranks and bewitched by inexplicable horrors. Gripping puzzles, yes, but the terror is all too vicious and all too real.

In the hallows of Tennessee, a family is threatened by a dire spirit whose predictions of despair and death come frighteningly true.

In a small Connecticut town, a newly married widow and her children move into her second husband's home to find their lives possessed by an unimaginable demon.

For the gathering at the club, a brilliant battle of wits is at hand. Were these villains phantoms from beyond or evildoers of flesh and blood? Each expert has a theory. Which of them is correct?
Ok, I realize that most of my hate for Other Worlds came from dashed hopes, but it truly isn't a very good book. A C+ for me.

The book has an interesting and promising premise. In a "gentleman's club" ambience, and out of time and space, experts on the supernatural gather to discuss unsolved cases. They take turns presenting the facts, and after each narration, each shares his conclusions.

We have two such cases presented in the book. The first one, the case of the Bell Witch, presented by Houdini, was pretty good. It had some chilling moments (though not as many as I want in a ghost story), I liked the narrator's little asides, and the conclusions presented were fascinating.

The second case, however, I didn't like at all.

First of all, it's presented as a fictionalized account, narrated in first person by the "newly married widow" mentioned in the blurb I quote above. And this woman... ahhh, I detested her. I guess it shows the skill of the writer that she managed to make me feel that way, but I didn't enjoy reading it. The little barbs she throws at her daughter while favouring her son, her decision to marry such a man as Mr. Phelps, a man who condescendingly treats her like a child ("don't worry your little head about such subjects" -that's the kind of man he was), her catty remarks about other women.. and so many more things. Ugh, couldn't stand her, even though I suppose she was just a woman of her time.

The case itself had no chills whatsoever and no interesting features to distinguish it from countless other garden-variety poltergeists. And I thought the conclusions lacking and mixed up. In fact, the only redeeming feature I found in this second half of the book was the character of the writer who presents this account of the case. Other than that, it's a complete loss.

I'd give the first story a B-ish grade, but this last one, probably a D or thereabouts.


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